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mcewenam

Typical Length of Reading List for Art History Qualifying Exams?

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Hi everybody! This is my first time posting to this forum so I hope I'm doing this correctly. I am about to begin studying for my PhD Qualifying Exams in Art History, and I am trying to get a sense of the average number of books Art History students read for exams in other graduate programs. The professors in my department have ZERO consistency amongst each other when assigning book lists. Lists range anywhere from 50 to 300 books, with 4 month reading period. When the graduate students tried to address this discrepancy in a meeting with our Director of Graduate Studies, we were told "This is how it's always been done," and "Exams are supposed to drive you crazy." The general lack of respect for mental health in my department is an issue for another day. 

Unfortunately, my advisor is on the higher end of the spectrum, and my current major list is about 250 books long. I am majoring in Italian baroque art, and she has asked me to read literature spanning between 1400-1800, in addition to literature on France and Spain. She doesn't expect me to read every book in detail, and instead wants me to understand how each book has contributed to the field. This is what she was asked to do as a student at Columbia in the 90s, and insists that this is the best way to proceed. 

Naturally, I am a bit overwhelmed about all of this, and I could really use some perspective on how other art history departments structure exams. Any advice on how to study this much material in 4 months would also be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

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18 hours ago, mcewenam said:

Hi everybody! This is my first time posting to this forum so I hope I'm doing this correctly. I am about to begin studying for my PhD Qualifying Exams in Art History, and I am trying to get a sense of the average number of books Art History students read for exams in other graduate programs. The professors in my department have ZERO consistency amongst each other when assigning book lists. Lists range anywhere from 50 to 300 books, with 4 month reading period. When the graduate students tried to address this discrepancy in a meeting with our Director of Graduate Studies, we were told "This is how it's always been done," and "Exams are supposed to drive you crazy." The general lack of respect for mental health in my department is an issue for another day. 

Unfortunately, my advisor is on the higher end of the spectrum, and my current major list is about 250 books long. I am majoring in Italian baroque art, and she has asked me to read literature spanning between 1400-1800, in addition to literature on France and Spain. She doesn't expect me to read every book in detail, and instead wants me to understand how each book has contributed to the field. This is what she was asked to do as a student at Columbia in the 90s, and insists that this is the best way to proceed. 

Naturally, I am a bit overwhelmed about all of this, and I could really use some perspective on how other art history departments structure exams. Any advice on how to study this much material in 4 months would also be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Professors administering comprehensive/qualifying exams do as they see fit. Tail wagging the dog questions about the "average number of books" and how "other art history departments structure exams" are irrelevant. 

A better use of your time may center around figuring out tactics for learning what you need to learn from the books on your list and understanding types of questions your committee chair might ask. The answers to these questions are best answered in conversations with ABDs who have written for her and during meetings with her and thinking about the materials you already have (for example, her CV, her dissertation, as well as syllabi, exam questions, and reading lists from courses that she offers).

You should also work on how you manage your exam-related stress.

Meanwhile, make sure that you're staying on top of the paperwork you need to file to take your exams, and that you schedule your exam prudently.

 

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Another way to handle the immense amount of reading material your about to conquer would be to do a condensed reading of each piece that you're looking at. Consult the table of contents, find the thesis or main argument of the book, highlight the evidence/main points, and then read the conclusion in detail. I have a friend who took the approach and had no issue when it came to qualifying exams. Good luck.

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