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Zamyatin

Advice needed: History PhD after IR

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Dear GradCafe historians,

I have been lurking on this forum for quite some time now, and have been very impressed with the general level of kindness shown by most of you guys towards newcomers and outsiders to your field. So first of all, kudos, the atmosphere on this board seems to be so much more encouraging than it is on, say, its PolSci or International Relations equivalents.

I am a current MA/MSc student of an International Affairs programme who has come to feel a little crestfallen about his discipline. This past term, I have been able to take some classes on the philosophy of social sciences, probably hoping to resolve some of the doubts I have long held about the theoretical assumptions that underpin my discipline. But in fact, my disappointment with IR has since only grown as a result of reading more about the field's epistemological foundations.

I have always wanted to pursue a PhD and try to have a shot at a career in academia. But I have unfortunately also found it quite impossible to bring my interest in historical contextualisation of international relations or the philosophies and ideologies underlying foreign policies in agreement with a research career in the quant-heavy social sciences. Political Science, and especially IR, seems to me to be moving relentlessly towards either the accumulation and interpretation of endlessly large and occasionally questionable, data sets, or, alternatively, towards unforgiving, obscure over-theorisation - and I am not interested in doing either.

Given that I have found myself drawn more and more towards scholars of history in recent years, and have spent the vast majority of my spare time reading my way into the works of scholars in especially the history of Russia and the Soviet Union, I have started to wonder whether it wouldn't be a good idea for me to try to apply to US graduate programmes in history after finishing my current Master's degree. I would be enormously grateful if you could take a brief look at my profile, and maybe point out a possible way forward.

Maybe a few words on my academic profile: I hold a B.A. in Politics, Philosophy, International Law and Russian from University College London. It's a First Class degree, with a grade average of about 71. I think that this might translate into a 4.0 GPA on the American scale, but might also be mistaken about that. I am currently studying towards a Dual MA/MSc in International Security and International Relations at the Institut d'études politiques de Paris and the London School of Economics on a full external scholarship. I have spent a year abroad at Saint Petersburg State University in Russia, and have spent longer periods of time living and researching in Ecuador, China, Australia, Germany and Poland. I speak and read English, Russian, French and German fluently, have limited knowledge of Spanish, Polish and Danish, and have studied Mandarin Chinese for roughly one year. Previous research of mine has been focussed on placing the rhetoric of international law in post-Soviet breakaway republics, in particular in relation to claims to secession and statehood, into a broader historical context, looking at the contradictory functions of Bolshevik nationality policies and Soviet constitutional law, as well as post-WWI public international law, in the nation-building processes of the fifteen former Soviet Union Republics. I have also interned at a couple of research institutes based in London and Berlin, and worked as a development consultant, a volunteer translator for a Holocaust research library, and a teaching assistant for Modern Foreign Languages at a London school.

As a PhD student, I would want to continue doing research on the relationship between Marxist-Leninist ideological perspectives on nationality, race and ethnicity and the legal foundations of socialist state- and nation-building processes, especially in the Soviet periphery and post-WWII Central-Eastern Europe from 1915 until roughly 1949. My broader research interests lie in transnational history, the history of Modern Europe and the post-Soviet area, and in particular in the history of nationalism, race and ethnicity, the history of international law, and the (intellectual) history of Cold War political ideologies. 

I would be enormously happy to receive answers to any of the following questions:

1. Do U.S. history grad schools frequently receive or even accept applications from individuals with no prior formal training in history? If so, what do you think are these applicants' general chances of success? Did any of you guys switch to history from another related discipline and could share her or his experiences?

2. Would you recommend studying towards a second Master's degree in history before applying to U.S. grad schools, or would it be possible to receive the necessary methodological training as part of the taught part of grad school PhD degrees?

3. Would you be able to recommend departments or even potential advisors for my specific fields of interest? Due to family reasons, I would strongly prefer to apply to schools based in New York City or the northern half of the East Coast. I have been looking at Columbia and NYU, and have been impressed especially by the latter. But then again, I am not sure whether my qualifications would be sufficient for entry into any of those schools.

Again, thank you all in advance for your help. I hope that this is the right place to ask these sorts of questions, and if not, then please feel free to delete or move the thread. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Zamyatin

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34 minutes ago, Zamyatin said:

As a PhD student, I would want to continue doing research on the relationship between Marxist-Leninist ideological perspectives on nationality, race and ethnicity and the legal foundations of socialist state- and nation-building processes, especially in the Soviet periphery and post-WWII Central-Eastern Europe from 1915 until roughly 1949. My broader research interests lie in transnational history, the history of Modern Europe and the post-Soviet area, and in particular in the history of nationalism, race and ethnicity, the history of international law, and the (intellectual) history of Cold War political ideologies. 

Can you please clarify your research interest? Do you want to study how M-L ideology impacted state formation and nation building in the regions you mentioned or do you intend to use M-L ideology as a primary interpretative tool?

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1 hour ago, Zamyatin said:

1. Do U.S. history grad schools frequently receive or even accept applications from individuals with no prior formal training in history? If so, what do you think are these applicants' general chances of success? Did any of you guys switch to history from another related discipline and could share her or his experiences?

2. Would you recommend studying towards a second Master's degree in history before applying to U.S. grad schools, or would it be possible to receive the necessary methodological training as part of the taught part of grad school PhD degrees?

1. Many do accept applications, but some professors will be interested in the history courses you have taken. I switched to history from international politics and public policy. While I don't think anyone can tell you about the "general chances of success" since it's not about a rate or anything like that, in my field (East Asian history),  some people do get in top programs without having previously earned a degree in history. A few people who used to study PolSci with me are doing a PhD in history in top US programs now. 

2. When I applied I already had two Master's degrees, adequate language training, a bunch of rejection notifications from PhD programs in PolSci, and knew what my research interests were/are, so I didn't think of getting another Master's degree in history, especially given that the PhD program normally entails coursework requirements which will train you and result in an MA in history. Plus, MA programs can be very expensive in the US. 

Edited by AnUglyBoringNerd

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1 hour ago, Sigaba said:

Can you please clarify your research interest? Do you want to study how M-L ideology impacted state formation and nation building in the regions you mentioned or do you intend to use M-L ideology as a primary interpretative tool?

Hi Sigaba, thanks for the answer! Sorry, I should have put that more clearly. I am interested in the former, with a particular focus on how exactly M-L ideology on nationality, ethnicity and the nation state eventually crystallised into actual Soviet constitutional law. An example would be the similarities and differences between, say, the Bolshevik conception of the principle of the right of peoples to self-determination, which was taken to justify the Union Republic status of some subject peoples, and the corresponding concept in the modern European tradition of international law.  

Edited by Zamyatin

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56 minutes ago, AnUglyBoringNerd said:

1. Many do accept applications, but some professors will be interested in the history courses you have taken. I switched to history from international politics and public policy. While I don't think anyone can tell you about the "general chances of success" since it's not about a rate or anything like that, in my field (East Asian history),  some people do get in top programs without having previously earned a degree in history. A few people who used to study PolSci with me are doing a PhD in history in top US programs now. 

2. When I applied I already had two Master's degrees, adequate language training, a bunch of rejection notifications from PhD programs in PolSci, and knew what my research interests were/are, so I didn't think of getting another Master's degree in history, especially given that the PhD program normally entails coursework requirements which will train you and result in an MA in history. Plus, MA programs can be very expensive in the US. 

Hi there, thanks for this. I assume you'd suggest that I take some additional time to work on clarifying my research interests and catch up with the relevant literature?

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On 1/14/2020 at 2:00 AM, Zamyatin said:

1. Do U.S. history grad schools frequently receive or even accept applications from individuals with no prior formal training in history? If so, what do you think are these applicants' general chances of success? Did any of you guys switch to history from another related discipline and could share her or his experiences?

Quite a lot of history graduate students had their training in different fields, and many departments across the States explicitly state that they welcome non-history majors. Plus, you have many of the desired assets such as language training, master degrees, and international exposure, so I wouldn't worry too much about that!

 

On 1/14/2020 at 2:00 AM, Zamyatin said:

2. Would you recommend studying towards a second Master's degree in history before applying to U.S. grad schools, or would it be possible to receive the necessary methodological training as part of the taught part of grad school PhD degrees?

As you may know and others's statements here, you'll be getting a master and possibly an mphil (few schools) along the way. You need to convince your poi and selection committee why you believe studying history naturally befits your research plan, and how your previous academic training gives you a cutting edge over others. 
 

 

On 1/14/2020 at 2:00 AM, Zamyatin said:

3. Would you be able to recommend departments or even potential advisors for my specific fields of interest? Due to family reasons, I would strongly prefer to apply to schools based in New York City or the northern half of the East Coast. I have been looking at Columbia and NYU, and have been impressed especially by the latter. But then again, I am not sure whether my qualifications would be sufficient for entry into any of those schools.

You generally want to find at least 2 or 3 faculty within the history department whose research applies to yours. So in your case, if I am not mistaken, choose schools that have people working on Soviet history, Modern Europe, nationalism, and Cold War. Plenty of those actually along the East Coast's universities. No need to worry about your minimum qualifications. Once you meet a certain threshold in terms of well-developed ideas, languages etc.., random chance and departmental politics may decide whether to accept you or not. 

Yeh, NYU is definitely a great place to pursue your ideas. Columbia is currently in the hiring of one Soviet historian. PM me if you have more questions. 

 

Good luck!

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