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Questions from an outsider applying to a history PhD


sacklunch
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Hey ya'll, I'm normally over in the Religion section. I'm applying to mostly religious studies and near eastern programs this fall, but was advised to apply to UMichigan's interdepartmental program in Greek and Roman history. I am also applying to UMich's Near Eastern Studies program, but figured I would go ahead and do both in hopes of getting in at one.

 

I am mainly confused on what sorts of things I need to emphasize in my application to a history program. Perhaps this belongs over in the SOP section, but I'm also wondering about my overall application as a 'history' person. Do they expect me to have a good idea of a dissertation (they do not in my field)?

 

Briefly, about me: BA - religious studies, philosophy (magna cum), MTS (2 year academic degree in mostly classical languages, biblical studies, etc.), and now current MA (2 year academic religion degree). I have quite a bit of language training: 5-6 years classical Greek, 3-4 classical Latin, 4 years classical Hebrew, 1 year Aramaic, 1 year classical Syriac, 3 years German. And since I am in my fourth year of graduate work already a decent amount of advanced seminars presuming a lot of language heavy work, and so on. 

 

Anyways, I am mainly trying to get a feel for what folks are expected to have coming into programs like this!

 

thanks friends!  :D

Edited by furtivemode
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Disclaimer: I speak only of my impressions formed by conversations with faculty and fellow graduate students. I have not been part of any admissions committees.

 

I think your biggest hurdle will be to show that you know what it means to "do history" and not just "talk about the past." That means showing you know, understand, and can deploy appropriate methodologies; know how to construct an appropriate and significant historical argument; can treat sources with a sensitivity grounded in historical context; and have at least some grasp of the historiography. Particular subfields may have more specific demands as well.

 

You're fortunate that history is much more open than other fields like sociology or anthropology. Where you're unfortunate is that these issues are sometimes implicitly or explicitly reduced to talking about whether someone "has a historical mind"--a fuzzy and rather fraught phrasing that doesn't really illuminate anything. All of that is to say that this isn't really the kind of thing you can talk about explicitly and then be done with it. It comes out in your SoP when you discuss your interests, any current research activity, and what you see yourself working on in the future. It's also demonstrated in your writing sample. Is there someone in the field you can show your materials to and get some feedback?

 

I don't have any sense about the training in religious studies compares to that in history and how similar or dissimilar they are. FWIW though, I think your language training will be a big bonus in your favor.

 

Hope that helps.

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I do intellectual and social history for medieval monasticism, usually through collections of Latin sermons. I'm also at a divinity school. 

 

As Bactrian says, your language skills are great, though I assume you're going to have to pick up French. My major concern would be the difference in the way scholars of religion and historians ask questions. Personally, having been trained the other way around, when I take classes that, say, ask me to turn out a two page Positivistic exegesis of a Biblical passage, I have significantly more difficulty than when that same class asks for a 10-page paper explaining Pauline reception in the high Middle Ages through the lens of a specific sermon. The ways of thinking aren't opposed, but they are very different. I would make sure your SOP and writing sample are geared to a history department with this difference in mind.

Edited by telkanuru
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Great thoughts. Thanks folks. I will try to keep those in mind when tailing my SOP for the program. Since the program is, from what I understand, much more interdisciplinary - riding classics, religion, and history - I'm hoping I can get away with possible worries that I'm not trained in 'history.' I suppose I am a bit unclear on what the difference is sometimes. I have never done 'theology', and I consider all my work in biblical studies to be purely historical-critical, in much of the same way classicists speak about their texts. I suppose this shouldn't be terribly surprising...we are working in the same periods!

 

I did take a couple upper level history classes in college for fun (e.g. ancient history, medieval history), so perhaps doing well in those 'history' courses will show promise.

 

Anyways, thanks mates <3

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