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My interests have multiplied -- help?


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Hey everyone! 

I'm currently in my Masters program and taking a seminar in my intended area of expertise (Medieval Europe), as well as working with my school's medievalist as her research assistant. I spent the summer learning languages and reading. In doing my own reading and then reading for my seminar, I've noticed that I've gotten more interests. While I've narrowed my temporal interests a little, my geographic and thematic interests have expanded. I wanted to use grad school to refine my interests, but it doesn't seem like it's happening. I'll be starting looking into PhD programs casually in the spring, but I'm not sure how to narrow down these interests, and I feel as though my current plan of "writing down every person I could possibly work with" is maybe not the best plan. 

Help?

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6 minutes ago, historygeek said:

Hey everyone! 

I'm currently in my Masters program and taking a seminar in my intended area of expertise (Medieval Europe), as well as working with my school's medievalist as her research assistant. I spent the summer learning languages and reading. In doing my own reading and then reading for my seminar, I've noticed that I've gotten more interests. While I've narrowed my temporal interests a little, my geographic and thematic interests have expanded. I wanted to use grad school to refine my interests, but it doesn't seem like it's happening. I'll be starting looking into PhD programs casually in the spring, but I'm not sure how to narrow down these interests, and I feel as though my current plan of "writing down every person I could possibly work with" is maybe not the best plan. 

Help?

Give it time! It's very natural for interests to expand like this before they narrow. My advice is to be patient with your brain. As you do more research your interests will refine. If you're not applying to PhD programs this round then just try to put them aside for a moment and don't worry too much about closing doors on potential interests etc. 

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1 hour ago, OHSP said:

Give it time! It's very natural for interests to expand like this before they narrow. My advice is to be patient with your brain. As you do more research your interests will refine. If you're not applying to PhD programs this round then just try to put them aside for a moment and don't worry too much about closing doors on potential interests etc. 

This is great advice! I'm too much of a forward thinker, but being patient with my brain is going to be so helpful to keep me sane. 

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3 hours ago, OHSP said:

Give it time! It's very natural for interests to expand like this before they narrow. My advice is to be patient with your brain. As you do more research your interests will refine. If you're not applying to PhD programs this round then just try to put them aside for a moment and don't worry too much about closing doors on potential interests etc. 

To add onto this, just reading an article or two in any given area may completely destroy whatever interest you have. I ever so briefly had an interest in history of chemistry. Two articles cured me of that interest. 

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You're only a month in already.  It's normal to be so surprised by how many topics can be explored.  That's the point of the coursework.  But by the end of this semester or the beginning of next, you should identify several potential topics for your thesis.  Read relevant literature for each and see what's most feasible for conducting original archival research.

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My suggestions are to 1. Keep a journal of every historical question you find really  interesting so you have back-ups in case a project  isn’t working 2. let the availability of sources guide you to a feasible topic  3. Make time for reading primary sources unfiltered through secondary literature, so that you have the chance to find something really surprising and overlooked (although this last suggestion might not work for medieval/ancient European history).

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4 hours ago, AfricanusCrowther said:

My suggestions are to 1. Keep a journal of every historical question you find really  interesting so you have back-ups in case a project  isn’t working 2. let the availability of sources guide you to a feasible topic  3. Make time for reading primary sources unfiltered through secondary literature, so that you have the chance to find something really surprising and overlooked (although this last suggestion might not work for medieval/ancient European history).

This is great advice, thank you!

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On 9/14/2019 at 11:24 AM, historygeek said:

In doing my own reading and then reading for my seminar, I've noticed that I've gotten more interests. While I've narrowed my temporal interests a little, my geographic and thematic interests have expanded. 

Help?

Do what you can to find points of connectivity among your interests. Consider the value of using 3" by 5" index cards. Use different colors for different themes. Write on the card one or two topic words. Try sorting the cards geographically and temporally. (Rows for geography, columns for time.) At first glance, the arranged cards may look like a smile with missing teeth. 

As you think of ways to bridge the teeth, you may spot unifying patterns and themes.

If you use a journal to record your steps, attempt not to lose sight of the task at hand -- defining the part of the forest that is at the periphery of your historian's vision and imagination. Getting too wrapped up on the writing may slow down the process by which things come into focus. (If things do come into focus, then you may profit from jotting down everything in that "aha!" moment.)

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What ever you do, avoid the eighth dimension...

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Thanks for the help, everyone! I decided to write down my research interests and ask my advisor to help me narrow/consolidate. I know that there's a common thread, but I can't quite put my finger on it right now. Here's the list, if anyone could impart some wisdom: 

 

Geographic: Italy, England, Iceland, Central Europe (esp. Bohemia) 

Temporal: Early Middle Ages to the Black Plague

Methodological: Cultural, anthropological, social; use of material/visual culture 

 

Topics: 

  • Lay women and religion 
    • What role did religion have in the lives of women?
    • How did religion inform the ways in which women navigated their world?
    • Intersections between power, gender, and religion 
      • Queenship and princesses 
  • History of magic and the supernatural 
  • History of death and dead bodies
    • The cultural practices and ideas surrounding death 
  • Rituals 
  • The cult of saints 
    • Using the cult of saints as a lens through which to view the social and cultural history of medieval Europe 
      • Building off work started by Robert Bartlett
    • How did the cult of saints help shape cultural identities in Bohemia and encourage independence?
      • Were cultural identities related to saints different based on gender? 
  • Intersection of medicine, society, and culture 
    • How did society and culture inform ideas and practices of medicine? How did ideas and practices of medicine inform society and culture?
  • Social and cultural construction of the body 
    • Female bodies 
    • Ideas of power and ethnicity being represented by the body
    • Visual representations of the body as shaping gender ideas 
  • How did global exchange through pilgrimage shape cultures, societies, and art?
    • Using Canterbury, Rome, and Prague(?) as settings?
  • History of the book and literary culture 
    • Troubadours and courtly love vs. “popular” forms of literature as they relate to women and as cultural forms 
  • Comparative look at Jewish and Christian cultural forms and daily life 
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5 hours ago, historygeek said:

Thanks for the help, everyone! I decided to write down my research interests and ask my advisor to help me narrow/consolidate. I know that there's a common thread, but I can't quite put my finger on it right now. Here's the list, if anyone could impart some wisdom: 

 

Geographic: Italy, England, Iceland, Central Europe (esp. Bohemia) 

Temporal: Early Middle Ages to the Black Plague

Methodological: Cultural, anthropological, social; use of material/visual culture 

 

Topics: 

  • Lay women and religion 
    • What role did religion have in the lives of women?
    • How did religion inform the ways in which women navigated their world?
    • Intersections between power, gender, and religion 
      • Queenship and princesses 
  • History of magic and the supernatural 
  • History of death and dead bodies
    • The cultural practices and ideas surrounding death 
  • Rituals 
  • The cult of saints 
    • Using the cult of saints as a lens through which to view the social and cultural history of medieval Europe 
      • Building off work started by Robert Bartlett
    • How did the cult of saints help shape cultural identities in Bohemia and encourage independence?
      • Were cultural identities related to saints different based on gender? 
  • Intersection of medicine, society, and culture 
    • How did society and culture inform ideas and practices of medicine? How did ideas and practices of medicine inform society and culture?
  • Social and cultural construction of the body 
    • Female bodies 
    • Ideas of power and ethnicity being represented by the body
    • Visual representations of the body as shaping gender ideas 
  • How did global exchange through pilgrimage shape cultures, societies, and art?
    • Using Canterbury, Rome, and Prague(?) as settings?
  • History of the book and literary culture 
    • Troubadours and courtly love vs. “popular” forms of literature as they relate to women and as cultural forms 
  • Comparative look at Jewish and Christian cultural forms and daily life 

This is quite easy.  You're interested in the question of the body and how it functioned in the discourses of gender, beliefs, and public health in different geographical contexts. This is grounded in your interest in how cultural and scientific ideas of the body migrated from one place to another.  Physicians, magicians, and related people did travel, after all. 

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1 hour ago, TMP said:

This is quite easy.  You're interested in the question of the body and how it functioned in the discourses of gender, beliefs, and public health in different geographical contexts. This is grounded in your interest in how cultural and scientific ideas of the body migrated from one place to another.  Physicians, magicians, and related people did travel, after all. 

I feel a little silly now- this is such a great description and I'm not sure how I didn't get their on my own. Thanks!

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Among the great challenges you're going to face if you travel this road is accepting that "the past is another country" and that history moves in one direction.

Avoid the urge to draw straight lines from the ways gender and women's bodies are viewed today backwards to the times, places, and people that you encounter. The better you present the past in its own terms, the more credible you will be as an academic historian. 

10 hours ago, TMP said:

Studying for PhD comprehensive exams is the trick ;) 

If you're pre quals, always be studying for quals with the understanding that you'll never be ready for quals until years after taking quals. If even then. 

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I wrote it out this way, too!

My research interests lie in the intersections of gender, belief, and science in Europe during the Early to High Middle Ages. I have a particular interest in how the body functioned within these discourses in a broader geographical context. This is grounded in my more overarching interest in how cultural and scientific ideas migrated from place to place. Following along a similar methodological framework as Bartlett, I will use the cult of saints as a lens through which to view social and cultural history. At the same time, I will also following along avenues of scholarship of Katharine Park, approaching the body from a scientific perspective. In drawing from multi-disciplinary sources, including miracle accounts, literature, and art, I aim to marry science, religion, and culture in the context of the body. In exploring these themes through a transnational lens, I will exhibit the globality and multicultural nature of medieval Europe. 


 

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On 9/29/2019 at 4:21 PM, historygeek said:

I wrote it out this way, too!

My research interests lie in the intersections of gender, belief, and science in Europe during the Early to High Middle Ages. I have a particular interest in how the body functioned within these discourses in a broader geographical context. This is grounded in my more overarching interest in how cultural and scientific ideas migrated from place to place. Following along a similar methodological framework as Bartlett, I will use the cult of saints as a lens through which to view social and cultural history. At the same time, I will also following along avenues of scholarship of Katharine Park, approaching the body from a scientific perspective. In drawing from multi-disciplinary sources, including miracle accounts, literature, and art, I aim to marry science, religion, and culture in the context of the body. In exploring these themes through a transnational lens, I will exhibit the globality and multicultural nature of medieval Europe. 

@historygeek, keep working to refine this summary. What can be added or taken out that will define your interests more succinctly? Can you parse the statement so that historians in other areas can quickly understand how your interests fit into larger contexts? Does your interest include the whole of Europe? The entire interval (which was when)? Are historical sources multi-disciplinary or is your approach to historical sources informed by other disciplines (or somewhere in between)? If you had to prioritize social history and cultural history, which is more important? (Are you a social historian who is looking at culture, or a cultural historian who is looking at society? How do you define "culture"?)

Were women's bodies the contested terrain among science, religion, and culture? What was at steak in this contest? How much authority did women exercise in this debate? Which group or groups started this "project"? What did participants seek to gain or stand to lose?

A caveat. It is highly likely that  if your research interests remain steady, every summary is going to look different. The benefit of keeping a physical journal is that you'll be able to look back and see how your interests change over time. 

A recommendation. Be as patient with yourself as you've ever been in this process. Nothing is written in stone nor will be for years.

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12 hours ago, Sigaba said:

Were women's bodies the contested terrain among science, religion, and culture? What was at steak in this contest? How much authority did women exercise in this debate? Which group or groups started this "project"? What did participants seek to gain or stand to lose?

@Sigaba Can't help but point out this wonderful homophone typo that's so apt from the perspective of the patriarchy.

@historygeek, agreed.  Put all of that away and just focus on your final papers.  They will take up more time than you think.

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  • 1 month later...

Hi everyone! I just have a very positive update that I wanted to share.

We're getting to the point in the semester where we've been submitting abstracts and proposals for final papers. I recently submitted mine for my Medieval Europe class, and realized that I want to expand on the research that I'm doing. The question I've had in the back of my mind is How were the experiences of women in childbirth and infancy informed by their social positions, and how did these experiences inform the ways in which women interacted with the world around them and with each other?

 I'll be writing something along these lines for my final paper (which is focusing more on race/ethnicity in the medieval viewpoint), but I'll be doing an independent study this summer that will allow me to really get into this question more. I've done some primary and secondary source reading and have fallen in love; I've been able to call on the visual and material sources that I've been wanting to work with, and I'll be able to explore ritual and popular religion (which I've been obsessed with since readings for my Theory & Methods and  since reading Robert Bartlett's Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things?). It's definitely something that I think I will want to bring with me through to PhD programs. 

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