History by Freehand: Drawing Your Research

History by Freehand: Drawing Your Research

QuestionMapChances are, if you’ve ever sat next to me during a seminar, lecture, colloquium, workshop, conference, or dinner, you’ve seen me scribbling away on something. Stylus or pen in hand, I’ll create landscapes of crudely drawn people or mountains or ships, encircled and dissected by wavering arrows and question marks.

It’s about time I admit it. I’m a doodler. Continue reading

The Language Question

LanguagesWhat is the current state of early American language training, what is its future, and why aren’t we more concerned?

A quick survey of more than a dozen graduate programs (all known for their strengths in colonial and early American history) reveals that three quarters of these departments require only one foreign language for early Americanists. To put this into context, the guidelines for European historians at all but one of these same institutions—guidelines often broken down by Early Modern, Western, and British subfields—require at least two foreign languages (yes, even in British history). Yet the issue is not simply the number of languages required of Americanists, but rather what constitutes proficiency. While language guidelines surely vary some from school to school, if the “proficiency” exams and reading courses across History programs even vaguely resemble ones that I’ve encountered, then even these lenient requirements themselves mean very little.

I suspect the numbers and realities of language training surprise very few. But even if we’re not surprised, maybe we should be a little worried. Continue reading

Driving the Dissertation

OhioRiverFor the past several days, I’ve been on the road, driving highways and back streets of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Weeks before, with an invitation to an Alabama wedding, and a school year (and orals) finally behind me, I realized I had the perfect opportunity for a road trip. And being the impossibly hip grad student that I am, I also decided I’d be driving my dissertation.

Part of my research entails recovering the mid-eighteenth-century transportation and communication paths that cut across and radiated out from Ohio Valley. While I’ve studied maps, charts, letters, and travel accounts, I’d never traveled on or along those waterways, roads, or footpaths—even the well-known routes of Braddock’s and Forbes Roads.

Continue reading