Jump to content

Worth Applying or Not?


jwilheim

Recommended Posts

Over the past couple of years, I've developed a goal of doing a PhD in the comparative history of slavery. Currently, I'm enrolled in a master's program in education that's not really related, but that has taught me some things I believe could give me an interesting perspective from which to study and frame the topic. I've sat in on a course similar to what I would hope to study, teach, and research and spoken to the professor about my interest. She says my current program probably would not be handicap in applying, but I'm still a bit nervous about it. I'm pursuing my current program largely because I know the realities of academic job markets these days and want to have another degree and skill set I could use if finding work as a history professor doesn't pan out. I'm not totally sure how to "spin" that on an application.

As an undergrad, I double majored in religion and history, but didn't really study the areas of history I am interested in doing work in. I had a 3.4 GPA overall due to a rocky freshman year but was on the Dean's List every semester starting the middle of my sophomore year. The highest GPA I had in any given semester was a 3.7. I didn't write a senior thesis but am going to work this semester on a paper in my field of interest (the professor I mentioned above says this is acceptable for graduate history admissions). I took the GRE in early 2008 and had a 700 V/670 M/6 AW.

I'm looking at a number of programs with professors in my area of interest--Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland, NYU, Yale, and a couple of others.

My overall concern is that it might be necessary to pursue a master's in history first, and my financial circumstances might make that difficult.

Any advice?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The master's in education might hurt you at schools that are very focused on producing research-oriented students (as opposed to students who are in it primarily for the *teaching* aspect of professorship). Because research => academic renown => reflects well on the program you came from. So things you might consider asking professors when you contact them is, how teaching-oriented is the program, how teaching-oriented do your students tend to be, do you encourage your students to get as much teaching experience as possible, which do YOU (the prof) value more, etc. Looking at where graduates get jobs is also--maybe--a good way to look at this; do more of them teach at smaller liberal arts schools, or are they at the major research universities?

Just as a random guess, most of the "top" (i.e. famous) programs will be more research-focused, simply for the research => more renown connection. But ask around.

An MA in history likely wouldn't hurt, but it is by no means necessary. Especially if you have a BA in the field already. The adcoms don't have to know your history major was actually mostly classes about medieval Japan, right?

My other major advice is--apply to more schools. With so many people applying and so few spots, the cliche about admissions being a crapshoot is unfortunately true. If I had to do it again, which blessedly I don't, that's the number one thing I would do differently.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I disagree with Sparky somewhat. Getting a MA in Ed can go both ways, really, I think. There was a poster a few years back who got her M.Ed while doing TFA and was accepted to top programs (in a very competitive field- US history!). Her classmate, whom I know, got her MA in Ed as well but as a stand alone MA (just doing what you did). She took time off though to actually work in higher ed. While her admissions results weren't as impressive as the TFA applicant, she still got into top 10 programs. But it's true, education schools get a pretty good beating by other academic departments. Also your high verbal will definitely help in a good way with fellowships (whether you decide to apply to MA or PhD).

I would certainly take this paper and professor seriously as to demonstrate that you are capable of thinking like a historian. In your SOP, you can discuss how your interests evolved from your coursework in education to your interest in doing a PhD in history. They want to see that you are willing to change academic interests so as long as this part comes out as thoughtful.

What kind of slavery are you looking at, geographically-wise? If US slavery, definitely look in Southern schools. If Latin American slavery, scholars are all over and you'll definitely need to look. Latin Americanists are known to do comparative work in their particular area of interest so you may want to look for professors who are doing comparative history and/or slavery in Latin America.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Actually, I'm pretty sure we agree--you just put a much more 'glass is half full' spin on it. ;) (e.g. I didn't directly say that an MEd would be helpful at teaching-oriented programs; I sort of left it hanging there by implication). Hehe, I like your strategy better, actually.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would definitely say apply to more schools and a wider range of rankings. All the places you are applying are insanely competitive (and I know a guy who got into maryland but no funding). That is not to say you won't get in, but that you should have some back ups. While going top 10 is a good leg up, you don't have to do it to succeed in academia. Tulane would be a good place to put on your list. We have some solid Atlantic and Southern historians, but the Latin American department is just insane for how good it is (it makes me wish I was a Latin Americanists). In general, I think it is worth applying but don't apply exclusively to those ultra-exclusive places, because at least this past year, amounts of funding were way down and number of applicants were way up, so just about every school became a lot more exclusionary.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would definitely say apply to more schools and a wider range of rankings. All the places you are applying are insanely competitive (and I know a guy who got into maryland but no funding). That is not to say you won't get in, but that you should have some back ups. While going top 10 is a good leg up, you don't have to do it to succeed in academia. Tulane would be a good place to put on your list. We have some solid Atlantic and Southern historians, but the Latin American department is just insane for how good it is (it makes me wish I was a Latin Americanists). In general, I think it is worth applying but don't apply exclusively to those ultra-exclusive places, because at least this past year, amounts of funding were way down and number of applicants were way up, so just about every school became a lot more exclusionary.

Riotbeard, thanks for the advice. I would very much like to find some less-competitive programs to apply to, and I'll look at Tulane. Are there any other schools you think would fit within this category?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Comparative slavery is not really my thing, so I can advise to look up authors of books you like (and their books' bibliographies for other scholars) and where they teach. Indiana and UPenn might be worth looking into but these places are very competitive also. It would be worth going to South Carolina and Georgia's departmental websites, because they are so strong in Southern they may also have some people working on African diaspora and/or comparative slavery. I think there is a good chance UFlorida has some decent people in comparative slavery and it may also be worth looking at LSU. Did anybody at your undergrad school do comparative slavery. If so I bet they would be more than willing to give you some good tips even if they weren't your advisor (or even if you didn't take classes. Scholars when we try to join academia!). You should really contact a comparative slavery person in your old department or the history department at your current school even though you are not doing history there. There advice can be invaluable and you form a good relationship with them, they may put in a good word (informally) for you to colleagues at other schools) That is my best advice I can give on figuring out some more places.

Good luck!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Comparative slavery is not really my thing, so I can advise to look up authors of books you like (and their books' bibliographies for other scholars) and where they teach. Indiana and UPenn might be worth looking into but these places are very competitive also. It would be worth going to South Carolina and Georgia's departmental websites, because they are so strong in Southern they may also have some people working on African diaspora and/or comparative slavery. I think there is a good chance UFlorida has some decent people in comparative slavery and it may also be worth looking at LSU. Did anybody at your undergrad school do comparative slavery. If so I bet they would be more than willing to give you some good tips even if they weren't your advisor (or even if you didn't take classes. Scholars when we try to join academia!). You should really contact a comparative slavery person in your old department or the history department at your current school even though you are not doing history there. There advice can be invaluable and you form a good relationship with them, they may put in a good word (informally) for you to colleagues at other schools) That is my best advice I can give on figuring out some more places.

Good luck!

I clearly did not get into grad school for my typing skills...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

rebecca scott and ada ferrer are amazing. and really good people to boot. at michigan and nyu respectively. these are still top 10 schools and highly competitive. both also work on cuba. so if you plan on comparing US south to the caribbean, they're good people to work with. if you want to compare US south to brazil, i'd suggest tracking down stuart schwartz (at yale, which is also... top 10).

but you'll need the range. in addition to tulane (which is a great school also with a stellar latin americanist group), i'd recommend pittsburgh (my digs). we've got sy drescher, who is getting close to retirement (as is schwartz), but is one of the big guys on abolition and the transatlantic slave trade. we've got pat manning, a world historian/africanist who is working on comparative slave trade stuff right now. and we've got marcus rediker, one of the best atlantic historians that just wrote "the slave ship" recently and is now working on the amistad rebellion. these guys are good for an atlantic history/slave trade comparison, but may be less suited to comparative slavery. if that distinction makes sense... but then we've also got reid andrews, who works on 19th and 20th century south america, so you'll get the late slave era (especially in brazil) from him, and he's one of the best brazilianists out there (and also just awesome). but those four guys... they're a clash of personalities a bit. you'd have some fireworks on your dissertation committee, but many people have navigated those conflicting egos successfully.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

rebecca scott and ada ferrer are amazing. and really good people to boot. at michigan and nyu respectively. these are still top 10 schools and highly competitive. both also work on cuba. so if you plan on comparing US south to the caribbean, they're good people to work with. if you want to compare US south to brazil, i'd suggest tracking down stuart schwartz (at yale, which is also... top 10).

but you'll need the range. in addition to tulane (which is a great school also with a stellar latin americanist group), i'd recommend pittsburgh (my digs). we've got sy drescher, who is getting close to retirement (as is schwartz), but is one of the big guys on abolition and the transatlantic slave trade. we've got pat manning, a world historian/africanist who is working on comparative slave trade stuff right now. and we've got marcus rediker, one of the best atlantic historians that just wrote "the slave ship" recently and is now working on the amistad rebellion. these guys are good for an atlantic history/slave trade comparison, but may be less suited to comparative slavery. if that distinction makes sense... but then we've also got reid andrews, who works on 19th and 20th century south america, so you'll get the late slave era (especially in brazil) from him, and he's one of the best brazilianists out there (and also just awesome). but those four guys... they're a clash of personalities a bit. you'd have some fireworks on your dissertation committee, but many people have navigated those conflicting egos successfully.

Interesting stuff, I led a class discussion last week on Stephanie Smallwood's "Saltwater Slavery" (alliteration much?) and incorporated Marcus Rediker's book as well for comparison. Now that I think about it, it seems the faculty at Pitt would be a good fit for the OP as well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

i thought saltwater slavery was a great book. rediker uses it in his atlantic history courses, it's on their comps list. pitt's department is a great place to do atlantic history or slavery and abolition. we've got a number of students working on this stuff and rediker's most recent graduate won an ACLS mellon fellowship and was offered 3 tenure-track jobs at excellent schools (two research schools with strong graduate programs and one top tier LAC). they have a really good success rate with this sort of work but it takes some real skill to please all those guys at the same time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

i thought saltwater slavery was a great book. rediker uses it in his atlantic history courses, it's on their comps list.

If I could geek out for just a second...

None of you found Saltwater Slavery kind of problematic? I mean, it's a good and all, but, if I remember correctly, doesn't Smallwood conclude that the middle passage was so bad, not only as a physical experience but also in terms of the epistemological and ontological violence it enacted on slaves, that upon arriving in the Americas those slaves were irrevocably psychologically damaged and essentially infantilized? Maybe I misread it, but isn't that going counter to the last seventy-plus years of scholarship on slavery, from Melville Herskovitz, to Sidney Mintz, to Michael Gomez, which has shown that that in fact did not happen, and that as bad as the middle passage was, it did not render slaves incapable of practicing their old cultural traditions and forging new ones?

Sorry for the tangent. I read this book a couple summers ago and never got the opportunity to talk to anyone about it. ;-)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

i think your assessment of smallwood's work is spot-on. in the course where i read her book, we'd also read mintz (but not mintz and price) and gomez (and rediker and judith carney, and on and on) so we had plenty to sit her in opposition to. her work went against the grain of, well, everything, so it was refreshing to hear in that context.

if i recall correctly, she was (implicitly) using a lot of foucault, of power structure stripping people of agency, that sort of thing. i felt like she was trying to reassert the total brutality of the transatlantic slave system, and i do have sympathy for that project philosophically. when we stray a little too far into the agency of enslaved people under these systems, we skirt or minimize or silence precisely how horrendous and dehumanizing the experience (and in smallwood's case, the middle passage in particular) was. but in terms of empirical evidence, to say that africans had been stripped of their culture and infantilized has been proven incorrect by countless studies on the african symbols and practices that were remembered and (re)invented in the americas. i think, taken alone, smallwood's work is highly problematic, but within the context of the larger field, the debates and checks that it generates is a positive thing for atlantic/slavery scholarship.

but it doesn't surprise me that, on the basis of the politics of her argument, she had been denied tenure at UCSD. i get what she was trying to say, though, and while i'm not usually a fan of massaging evidence into your preconceived argument, i think the work tempered some trends in the field to some degree.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.