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Summer Prep?


oswic
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It looks like people are making decisions. Congratulations all around to everyone preparing for school in the Fall!

The university I'm most likely attending offers an intensive language course during the summer. I asked if I could enroll and was told that it wouldn't be a problem. I am anxious about studying two languages in addition to coursework. Having struggled with that in the past, I thought getting a head start during the summer seemed like a good plan, especially since the intensive language course at this school is tailored to each student's discipline. That is to say, I'll be reading historical documents in my language of study.

My POI has since told me that there might be a paid internship (limited funds) at the journal on campus and wants to know if I'm interested. This could work out well - I could work at the journal during the day and take the language course in the evening. I had been wondering how I would pay for rent/expenses/food during the summer because my stipend won't activate until the Fall.

There is a lot to consider. I had planned to spend the summer working on a book list I put together to prep for the first semester. It would be great to read without the pressure of coursework. Also, moving for school is going to take a lot of time and energy as my wife and I must relocate from one coast to another. We have to find her a job, a place to live, sell most of our stuff, and, you know - move! By moving early (in 2-3 months!!), would I be adding unnecessary stress to an already stressful situation? Will working at the journal and taking an intensive language class cut into my summer prep? Or is it the best kind of prep?

Thanks so much!

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I am in essentially the same position that you are, minus the campus journal. I'll be moving with my fiance (wife on June 2) to whichever location I decide to enroll at and will be taking intensive language courses during the months immediately preceding my first semester. I have talked extensively with my adviser here at my undergraduate institution an he is adamant that language should be my #1 priority over the summer and that I should focus on the language that I know best right now (for me German).

I also asked if I should start learning French or Italian and he said no, because the most important thing is to enter into a program with the ability to do research with at least one language, not merely to pass the proficiency exam. By having this language down at a research level, you can then focus your first semester on transitioning into graduate-level coursework (remember, I only have a BA, so you may already have done this).

Hopefully some of this helps! I know that my plan is very similar to yours, so I'm interested in what other people think.

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grlu- I've done a little bit of German on my own out of my own interest, but my POI encouraged my Spanish and French over German because those are more pertinent to my field. That said, French for English speakers is really not bad at all. It could be 5 semesters of Spanish bolstering my learning of French, but I think it is far easier to learn to read than German. The German syntax is difficult for my poor brain to comprehend. My point being, you can probably easily pick up French on your own. Syntax is similar enough to English and there are many, many cognates.

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There is also some social value in making sure that you pass the first language exam you have to take. In some departments (and it's likely impossible to figure that out before you get there) faculty will see failure to immediately pass a language as a sign that you haven't prepared. Americanists will often have different feelings on this, far from everyone.

I'm taking a second language the summer between my first and second year but it's the completely new language as opposed to the one I just needed to brush up on.

Edited by New England Nat
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There is a lot to consider. I had planned to spend the summer working on a book list I put together to prep for the first semester. It would be great to read without the pressure of coursework. Also, moving for school is going to take a lot of time and energy as my wife and I must relocate from one coast to another. We have to find her a job, a place to live, sell most of our stuff, and, you know - move! By moving early (in 2-3 months!!), would I be adding unnecessary stress to an already stressful situation? Will working at the journal and taking an intensive language class cut into my summer prep? Or is it the best kind of prep?

I'm also planning to start an intensive language course in mid-June. I think current PhD students can speak to your issue about summer reading, but I'm thinking about this summer as the last 'free' summer I'll have for years so I'm leaving the reading lists for the actual program :P This summer will be language prep and getting settled in a new city (and country!) for me.

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grlu- I've done a little bit of German on my own out of my own interest, but my POI encouraged my Spanish and French over German because those are more pertinent to my field. That said, French for English speakers is really not bad at all. It could be 5 semesters of Spanish bolstering my learning of French, but I think it is far easier to learn to read than German. The German syntax is difficult for my poor brain to comprehend. My point being, you can probably easily pick up French on your own. Syntax is similar enough to English and there are many, many cognates.

Thanks for the advice. I also have a few years of Spanish under my belt, so this is part of the reason why I feel I can put of starting my French and/or Italian until I have acclimated myself to my new surroundings. And my wife speaks a bit of French, so I can get a bit of homeschooling and hopefully jump in at the 200/2000 level courses at the university.

On another note (and this may be relevant for the opening poster, so I don't think I'm hijacking), does anyone know if a funding offer with fall, spring, and summer tuition remission would cover summer language courses if they are vital to one's studies? I would guess so, but perhaps it depends on the specific department?

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No. That's why you apply for grants and fellowships in the department and around the universities (like FLAS) to cover expenses for summer language courses.

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On another note (and this may be relevant for the opening poster, so I don't think I'm hijacking), does anyone know if a funding offer with fall, spring, and summer tuition remission would cover summer language courses if they are vital to one's studies? I would guess so, but perhaps it depends on the specific department?

Hm. In contrast to TMP's experience--mine does. But we are kind of nuts (in the sense of, crazy, not in the sense of, wildly enthusiastic) when it comes to languages anyway. :wacko::blink: People often get external funding to study languages at advanced levels in awesome non-North American places, but if you can take the class at our school, tuition remission applies. My MA school also covered summer language study.

So, I guess it depends.

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Oswic--

My view is that you should put the idea of summer prep reading on the back burner UNLESS your POI put a list in your hands and indicated a strong expectation that you know the books on it by the start of the fall term. During your coursework and your negotiations with members of your quals committee, you'll get an increasingly better idea of the books you must read cover to cover, those you should skim, and those you might skip altogether. Concurrently, you'll develop skills and methods to study history at the graduate level more efficiently. (That is, you might spend a few days with a book this summer only to find out that merits only a couple of hours of your time.)

If you feel you must do some preparatory reading for your own peace of mind, make the list very short. Say two or three of the "must read" works in your field of interest or one or two of the significant works that have changed the way historians view their craft. You might also consider reading the short book reviews in the academic journals most closely related to your primary interest.

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Oswic--

My view is that you should put the idea of summer prep reading on the back burner UNLESS your POI put a list in your hands and indicated a strong expectation that you know the books on it by the start of the fall term. During your coursework and your negotiations with members of your quals committee, you'll get an increasingly better idea of the books you must read cover to cover, those you should skim, and those you might skip altogether. Concurrently, you'll develop skills and methods to study history at the graduate level more efficiently. (That is, you might spend a few days with a book this summer only to find out that merits only a couple of hours of your time.)

If you feel you must do some preparatory reading for your own peace of mind, make the list very short. Say two or three of the "must read" works in your field of interest or one or two of the significant works that have changed the way historians view their craft. You might also consider reading the short book reviews in the academic journals most closely related to your primary interest.

Well then what in god's name am I supposed to do with all these books?!

Sigaba, for some reason I never read your signature until just now. It's beautiful. I met a very-retired physicist today who said he had a seminar with Charles Beard. He's 89, so I guess it works out.

Edited by crazedandinfused
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I wouldn't worry about reading over the summer too much, if you have contact with particular graduate students in your department you can ask them what they recommend. I could probably tell incoming Princeton students which books on the HIS 500 reading will be a bitch to try and do in a week for class but other than that... and those common books are very particular to departments.

As for funding for language it depends on the unviersity. Princeton does fund summer language beforehand, others dont'. It's one of the nicer things about being rich.

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I'll preface this by saying this is probably only an option for Americanists. If you have a good idea of the kind of project you want to work on and will be moving someplace else for grad school, determine whether there are any nearby sources you want to check out and will not be able to access as easily once you start school. I wouldn't let it interfere with language preparation, but even if you don't find anything you end up using it could still be a valuable experience.

For instance, I live in California right now. There are two presidential libraries here that I want to explore at least a bit before I head off to New York for school.

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I prepped for my first year by backpacking through Eastern Europe, knowing that every other summer afterwards would be filled with work. This summer I bounce from Beirut to back here for intensive French, and then two weeks of writing lecture outlines for the class I am teaching this fall.

So my advice is, if you can spare the time, take advantage of that summer before your first year! It helped that I already had two research languages down before I started, but you'll never have a summer without major obligations ever again.

As for "summer prep reading," okay. I mean, I had my comps list set within the first couple weeks of my first semester. If you know your exam fields, it can't hurt.

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I'll preface this by saying this is probably only an option for Americanists. If you have a good idea of the kind of project you want to work on and will be moving someplace else for grad school, determine whether there are any nearby sources you want to check out and will not be able to access as easily once you start school. I wouldn't let it interfere with language preparation, but even if you don't find anything you end up using it could still be a valuable experience.

For instance, I live in California right now. There are two presidential libraries here that I want to explore at least a bit before I head off to New York for school.

That said, if you live near a crucial archive (like me) at the moment and will be moving away, try to scan as many files as you can... at least the ones that will be indispensable.

I'm debating whether or not to play with the six year old campers again... if the camp will give me a senior level position, I'll consider being a kiddie for my last time! :) Oh wait, that means dealing with parents...

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Thank you for all of the responses! I have a better idea of what to do: weigh what I want to do against what I need to do, along with what is feasible for me to do. :)

Gradcafe has been so helpful during this process and I sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to this site.

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@oswic Another option is for you to grab up a couple of text books in your fields and to study them. A frame of mind in which you stop and place an event or an unfolding dynamic within a chronological framework might serve you very well in the years to come. Some of the monographs you're going to read may rest on the assumption that readers already know the five w's backwards and forwards. Moreover, some professors have raised the point that while certain fields invite skepticism of narratives, narrative history does have a place--especially when teaching undergraduates.

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Just to throw a curveball, the schools I'm interested in are kind of far & I have to work (it isn't official but I am almost certain I have to), so would it be OK to take classes @ the local JC? I have some understandings ofa couple of languages but I'm so out of practice, etc that I know I will def have to take the courses when I start school

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I wouldn't worry about reading over the summer too much, if you have contact with particular graduate students in your department you can ask them what they recommend. I could probably tell incoming Princeton students which books on the HIS 500 reading will be a bitch to try and do in a week for class but other than that... and those common books are very particular to departments.

To piggy back onto NEN's suggestion, one might also consider getting a head start on reading up on either a very significant historiographical debate in one of your areas of emphasis or [iI] do biographical/bibliographic research on a very influential and/or accomplished scholar or [iII] a combination of the two. An example of is "America's decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan." An example of [iI] is the life and scholarship of Wilson Miscamble. An example of [iII] is the impact of Eugene Genovese on the historiography of the antebellum south.

In my experience, graduate students are required to write a longer essay on items or [iI], and if one likes a challenge, can split the difference and go for item [iII]. This option will allow you to get a good overview of a few historiographical debates as well as a sense of how intense professional rivalries can be.

If one pursues any of these three options, I recommend confining one's summer reading to studying journal articles/reviews and leaving more complex (read: longer) works until you get the specific assignment. This way, if you change your topic, you've not invested your time too heavily.

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In my experience, graduate students are required to write a longer essay on items or [iI], and if one likes a challenge, can split the difference and go for item [iII]. This option will allow you to get a good overview of a few historiographical debates as well as a sense of how intense professional rivalries can be.

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In my experience, graduate students are required to write a longer essay on items or [iI], and if one likes a challenge, can split the difference and go for item [iII]. This option will allow you to get a good overview of a few historiographical debates as well as a sense of how intense professional rivalries can be.

When you say longer essay, about how in depth are we talking here?

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@oswic A frame of mind in which you stop and place an event or an unfolding dynamic within a chronological framework might serve you very well in the years to come. Some of the monographs you're going to read may rest on the assumption that readers already know the five w's backwards and forwards. Moreover, some professors have raised the point that while certain fields invite skepticism of narratives, narrative history does have a place--especially when teaching undergraduates.

This is particularly helpful, though I find value in all of the suggestions raised here.

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When you say longer essay, about how in depth are we talking here?

Oserius--

It will depend upon how deep you want to go into the weeds.

For some, it will be an assignment one does just to get done. For me, it was an opportunity to learn more about a fairly prolific historian I wanted to emulate at that time. In my research for what ended up as a biographical/historiographical essay, I collected everything he'd written that I could get my hands on--including his master's thesis and dissertation. I read his major works with a magnifying glass (including a page by page comparison of a work that had two editions). I read reviews of his works, reviews on the works of his reviewers, and reviews he had written. I interviewed a couple of the professors he'd had at graduate school. (I did not, however, interview or correspond with him.) And I had the good fortune of getting to attend a series of lectures he gave at my school and attend a luncheon at which he was the guest of honor.

In all honesty, I was on pins and needles for a while from information overload. Fortunately, I took an approach used in the retrospective essays that appear in Reviews in American History. This approached allowed me to focus on the trends and themes of his scholarship rather than a blow-by-blow account of his "brawls" with his peers. (This latter approach would have required a much broader understanding of his field than I had.)

If/when you get this type of an assignment, you'll find that there's no single right way to complete it, that there are a lot of gracefully written published pieces that you can use as examples, and, that, if circumstances allow, you can use it to refine how you look at history. (I had the "time" because I wasn't taking any research classes that term.)

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Yet another option is to take a thematic approach to one's summer preparatory reading. For example, if you're going to attend a program that a large proportion of social historians, you could read selectively on the social history of a topic of interest (e.g. the social history of the Second World War). Or, you could try to navigate the boundaries between the dominant them of your department (again, using social history as a convenient example) and the type of history you want to do.

HTH.

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Yet another option is to take a thematic approach to one's summer preparatory reading. For example, if you're going to attend a program that a large proportion of social historians, you could read selectively on the social history of a topic of interest (e.g. the social history of the Second World War). Or, you could try to navigate the boundaries between the dominant them of your department (again, using social history as a convenient example) and the type of history you want to do.

HTH.

In my case.... I'm sure it's gender history. Trying to catch up here...

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