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Switching Disciplines/Colonial America School Recs


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Hi everyone,

So, I'm pretty sure I'm going to make the (I know, very, very, very, extremely stupid) decision to switch to history. With everything that's happened over the last year, I figured I'd rather be happy now since we're all likely to die in climate disaster/pandemic/global thermonuclear war with in the next 20 years or so, so what the hey. I have a BA with a double major in Anthropology and Classical Studies, with a minor in History. My overall GPA was 89.9%/3.95 (Canadian school), and my history GPA was 87.6%/3.87. I'm currently doing an MA in anthropology, which will likely wind up with a similar GPA. My GRE scores are 168/150/5.0. I have basic reading ability in Spanish, and very rusty French that could be polished up nicely in the next year or so. As suggested by my comments above, I am from Canada, but I plan on doing US history. I don't have super specifics of a dissertation project to propose yet, but I won't be applying until the next round, so I plan on fleshing something out over the coming months. My interests lie in colonial America, women's history, and material culture. So far the schools I have written down are:

  • Harvard
  • Yale
  • William and Mary
  • Brown
  • Boston University
  • UPenn
  • UVA
  • Delaware

And some Canadian schools (that don't necessarily have my exact fit, but can use the MA as a transition to PhD programs if I get no offers)

  • Western
  • WLU
  • Carleton

Once again, I know the drastic state the field is in, but really, I think this is where my heart is. If it comes to it, I know people at a technical college and I can just be an HVAC technician or whatever, but this is for me.

Any suggestions on schools/next steps? 

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3 minutes ago, TMP said:

Do you *have* to apply now? Can you just wait?  A lot of the schools you're interested in are very likely not to admit anyone for F'21.  

Sorry, I thought I was clear in my post, but I won't be applying until F21, for a start in F22. I've seen the announcements about Brown/UPenn, etc

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4 hours ago, HorseNerd said:

Hi everyone,

[S]ince we're all likely to die in climate disaster/pandemic/global thermonuclear war with in the next 20 years or so[...]

The deployment of strategic nuclear weapons is unlikely in the next twenty years. The United States most likely foes in a general war (Russia and the PRC) do not have the technical means to degrade the American armed services' second strike capabilities with the first wave of missiles. (In a nutshell for a first strike to work, the attacker's warheads have to hit all of their targets at the same time --because the impact of the resulting EMPs is unknown-- with a circular error probable sufficient enough to ensure that the target is destroyed. This task is complicated by the assumed need to put two warheads on each target.)

When I started graduate school, I had a professor who, incidentally, specialized in the colonial/ early national period, mockingly asked me more than once "Why would anyone study naval history?" Well, this is why.

4 hours ago, HorseNerd said:

Any suggestions on schools/next steps? 

If your current program offers a thesis or report option, consider the benefits and challenges of taking either option relative to an option that does not require you to write tens of thousands of words long.

Identify primary sources that have been digitized and are either publicly accessible or available through an institutional affiliation. Get a good understanding of what's available and then start thinking about how you could use those materials to write a dissertation. 

Start figuring out if you want to explore ways to meld your expertise in anthropology into your practice of academic history. If the answer is "yes" start reading secondary works that will help you craft your intellectual identity.

Identify, obtain, and read "state of the art" historiographical essays in your field. From this exploration, you should be able to identify a handful (or two) of must read books. There are many threads in this forum on how to read like a graduate student in history but for works that "one ignores at one's peril," you're going to want to read every word.

Work on your language skills while also doing what you can to figure out how stringent the proficiency exams may be.

Identify departments where your interests align with several faculty members. It's not how a department fits you, it's how you will fit into a department. Identify professors who may sit on your committees and then start reading their works. When you narrow in on preferred committee chairs, give some thought to reading everything you can get your hands on -- including theses and dissertations. There are a few threads in this forum and in others on what to look for in an advisor, horror stories of things going side ways, and recommendations. Unfortunately, the CHE fora are gone and so the valuable information in the legendary STFU thread are lost to antiquity. (The short version is, when in doubt, STFU. When you're 100% absolutely sure, STFU. Anywhere else, give STFU a try.)

But also, given the state of the Ivory Tower, the supremacy of anti-intellectualism, and the ongoing crisis of professional academic history, it's never too soon to start sketching out alternatives. Now, I don't recommend that you let anyone know who has decision making authority know that you have such plans because true believers expect true belief out of others. But alternative plans can help you figure out how to pick an outside field and how to identify skills you can develop that are transferable to the private sector. (Hint: data analysis and visualization that cannot be replicated by AI or ASI; project management; and...HR)

Edited by Sigaba
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12 hours ago, Sigaba said:

(The short version is, when in doubt, STFU. When you're 100% absolutely sure, STFU. Anywhere else, give STFU a try.)

To quote: In 95% of academic situations, the appropriate response is shutting the fuck up. For the other 5%, it is "that's an interesting idea; I'll have to think about it."

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20 hours ago, Sigaba said:

The deployment of strategic nuclear weapons is unlikely in the next twenty years.

Well, at least that's one less thing to worry about! 

Thank you so much for the extremely detailed advice! A lot to mull over, but mulling is one of my talents. I have a feeling that my thesis is going to be much more library based than initially envisioned, so I will avail myself of what I can find. I will also keep the solid STFU advice in mind. Thanks again!

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