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Princeton's History Program

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Posted

Hello,

I was offered admission at Princeton and I am trying to learn as much inside info as I can about the department. What do you know about the faculty and students there? Is it a collegial and welcoming environment or is it extra competitive and cut-throat? Since I work on Latin America Jeremy Adelman will probably be my adviser (I will probably also work closely with Rob Karl), but I am also interested in having minor fields in French political history and intellectual history, which means I will be working with Philip Nord and Anson Rabinbach as well. Most people I have talked to have told me great things about the department and their students. After exchanging messages with some professors there, it certainly seems like it is a very friendly yet challenging environment; I am thrilled about this, but does anybody have any other Insights?

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My adviser used to seek sanctuary in the History dept. to get away from her own, Near Eastern Studies, while she was getting her PhD at Princeton. She always said great things about the History dept., the people, and the environment. My two cents. :rolleyes:

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I've heard great things and got the best impression of all the universities I visited when I was there last year (including Yale, Columbia, Harvard and the likes). I met professor Adelman and he seemed great. His scholarship is outstanding and versatile both thematically, geographically and temporally: IMO he is the best Latin Americanist in History right now. He said the he'd let students work on their topics and at the same time seemed very ambitious about what it meant to write a Princeton dissertation and why they'd give you all you need for it to be pathbreaking. Rob Karl seems really nice and extremely promising as a historian, and Vera Candiani's interests seem interesting too.

They have a lot of money for your fellowship and you won't have to teach if you don't want to, although it might be a good idea to do so eventually. They'll give you summer travel grants, prizes, etc, so economically it is usually the best offer for any historian. The campus is magnificent, the libraries are superb. It is sort isolated (I've already been critized for saying this) but quite near to NYC and Phillie.

The department as a whole seem very good too. Some very, very big names for different fields (Anthony Grafton, Gyan Prakash, Peter Brown, Emmanuel Kreike among many others) would make sure that, besides the minor, you'd be able to take amazing courses and meet interesting professors. And people from other departments is very good too (like Miguel Angel Centeno for political sociology).

As someone working in Latin America, I'd say that, bare Yale, and unless you want to 1) work with a particular historian, or 2) live in a particular city, it is definitely the best option all things considered.

Please PM if you want more information.

PS. I'm not going there nor work for them or anything like that

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Thank you very much for your insights. This only further confirms that Princeton's doctoral program in history is fantastic. Adelman is certainly a good person to have as an adviser; he is well versed in many fields and even teaches courses on World History. His work on Buenos Aires and and revolutions in early nineteenth century Latin America is also impressive. What I like the most about his work is how engaged he is with the historiographical debates of historians in Latin America. Too often Latin Americanists in the states bypass a whole range of invigorating debates in Latin America, to just write for an American audience. I probably will be engaging with the debates on Political/intellectual history in Latin America to a greater extent than most would recommend; what better person than Adelman to help me do this.

As far as funding and support for their students, Princeton definitely seems like the best option. To be fair, the town of Princeton is pretty expensive, but I still think their package is great. It is true that you basically have no Teaching responsibility. I probably will TA, but it is nice to know that you do not have to. I am still going to wait for responses from Cornell, Columbia and NYU, but I doubt they could match the Princeton offer, and at this point I think I probably have been rejected from these schools

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Posted

i see you've also been accepted to michigan. just curious, but is it out of the running for you?

when i applied for latin american history programs three years ago, i probably would've put michigan above princeton in my own personal ranking (princeton didn't have karl yet, and candiani was only a lecturer at the time, so it was "just" adelman), but i'm a caribbeanist, and michigan's pretty stacked in that respect.

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Yes, Michigan accepted me and offered me a pretty good package, but I just do not know whether I can deal with Ann Arbor, and whether the faculty can help me develop my research interests. I study nineteenth century Dominican history of political thought; In this regard perhaps Turits and Jesse would be helpful since they are Dominicanists. But, I do not think that either of them is very fond of intellectual history. Perhaps this does not say much about how good of a mentor they could be, but I do not think they would be able to help me much. History of Nineteenth century political and conceptual history is pretty big in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico; it seems to me that the scholars at Michigan do not follow this line of research or debates. I may be wrong; who knows. In any case, Adelman does follow these debates, and is very knowledgeable about the historiography in Latin America, even if he ultimately disagrees about many of the positions of these political and conceptual historians. I think that Columbia would also be a good fit for me. Although Piccato is mostly known for his study of crime in Mexico, recently he has turned to study the construction of the public sphere in nineteenth century Mexico; his last book, the Tyranny of Opinion, is a clear example of this.

i see you've also been accepted to michigan. just curious, but is it out of the running for you?

when i applied for latin american history programs three years ago, i probably would've put michigan above princeton in my own personal ranking (princeton didn't have karl yet, and candiani was only a lecturer at the time, so it was "just" adelman), but i'm a caribbeanist, and michigan's pretty stacked in that respect.

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Yes, Michigan accepted me and offered me a pretty good package, but I just do not know whether I can deal with Ann Arbor

I feel the same way, though I've been in contact with a current grad student who moved there from Cape Town....I figure if she was able to adjust and enjoy it, I should be able to tough it out. Also, the way their academic calendar works, you're only there Sept-April....so you have 1/3 of the year to go off and do research, and I've been told summer funding is very easy to get. I still wish it was a different location though.

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rebecca scott at michigan deals with legal history and the history of thought in the 19th century, in reference to cuba.

my undergraduate advisor completed her PhD at princeton with adelman as her advisor. she said he was good to work with and let her do what she wanted, but her project (intellectual discourse on race, citizenship, and equality during the first cuban republic) was pretty disconnected from what he had been doing at the time (in late 1990s, early 2000s). her dissertation committee had more professors from michigan than from princeton on it (including scott and turits). when i applied to programs 3 years ago, she pushed michigan pretty hard (as well as NYU and pitt) and i had to bring up princeton. i don't want to put words in her mouth, because this was a few years ago, but my impression at the time was that she was pretty lukewarm on princeton. "good" and "okay" were used a lot. at the time, adelman was the only professor there. candiani was still a lecturer and karl hadn't been hired, so admittedly, it was a different program then.

all that said, my interactions with adelman at the time were great. even though i wasn't familiar with his work (and still haven't read any of it; it's just not what i do), he offered probing questions and challenged my ideas in a really encouraging way. i don't doubt that he's a very capable advisor and princeton is stacked with resources. and it's not in ann arbor, which is a good thing. ;)

ultimately, it's your decision. wherever you feel more comfortable is the best place for you to go. i am a bit surprised at what short shrift you're giving michigan, though. it's one of the best places for latin american history.

columbia is a strange place. their latin americanists are scattered at different schools. SIPA, barnard, columbia proper, etc. they're not actually in the same building, so there's less communication between them. the grad students are miserable. it's an open secret that columbia has one of the worst atmospheres in any history department in the country. that doesn't diminish the quality of the people who teach there, but it's worth mentioning when you have two other stellar offers (princeton and michigan) on the table already.

good luck with whatever you choose.

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Posted

Michigan definitely is a strong option too, specially if you're going to work with Rebecca Scott, they have indeed more historians dedicated to Latin America, and the History Program is very prestigious too. And there is the improvement in the funding this year.

I liked what I saw in Columbia honestly, and the historians of Latin America are very good. NYU is a great temptation too, the Latin American History faculty line-up is stellar. And living in NYC...

But it appears that you would have advisors that fit your interests in all places. Intelectual history is exactly what Jeremy Adelman is doing now, with two pretty exciting projects (on the history of the idea of inequality in Latin American social sciences & on a biography of Albert O. Hirschman). In Michigan, Jesse H-G. is a former student of Adelman so he probably knows his stuff on intellectual history too. And in Columbia you have an amazing history faculty overall, and you could probably also take courses with faculty from other social science departments, which are all great.

I'd go for Princeton, but that's just me. I was really impressed by the campus, it sort of makes you want to sit and enjoy your reading.

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Posted

columbia is a strange place. their latin americanists are scattered at different schools. SIPA, barnard, columbia proper, etc. they're not actually in the same building, so there's less communication between them. the grad students are miserable. it's an open secret that columbia has one of the worst atmospheres in any history department in the country. that doesn't diminish the quality of the people who teach there, but it's worth mentioning when you have two other stellar offers (princeton and michigan) on the table already.

good luck with whatever you choose.

Why are grad students so miserable at Columbia? Is this across the board or just for Latin America?

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Posted (edited)

I feel the same way, though I've been in contact with a current grad student who moved there from Cape Town....I figure if she was able to adjust and enjoy it, I should be able to tough it out. Also, the way their academic calendar works, you're only there Sept-April....so you have 1/3 of the year to go off and do research, and I've been told summer funding is very easy to get. I still wish it was a different location though.

Location really should be the last thing anybody worries about when deciding where to go. First of all, if you properly attend to your work, I don't know where you're going to get the time to acquaint yourself with where ever it is you live. I mean, if location really matters to you, visit the libraries at the various schools you visit and check out how comfortable their chairs are, because that where you'll spend most of your time. Second, you're training to enter a profession where most likely you'll have absolutely no say where you get to live. Better get used to that now. Third, your location isn't going to write letters for you as you apply for fellowships, grants, positions, etc.

Edited by ChibaCityBlues

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Posted

Why are grad students so miserable at Columbia? Is this across the board or just for Latin America?

across the board, not particular to latin americanists.

this is all gossip through the grapevine sort of stuff, but as i said, an open secret. the students are extremely competitive, particularly because of the uneven funding. some people get better offers than others, there's only so much money to go around, there aren't that many TAships, people sabotage each other for fellowships. there's a distance between faculty and students, if your advisor is a "big name" there is a decent chance you will rarely see him or her, barely get feedback on your work, etc. even the best funding offers aren't enough to live comfortably in a reasonable commute to campus. you either live far away, with far too many roommates, and/or you take loans. once you see how small your stipend is after "withholding tax," a lot of people end up getting loans. other schools have this problem, too, but from what i've heard (from students inside the department, from faculty outside the department but familiar with it), at columbia it's particularly toxic.

but, if anyone is considering going to columbia, talk to current grad students and ask them to be frank and honest about the atmosphere. if possible, ask them over drinks when they've let their guard down a little. maybe the reputation is unwarranted. i know someone there now who is coping pretty well and has made good friendships in the program but she's mentioned a lot of these problems. she's not a latin americanist.

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Posted

across the board, not particular to latin americanists.

this is all gossip through the grapevine sort of stuff, but as i said, an open secret. the students are extremely competitive, particularly because of the uneven funding. some people get better offers than others, there's only so much money to go around, there aren't that many TAships, people sabotage each other for fellowships. there's a distance between faculty and students, if your advisor is a "big name" there is a decent chance you will rarely see him or her, barely get feedback on your work, etc. even the best funding offers aren't enough to live comfortably in a reasonable commute to campus. you either live far away, with far too many roommates, and/or you take loans. once you see how small your stipend is after "withholding tax," a lot of people end up getting loans. other schools have this problem, too, but from what i've heard (from students inside the department, from faculty outside the department but familiar with it), at columbia it's particularly toxic.

but, if anyone is considering going to columbia, talk to current grad students and ask them to be frank and honest about the atmosphere. if possible, ask them over drinks when they've let their guard down a little. maybe the reputation is unwarranted. i know someone there now who is coping pretty well and has made good friendships in the program but she's mentioned a lot of these problems. she's not a latin americanist.

Hmm, disturbing stuff, especially since I'll probably be going to Columbia. I do believe that its financial aid policy's changed recently though. I guess I'll have to find out more when I visit later next month...

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Posted

Location really should be the last thing anybody worries about when deciding where to go. First of all, if you properly attend to your work, I don't know where you're going to get the time to acquaint yourself with where ever it is you live. I mean, if location really matters to you, visit the libraries at the various schools you visit and check out how comfortable their chairs are, because that where you'll spend most of your time. Second, you're training to enter a profession where most likely you'll have absolutely no say where you get to live. Better get used to that now. Third, your location isn't going to write letters for you as you apply for fellowships, grants, positions, etc.

This is pretty awful advice. Location shouldn't be your first consideration, but it certainly shouldn't be your last, either.

I don't know anybody who spends every minute of their time on their work. That's an easy way to guarantee your own misery for x amount of years. You need a life outside of your work, or you will quickly burn out. Your studies or research are going to make you miserable at times, and you don't want to find yourself living somewhere that doesn't allow you to have a release or life outside of school.

You're right - if you choose a career in academia you will almost never be able to choose where you live. Might as well enjoy that for the last time when you are in grad school. As for your third comment, I don't think anyone would turn down a top program to attend a sub-50 ranked program because of location. When you have identified your top two or three choices, you should give some consideration as to the place you will be living for the next 8-9 years.

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When you have identified your top two or three choices, you should give some consideration as to the place you will be living for the next 8-9 years.

For how long? blink.gif

Ok. A question: is it actually possible to finish in five years?

Are there people who pull it off?

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People that can write fast and that are able to do the research near where they study probably can make it in five years, but I don't think history programs really expect it in most cases. The other I saw some stats on the matter and a little more than six years seems to be the average in many well ranked programs.

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This is pretty awful advice. Location shouldn't be your first consideration, but it certainly shouldn't be your last, either.

I don't know anybody who spends every minute of their time on their work. That's an easy way to guarantee your own misery for x amount of years. You need a life outside of your work, or you will quickly burn out. Your studies or research are going to make you miserable at times, and you don't want to find yourself living somewhere that doesn't allow you to have a release or life outside of school.

You're right - if you choose a career in academia you will almost never be able to choose where you live. Might as well enjoy that for the last time when you are in grad school. As for your third comment, I don't think anyone would turn down a top program to attend a sub-50 ranked program because of location. When you have identified your top two or three choices, you should give some consideration as to the place you will be living for the next 8-9 years.

ha ha, yeah

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Posted (edited)

For how long? blink.gif

Ok. A question: is it actually possible to finish in five years?

Are there people who pull it off?

The time to completion for humanities PhDs, is on average 8-9 years, sometimes longer. Here are some links about this:

http://www.nsf.gov/s...brief/nsf06312/

http://www.insidehig.../2007/12/17/phd

While taking a decade to finish a Ph.D. may seem unthinkable to academics in disciplines (generally in the sciences) where half that time is the norm, decade-long Ph.D.'s are actually common in the humanities, which makes Skocpol's timeline (and her success at enforcing it) notable. Recent data from the Council of Graduate Schools, for example, show that only 36.7 percent of humanities students have finished their dissertations by year 8, and only 49.1 percent have done so by year 10.

http://www.phdcomple...book1_quant.asp

Everything I am about to write I heard from my DGS, so I don't know how well it applies to other programs, but I assume that most follow the same traditional time line.

If you are an Americanist, it might be possible to finish in 5 years if you are extremely motivated and work very fast. They don't have to go overseas for their archival work, and most, at least in my program, have relevant archives nearby, but even then, they are probably looking at maybe six years.

He said it is not possible for a non-Americanist to finish in 5 years. Six years is possible if you are extremely motivated and work very fast, and manage to do all of your archival work in the matter of a few months, but seven or more years is most likely.

I know a lot of people assume that five years is the norm, since most funding packages are for five years of study, but that is not a realistic time line for most graduate students, especially the non-Americanists.

Edited by breakfast

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Posted

Thanks for your insightful remarks StrangeLight. I think you are right about Michigan; it is indeed a very strong and more complete program for Latin American history. The problem is, and I have already confronted this, that many Latin Americanists, in the US particularly, see political/intellectual history as an elitist kind of approach. And even though Rebecca Scott does do intellectual history, her work is highly centered on race, a topic which is dear to many Latin Americanists. I do not want to dismiss it, but I think that all too often Race becomes so central to the work of many Latin Americanists that they leave other important topics out. Most significant, however, is the fact that many use race as an analytical category which they define a priori without inquiring what this meant to the historical actors they study, and how people constructed identities. I believe that this over-emphasis on analytical categories ends up reproducing anachronistic and a-contextual narratives. For instance, can we really assume that people have always related to each other based on race, or even that the transatlantic salve trade was always justified by a form a racialization? I am not quite sure, but this seems to be the general agreement. I think that Spanish enslavers more likely initially justified slavery by labeling Africans as foreigners, rather than categorizing them as an inferior race (Maria Elena Martinez's book, Genealogical Fictions, and Tamar Herzong's Defining Nations offer significant clues about this issue). Of course, one can say that to use Africans' foreigner status as the basis for social, political and legal exclusion is just racism by another name. But to do so, in my opinion, would be to dismiss the historicity of the very thing we study, and to reduce the study of the past to a mere function of our present moral standards. I may be wrong, but I think my position would be viewed with suspicion at Michigan and I do not want to confront this devastating specter. Maybe I am being unfair with Michigan, but my experiences have proven that the general trend is to see my position with disfavor among students of race in Latin America.

All things considered though, another important factor that is at this moment making me prefer Princeton, is its location. Ann Arbor seems like worlds apart from who I am, and I do not think I will be able to be happy there. Thanks for all your responses.

rebecca scott at michigan deals with legal history and the history of thought in the 19th century, in reference to cuba.

my undergraduate advisor completed her PhD at princeton with adelman as her advisor. she said he was good to work with and let her do what she wanted, but her project (intellectual discourse on race, citizenship, and equality during the first cuban republic) was pretty disconnected from what he had been doing at the time (in late 1990s, early 2000s). her dissertation committee had more professors from michigan than from princeton on it (including scott and turits). when i applied to programs 3 years ago, she pushed michigan pretty hard (as well as NYU and pitt) and i had to bring up princeton. i don't want to put words in her mouth, because this was a few years ago, but my impression at the time was that she was pretty lukewarm on princeton. "good" and "okay" were used a lot. at the time, adelman was the only professor there. candiani was still a lecturer and karl hadn't been hired, so admittedly, it was a different program then.

all that said, my interactions with adelman at the time were great. even though i wasn't familiar with his work (and still haven't read any of it; it's just not what i do), he offered probing questions and challenged my ideas in a really encouraging way. i don't doubt that he's a very capable advisor and princeton is stacked with resources. and it's not in ann arbor, which is a good thing. ;)

ultimately, it's your decision. wherever you feel more comfortable is the best place for you to go. i am a bit surprised at what short shrift you're giving michigan, though. it's one of the best places for latin american history.

columbia is a strange place. their latin americanists are scattered at different schools. SIPA, barnard, columbia proper, etc. they're not actually in the same building, so there's less communication between them. the grad students are miserable. it's an open secret that columbia has one of the worst atmospheres in any history department in the country. that doesn't diminish the quality of the people who teach there, but it's worth mentioning when you have two other stellar offers (princeton and michigan) on the table already.

good luck with whatever you choose.

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Also, while money is not everything, at Michigan the GSIs (their name for TAs) are unionized, and the compensation does seem pretty generous: http://www.hr.umich....-gssa-memo.html

I'd like to chime in here, as well. I don't know how common it is in certain funding packages, but grad students at my uni. are unionized, and we get pretty decent medical coverage, including dental and vision. I know some grad students don't have full (dental and vision) coverage. Just something else to consider when weighing your options. Both of those, but especially good dental coverage, are pretty important and often overlooked.

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I'd like to chime in here, as well. I don't know how common it is in certain funding packages, but grad students at my uni. are unionized, and we get pretty decent medical coverage, including dental and vision. I know some grad students don't have full (dental and vision) coverage. Just something else to consider when weighing your options. Both of those, but especially good dental coverage, are pretty important and often overlooked.

This is really key -- dental issues are often what nail budgets.

On the Princeton/Michigan debate: I'm not in LA history, so I can't offer specific comments in that regard. However, I would urge anyone to visit a place before cutting it from the list. Latitude and longitude are only 1 part of what makes a place. Weather is surmountable, cohort/department/institutional life is less so. I've been to both Princeton and Ann Arbor; frankly, I don't see them as all that different. Sure, Princeton is closer to NY, but it's also a suburban college town with lots of snobbery -- and that comes from a family friend who is a faculty member elsewhere but had a Princeton Advanced Studies fellowship. He and his wife said they'd never live there again. What I'm saying is that there are locale differences but I'm not sure which ones you're really getting at or how meaningful they are. Are you concerned about cold weather or local restaurants? I wouldn't say locale isn't a factor in decisions, but atmosphere, program environment, and mentoring seem more critical to me.

And I'd visit both programs to see how you react to the universities, faculty, and grad students. Multiple Ivies have consistently tried to lure Rebecca Scott away from Michigan (Harvard last year) and she has stayed every single time. There must be something about the LA program and department that keeps her there. You applied, they accepted you: at least give it as serious consideration as you are to Princeton. People here are offering you info that you seem to resist. If your mind is made up, fine, but there's no need to seek out info about Princeton if you've already decided to go there.

If this sounds snarky, well there are plenty of people who would like to have your options; the least you can do is take them seriously OR say no to one immediately to potentially open up a waitlist spot.

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Another critical factor that seems to be missing in this debate is Princeton's lack of teaching requirements. This really should not be viewed as an asset. Want a job? Then you absolutely need to have teaching experience. When visiting be sure to find out how many graduate students teach and what opportunities are available for honing pedagogical skills.

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As others have said, you must visit both schools before making any generalizations about Ann Arbor. I've lived in both areas at different stages of my life. Both places are great for raising kids if you're looking to have a family in the next 5 years. Princeton, however, pretty much requires a car. Do you have a car? Ann Arbor is much more student-friendly in terms of housing availability, costs, and public transportation access. NJ has gotten ridiculously expensive (except for the gas and they pump for you!). So you need to think about the quality of life in your free time.

However, I will say that you are welcomed to seriously consider Princeton over Michigan if you are truly an urban person. I know of a Michigan history grad student who really didn't want to go to Michigan because it's not New York, but her MA (now PhD) adviser put her up to it (and Michigan was far better than her other choices). She got used to it and made pretty good friends in the program.

Good luck!

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