BA Paper

BA Paper
Image courtesy of Alexis Nicholson.

NELC majors are required to write a substantial BA paper during their fourth year.  The BA paper should be an original academic paper/research project of approximately 30-50 pages. This project provides majors the opportunity to develop research, writing, and presentation skills while working closely with a faculty adviser. The BA paper can be used in graduate school applications, or as part of job application portfolios. Recent NELC graduates have been able to publish their papers, or deliver versions of their work at conferences.


The process of declaring a paper topic and choosing an adviser begins in the third year. The timeline below assumes a spring quarter graduation. Students who expect to graduate in other quarters should consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Year 3: Spring Quarter

NELC majors in their third year should discuss possible BA Paper topics with NELC faculty members whom they have worked with, or who have expertise in their topic. This may grow out of a paper written from a course, or may be an entirely new project (see below for BA paper topics by previous students). After choosing a topic and narrowing down its focus, students are responsible for requesting a member of the NELC faculty to serve as their research adviser, who will help them further conceive the scope and aims of the project and provide guidance about methods and sources for carrying out their research.  

Students must formally file their proposed BA Paper topic with their faculty adviser’s signature in the NELC department office before the end of their third year (by Monday of tenth week of Spring Quarter). 

Students are encouraged to begin the reading/research for the BA Paper in the summer before their fourth year. There are also funding opportunities for travel and research (LINK to opportunities section)

Year 4: Autumn Quarter

Students are required to register for the BA Paper Seminar (NEHC 29800) in Autumn Quarter of their fourth year on a P/F basis. The BA Paper Seminar is a workshop course designed to survey the fields represented by NELC and to assist students in researching and writing their B.A. papers. The course is run by a BA preceptor, typically an advanced PhD student in NELC. Preceptors work closely with students and their faculty advisers to assist in all aspects of conceiving, researching, and writing the paper. A passing grade (P) for the BA seminar depends on full attendance and participation throughout the quarter.

Year 4: Winter Quarter

Majors are strongly encouraged to register for an optional one-quarter independent study (NEHC 29999) with their BA preceptor that will allow time in your schedule over Winter Quarter to write and revise your paper.  You will receive a quality grade for this course, equivalent to the final BA paper grade, reported in the Spring Quarter.

Year 4: Spring Quarter

The completed BA paper must be submitted to the NELC department by Monday of third week in Spring Quarter. Students should submit two bound hard copies and one pdf of the paper. Department staff will distribute papers to the faculty advisers. Students who fail to meet the deadline will not be eligible for honors and may not be able to graduate on time.

The faculty adviser will grade the paper and submit grades and honors recommendations to the DUS by Monday of fifth week in Spring Quarter.

The DUS will submit papers to be considered for Honors to the Humanities Collegiate Division Master with a letter of support.

Students have the option of publishing their paper on the NELC website.

Double Majors

Students completing a double major may, with the permission of the NELC DUS, write a single BA paper that is designed to meet the requirements of both majors, provided that the faculty research adviser is a member of the NELC faculty. Approval from both program chairs is required. A consent form, to be signed by the chairs, is available from the College adviser. It must be completed and returned to the College adviser by the end of Autumn Quarter of the student’s year of graduation.

The Justin Palmer Prize

The department awards the Justin Palmer Prize annually to the BA paper judged to be the most outstanding. The Director of Undergraduate Studies makes this determination in consultation with the Department Chair and faculty members. This monetary prize is made possible by a generous gift from the family of Justin Palmer, AB’04, who completed a minor in NELC. Past winners of the Justin Palmer Prize include:

  • 2018 Darren Wan Jian Yong
  • 2017 Rivka Baker Keusch
  • 2016 Nicholas Posegay
  • 2015 Jane Gordon
  • 2014 Paige Paulsen
  • 2013 Joanna Derman
  • 2012 Matti Emily Barzilai
  • 2011 Michelle Quay
  • 2010 Benjamin Halbig
  • 2009 Jessica Marie Dragon
  • 2008 Rachel Elizabeth Lev
  • 2007 Austin O’Malley

NELC Majors are also encouraged to apply to the Center for Middle Eastern Studies for its Undergraduate Essay prize. This prize is awarded for (1) the best term/course paper and (2) the best BA Thesis written by a student in any department at the University of Chicago on a topic focused on the Near East/Middle East. 

Recent BA Papers


Musaab Bashir, Apostasy and Religious Freedom: Examining the Role of Islamic Law under the Sudanese Legal System (Advisor: Fred Donner)

Jesse Claflin, Democractic Confederalism in Northern Syria: An Opportunity to Investigate the Tension between the Nation-State and Democracy (Adviser: Orit Bashkin)

Sam Hoffman, Komplo: An investigation of the cultural and political significance of conspiracy theories in the Republic of Turkey (Adviser: Orit Bashkin)

Theo Knights, The Bare Life of the Dersimli: Otuz Sekiz as a Laboratory for the Turkish State of Exception (Adviser: John Woods)

Katherine McFarlin, Making Her Count: Seshat and the Professionalization of Scribal Duties (Adviser: Janet Johnson)

Andrew Mines, Generating State Authority Through Spectacles of Violence: Mapping ISIS's Video Propaganda Strategy (Adviser: John Woods)

Lauren Poulson, The Archaeological Project in the Republic of Turkey: From Ataturk to Erdogan (Adviser: James Osborne)

Julia Ullman, What makes one Haggadoh different from all other Haggadot? (Adviser: Simeon Chavel)

Darren Wan Jian Yong, Learning to Read Persian after the Persianate: The Politics and Poetics of Classicism in Colonial Bombay, 1870–1900 (Adviser: John Woods)

Houze Wang, The Myth of the Jamalī Sultans:The façade and the interior of late Fatimid statecraft, ca. 1073-1131 (Adviser: Paul Walker)​​​​​​​


Olivia Adams, A mission of justice,” a Charismatic Authority: An analysis of Amina Wadud, scholar-activism, and Islam’s crisis of authority (Adviser: Ahmed El Shamsy)

Rivka Baker Keusch, Erasing The Green Line with Green Paper: How Jewish Federations Fund Israeli Settlements in the West Bank (Adviser: Orit Bashkin)

Elysa Bryen, Between Two Countries : How International Interests Fracture the Arab and Chaldean American Communities in Metro-Detroit (Adviser: John Woods)

Rolland Long, The Social Organization of the Libyans in Third Intermediate Period Egypt (Adviser: Nadine Moeller)

Abdurrahman Muhammad, al-Muqaddima al-Waghlīsiyya: A Translation Project (Adviser: Ahmed El Shamsy)

Cara Piraino, "Omanis being Omanis, there aren’t going to be any problems": Youth in Muscat and the Aging Renaissance (Adviser: Ahmed El Shamsy)

Brooke Provinchain, Navigating the National: Understanding the Intentions of the Jordanian Olympic Committee Under the Hashemite Monarchy (Adviser: Ahmed El Shamsy)

Michael Siedlecki, The Networks of the Kassite Brewers of Ur (Adviser: Susanne Paulus)

Amelia Soth, The Author as Murderer in Hassan Blasim’s The Corpse Exhibition: Towards a New Tradition of Writing about Violence (Adviser: Ghenwa Hayek)


Maverick Blanton, Colonizing the Classroom: French Language Education in the Moroccan Protectorate (Adviser: Ahmed El Shamsy)

Antonio Cruz-Uribe, Talking to the Gods; Divine Communication and the Hittites (Adviser: Theo van den Hout)

Michael Goodyear, Minority and Imperial Policy: The Armenians in the Byzantine World, 867-1071 (Adviser: Walter Kaegi, History/The Oriental Institute)

Hoda Katebi, Now Trending: The Politics of Fashion in Modern-Day Iran (Adviser: Alireza Doostdar, The Divinity School)

Jade Kreuger, The Gendering of Transitional Justice: A Critical Analysis of the Progression of Women's Rights in Lebanon and its Implications (Adviser: Ghenwa Hayek)

Clay Olsen, Conspiracy Theory, Conspiracy Fact: Defining the Deep State (Adviser: Ahmed El Shamsy)

Nicholas Posegay, To Belabor the Points:The Influence of Arabic on Babylonian Hebrew Vocalization (Adviser: Fred Donner)

Tyler Roeder, The Lives of Scholars in the Neo-Assyrian State Bureaucracy (Adviser: John Wee)

Joshua Silver, Determining How to Teach Arabic Amid Conflicting Perspectives: An Investigation into the History, Methodologies, and Dialects Used in the Arabic Language Classroom in America (Adviser: Noha Forster)

Michael Viola, Beyond the Amarna Letters:Realism’s Implications for the Foreign Policy of the Egyptian New Kingdom (Adviser: Brian Muhs)