Guide to Studying for Comps

keep-calm-and-study-for-exams-86Comps, orals, qualifying exams…no matter what you call them, they are a source of angst for many (US) PhD students. Expectations can vary from one department to the next. Some programs have set reading lists, and a process that takes much of the guess work out of preparing for these exams. Other programs expect the student examinee to take a more proactive role. The advice herein is not exhaustive, but is geared primarily towards students who in this later situation. As you prepare, remember that thousands of PhDs have successfully passed through this process, and you can too. You just need to put in the work. Continue reading

Writing History As If It Matters (to Lots of People)

tennessee_gentleman_portrait_of_andrew_jackson_by_ralph_e-_w-_earlIn a series of classic science fiction stories, Isaac Asimov imagined a scientific discipline called “psychohistory”: a way to predict the future of an interstellar empire. Psychohistory could not foresee individual choices, but it could supposedly predict collective behavior over the course of millennia. At one point in the Foundation series, however, a charismatic figure named the Mule threatened to upend psychohistory’s predictions: he was a mutant, acting in ways the original model could not anticipate. In the universe Asimov imagined, the Mule alone seemed to possess true individual agency. Resisting a powerful model of human behavior, he offered instead a story about a person.

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Digital Pedagogy Roundtable, Part 1: Students’ Access to Sources

This week, The Junto will feature a roundtable on digital pedagogy, in which we discuss our different approaches to using digital sources in the classroom. Today, Rachel Herrmann talks about the challenge of access. Jessica Parr, Joseph Adelman, and Ken Owen will also contribute.

A Wordle made from sources my undergraduates located for our in-class source-finding competition

A Wordle made from sources my undergraduates located for our in-class source-finding competition

Let me preface this post by saying that I’d hesitate to call myself a digital humanist; I don’t code or map or mine texts. As Lincoln Mullen pointed out a while back, however, digital practices exist on a spectrum. There are some things I do for my own research and in the classroom—tweeting, running my department’s social media accounts, using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to chase up a footnote so as not to use up one of my precious Interlibrary Loan requests, and of course, blogging for The Junto—that digital humanists also do. These approaches have been helpful in my teaching for three problems related to access to sources. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHIt’s hard to believe that the end of June is already upon us. This week features one of the biggest events of the Civil War sesquicentennial with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Look for more on that event (both 150 years ago and today) in next week’s edition. Meanwhile, on to this week’s links!

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Teaching Narrative in Graduate School

Word Cloud of Cronon's 2013 Presidential Address

This past Monday I turned in my final paper in a graduate seminar given by John Demos entitled, “Narrative and Other Histories.” I initially registered for the class not long after watching Bill Cronon’s Presidential Address at this year’s AHA Annual Meeting and engaging in conversation about it on Twitter as well as in a piece for The Junto. With all the focus on “storytelling” and narrative as a means for carving out a twenty-first-century model of the historical profession, the course offering appeared quite timely. Continue reading

Coursework: How Much is Enough?

Following on from last week’s post by Michael Blaakman, in which he reflected on his experiences preparing for oral exams and their practical value, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on another aspect of graduate education. Today—two years, four semesters, twelve courses, a couple hundred books, two research papers, and a dissertation prospectus draft later—I am attending the last seminar session of my coursework. Now, it’s nowhere near the equivalent of reaching ABD, but it is something of a milestone, for me at least. I was a non-traditional student who began my undergraduate work at the age of 32 and went straight from undergrad to a PhD program. So today marks the end of what was effectively six years of coursework.

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The Comprehensive Exam: A Reflection, with Qualifiers

BooksThe three or four minutes between when my qualifying exam ended and when I found out I had passed rank among the weirdest of my life. Not because I feared I had failed. In fact, immediately following the exam, which I took last Tuesday and which consisted solely of a two-hour oral interrogation, I encountered a calm and a confidence that I hadn’t known in months. Instead, the moment’s weirdness stemmed from a sort of whiplash. Ideas, arguments, and anxieties had been cramming themselves into every corner of my brain for over a year. Suddenly, they were free—unleashed and dissipated in the space a two-hour conversation. It felt more than a bit anticlimactic. A disappointing question seemed to cloud out any sense of accomplishment or pride: “That was it?” A week later, I’m feeling prouder—and still celebrating—but the question remains. Continue reading