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HUMANITIES: Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, Johns Hopkins


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Hello everybody:


I wondered if there's someone who could give a little insight on humanities programs in the USA. Engineering, Computer Science and hard sciences in general, are a way too much inflated currency on this forum, even if it is clearly justifiable given the number of students enrolling each year in those fields.


I will have to make a choice among the universities I listed in the topic title (Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, Johns Hopkins). What I am interested in, are the programs in Comparative Literature, French and Italian, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, but I am trying to understand what the strenghts of each place are, even if they are let's say in 'English and American Literature' or 'Linguistics'. So please feel free to join this 'conversation' whatever your field in the humanities is.


I  think the right choice for me is Berkeley, but I am still waiting to hear about the financial aid, which could be a real hazard given California Budget Crisis. 

Anyone already studying there who can give advice on how to navigate through Californian rough sea? How are lthe atest measures affecting public university?


My field of interest is Late Medieval Intellectual History. Medieval Studies are not very strong at Stanford, at least so I have been told, but are prestigious at Berkeley (I see they have been importing and breeding the best faculty from the east coast for decades; all the faculty seem to hold a Ph.D. from Yale and I am already in touch with scholars I admire) and very strong at Princeton, where Renaissance Studies are great, too. Johns Hopkins has a great, big department, the German and Romance Languages and Literatures dept., where I have already been reassured of the opportunity to have extraordinary mentors and excellent job placement opportunities. But the idea of living in Baltimore is not very appealing, even if I have been told it is not how detractors describe it. On the other hand, Berkeley is a paradise on earth, and it's less expensive than Stanford in terms of everyday expenses (rent, food etc.). But money is a minor argument here, so let's talk about scholarship first!


Any advice or opinion is welcome. Diversity of interests is very much welcome. Please join the forum!


Matecocido ;)


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nobody can figure out which program(s) is/are the best fit for you except you. research fit, faculty, location, cost.. it comes down to what you place the most importance on and whether you "mesh" with the program, not the opinions of strangers or the "prestige" of the place.


as for financial aid: have you already been accepted, or are you just sussing places out? if it's the latter, i'd avoid making a judgment call before you've even applied. everything is up in the air with the pending "sequestration" nonsense. many things will change within the next two weeks, nevermind an entire 6-12 months.

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matecocido: I agree about the imbalance between natural sciences and humanities (or, as the Germans used to say, "sciences of spirit" --Geisteswissenschaften unite!)


I have similar options to choose from (vacillating between UChicago and Yale now), but can say that Princeton seems to be dominated by undergraduates, though there is some fantastic research going on there. Not quite related to your concerns about academics, but I've heard that the graduate student housing provided by the university can be unsatisfying (basically a big dorm with a bar in the basement).


Berkeley seems to have some great people (Martin Jay in intellectual history, Judith Butler of course, though she's teaching part time at Columbia and may stay there permanently perhaps, etc), and I've always found their designated emphasis in critical theory really attractive (the designated emphasis system itself is pretty unique, I think, comparable to my knowledge only with the many interdisciplinary committees at UChicago). I can also totally agree, at least according to my impressions, that Berkeley has an amazing strength in things medieval. I got to know an Oxford-trained medievalist in the English department and she was incredibly kind (totally contingent fact that doesn't expose a pattern or institutional strength, I know, but perhaps a useful tidbit?), and Niklaus Largier in the German department is an expert in medieval German mysticism.


From what I've learned, Hopkins humanities overall is a very tight-knit community and the advising/mentoring one gets is amazing. The Humanities Center has some very renown scholars whose work is pretty cutting edge (Hent de Vries, Michael Fried, etc.), but not quite related to your stated areas of interest. In any case, it looks like a very positive and supportive environment within which to grow as a scholar.


I did not apply to Stanford and so didn't really research it, but I can say that one person working on Italian and German literature there, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, consistently puts out amazing scholarship (his pet concept is "presence"). More on the theory-side of the humanities, though.



Unfortunately, I don't have any knowledge about the UC system and am myself waiting for funding to come through from Berkeley.


Anyhow, hopefully these informations are useful in some regard! For late medieval intellectual history, I would go for Berkeley and, if funding fails to come through, perhaps try giving them the "your my first choice, but I have an offer with better funding, etc" line. If that doesn't work, maybe go with Princeton.


Good luck and congratulations!

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@pears: Yes, I have been accepted, and given that you are currently in California you could give me a great insight on the university public system there. Anyway, I think grad school is not only about yourself, but the people you work with and your colleagues around the country as well, and , of course, the 'location'. I live in Europe, so you shouldn't presume the same familiarity you have with the american system in an international student like myself. Hope you can help me with Californian financial crisis. ;)

And what do you mean with 'sequestration nonsense'? ;)


@miscellaneous: great to find a fellow spirit!! Congrats for your admissions! Thanks for the advice on grad housing in princeton; another friend of mine has confirmed it!! I share your opinion on the distinguished work of prof. Gumbrecht. Thank you very much! Hope to hear your voice again on the forum))

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if you want my ignorant opinion:


stereotyping trivia question!!!!!!! Where did <X famous person> get their doctorate focusing in "Late Medieval Intellectual History"?






umm..umm..let me think about this one john... B. Berkeley final answer. 


*confetti as I win millions* 


sir, I recommend Berkeley to you

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To provide an alternate opinion... I was discouraged from applying to Berkley because they aren't as strong for Medieval studies in my area (Spanish Lit), while Vincent Barletta at Stanford is doing some interesting things with pre-modern minority literatures.  I have no idea how things stack for your Comp Lit/Italian inclination though.


On the other hand, Stanford and Berkley will be relatively expensive from a cost of living point of view.

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