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Writing Sample...and Should I Even Go For A PhD?


bethanygm
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Please ignore if you don't like long-windedness. Maybe I should post this to an INTP forum.

I've been looking into this Grad School thing all day. :oops: (Yes, I spend hours conducting "research" on the internet... That is just one of my many clues I enjoy doing research, ha)

I feel really intimidated by this writing sample I am supposed to come up with. I personally think I write decent papers, but are they grad school quality? I don't know!!! I don't even know what that means. I also take most of my classes online, and many of my teachers only have MAs. I am starting to wonder if I ought to get into a school to complete a Master's Degree, first, and then see if I still want to take the leap into getting a PhD. (Or at least polish my skills, although they could theoretically be good enough now.)

So I found this over at Chronicle (http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php/t ... 796.0.html):

"Here's a question: What do want to be doing 10 years from now? I mean, really, if your wishes came true, what does that world look like? Write out your perfect work day in a decade--in detail. Write down what your view from the office window is, who your colleagues are, what topics are you writing on, what grants you have or are working on. What are you teaching your undergrads and grad students, what meeting(s) are you chairing or going to? You can even frame all that with the rest of your life: what did you have for breakfast and was a significant other at the table with you? What does your domicile look like? What do you do in the evenings? Back to the lab, hiking, church, TV, theater...? Who are your friends? "

I actually performed the exercise. I discovered I would like to be a stay-at-home mom (of children too young to be in kindergarten- I will be 34), teaching online classes and either working on a dissertation or performing other such research and writing in my home office. I want to be able to write academic books on history that can also be picked up by the layperson. I want to write about women and their role in history, or books that explore the practical application of what we know about say, the Middle East, and its long and sordid past with the West (I just started a course on Islam and the Middle East so really, I don't know much yet). I also want to write scholarly articles that prove some obscure thesis that the general public really cares nothing about, but that scholars in my field might be interested to read. Do I need a PhD to write those books? I do feel I would need one to write the articles. I really also want to learn for the rest of my life. My biggest hero, at the moment, is this awesome professor at my school who has 3 or 4 Master's Degrees in various areas of science and math, and 2 PhDs. He has had the most interesting life, and he has never stopped learning. I want to learn new languages, master ones I already know, and other areas of history besides whatever it is I concentrated on for my PhD.

Does a PhD even sound right for me?

My husband is going to school to be a software engineer and I think he will be very happy doing that, (And I hate to say this, but his job may pay the bills better than mine). I, on the other hand, can't stand much of the crap that comes with working for other people. I can spend hours by myself, doing nothing but reading and learning about whatever interests me at the moment. I have never been so happy as I am now, actually, because I have a client that I do bookkeeping for, so I obviously make my own hours, dress comfortably, and am largely left alone to do my work. I am also taking all of my classes online, so I am free to structure my time the way I want to, and I get to read books all day at my house. However, I am not as socially inept as I sound. I tend to cultivate relationships with people on a one-on-one basis. I could spend hours listening to my boss tell me stories about how she and her husband managed to do as well as they have. She's a great role model, I think. I guess I am just an introvert (An INTP to per the MBTI, to be exact).

Hmm.. to give an example of the type of writing I have been doing:

I recently wrote a paper on Alexander the Great and supported my thesis that he would have been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (To much of a pop-culture topic?) I used Arrian, Curtius, and Plutarch and some other sources and my professor (who only has an MA) thought it was graduate level research and that I supported my thesis fairly well with my primary sources. But really, it did not seem like a hard paper to write, and I only used 6 sources in my 15 page paper. I don't understand what the standard is for something of "Graduate Caliber". It is a paper that I needed to write, though, because after reading about Alexander long enough, I became convinced that he belonged in the same Cluster of personality types as the one reserved for the psychopaths of this planet. (I bet Napoleon and Hitler fit there, too). I used a very healthy dose of information from the realm of psychology in my paper, too, which makes me doubt how I can ever analyze something by staying strictly in any one discipline.

:?

Anyway, I hope I will not be harpooned for poor grammar, or anything. This is a message board, and I am rambling. I definitely will not post this over at Chronicle.

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Hmmm....

First off, put the "touchy-feely" question of life's expectancy away. What you want now cannot be the predicting factor of what you'll want in ten years, so avoid looking at crystal balls or soul-searching for answers that don't manifest like that. People change due to cause and effect in the stimulus around us - so while you're content in your daydreams now, the changes in the future will temper you in many directions. There's no time in life for the "What If?" and the contented daydream - that, I might add, will undoubtedly be upset by reality's penchant for the dynamic...

And, as my boss says, you haven't been invited anywhere! So don't decide now if you're going on for a Masters or a PhD - you don't make that choice until you have it as an option. The choice itself isn't even a possibility until you are accepted - submitting your application, however, is the only way to provoke that possibility. So, should you even go? Get accepted first, decide later. Put that in your pipe, smoke it and then put that whole decision making problem away for now.

Moving on to whether or not you should apply. Think of it all this way - if you are content right now, fine. Leave this to those who are ambitious and driven enough to court it. If you feel you want more options in life, then you start applying to graduate school. That means you might need to take on something more daring - like writing an originally researched project. It won't take you forever, but in all that time you're reading and vetting your sources, you might want to come up with a thesis topic that's more graduate school appropriate.

Then you apply. And not just PhD programs - you apply to Masters and PhD programs in all tiers of difficulty. As much as you can stress to financially afford and afford to stress over. I was rejected from almost all of my schools, but got into my top choice (the place I really-really-really wanted to go for a terminal Masters). It's a lot of disappointment and lots of money - but it's worth it if you want to say, "Yeah, I'm going for my [insert here]."

Now, as far as a writing sample goes as follows in my perspective: The place I was accepted requested a writing sample. The topic was not related to Historic Preservation but was related to health management in times of disaster. My thesis revolved around the aspect of successes and failures in a disaster setting manifesting as more than just a death toll. I focused in on the event's story; the problems and the successes of the health management process (that was naught); and the ultimate lessons derived from these processes of health management in such a stressful time. I don't know what their thoughts are, particularly, on my writing sample but it was a 20ish page paper (not including appendix photography, works referenced and a myriad of other materials which jumps the entire paper to 30 pages). The work was done, actually, for a graduate class and I received the highest mark in the class. I actually visited the site itself for first hand research - since I felt it needed to be personally vetted (it was a wild story so, yeah, I had to make it a road trip). Anyway, for that work I had something like 30 cited materials and a slew of other stuff, such as personal counts and first hand interviews that did not go into the paper - otherwise I might have written it as a thesis. That's what I consider research - but I also walk a very hard line.

Hear me out when I say this because I am not attacking you -I do not believe graduate work would equate to some spin on Alexander the Great's niche in the modern craze to diagnose all of us for being human. Yes, someplace might think it's glowing. But beware, there are Masters and PhD factories out there - they make you pony up the cash and will glow whenever you write a compound sentence.

I take a hard line on this for several reasons, even while your paper might be well written and researched. Remember, that's not the issue, the problem is with content. You have, in a brief synopsis, courted a historical figure on an issue that, well, frankly doesn't matter and ultimately you've made a major boo-boo in the historical sense - historians, on some level, must understand that it is not appropriate to apply the perspectives of the present onto the past - otherwise we'd have little to no understanding of it. That's the great aspect of history; we must think outside the box to understand why people acted, thought, believed, and behaved in years gone by... Diagnosing them almost accepts that they would fall into the category of our culture, our time, our beliefs, our assumptions, our customs, our rituals - when, in fact, Alexander the Great would most definitely NOT have been culturally equivalent to the American Caucasian male of the 21st century. He does not fall into the criteria of modern psychological or psychiatric patient and to do so he would have to be one of our own. Why? Because we subscribe, psychologically, to certain notions of the mentality of humankind in this culture and certain behaviors spark certain understandings that a person is 'suffering' from something. Add someone in from a virtually alien/otherworldly culture (like Alexander the Great) and you could label him with endless fetters of personality whatnots because, by the standards of todays assumptions it might seem so, even if the behavior or symptoms were actually part of his culture's ritual behavior and response.

[Please Note: I am not saying actual physical brain hardwiring issues in history are not wonderful things to write about; what I am saying is that when you start giving personality disorders, which I do not subscribe to for a variety of reasons (we're just categorizing people, folks, there's nothing new under the sun, I hate to say), to individuals in the past, you're calling for problems due to subjectivity and dooming your work to being laughed at for its abstract and useless vein of thinking.]

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To undo a little bit of scaring that the above post may have done you (but she has some excellent perspective on the issue as well, especially about the applying first, deciding later part. You will find yourself dynamically changing throughout this application procedure, things become clearer as you get entangled in this process), let me tell you about my writing sample for Northwestern (a highly selective linguistics program into which I got accepted). It was just a 5 page term paper done in a matter of 3-4 days, cited about 8-10 papers. It was a review about Mandler's work on conceptualization in infants and I had included a section on my thoughts and the justifications I had for them based on what I'd read. Seemingly it went down well the the adcomm. They only look for coherent thinking, research potential, originality, etc in your writing sample. People tell me that even if your sample is not in the field you're applying in, as long as these characteristics are present in your paper, it should serve you well.

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Given that you want to keep a wide range of interests open and admire people who have multiple degrees, I would advise against going for a hardcore research PhD, which is all about specialization. Your post reminds me very strongly of some classmates I've had and lecturers I know, and they've been generally unhappy with higher ed. Since they don't want to shut down avenues of inquiry, they sometimes struggle to win grants, build a reputation, and make it through academic milestones that require intense focus.

That being said, you might find that there's a specific research area that really grabs you, and begin to narrow your goals as a result of the professionalization that grad school provides. An MA might be a good way to figure out if it's a fit or not. This isn't to suggest that your ambition to do popularizing work on a range of topics is wrong or bad, just that the academic machine rewards and expects a narrower focus.

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Hmmm....

First off, put the "touchy-feely" question of life's expectancy away. What you want now cannot be the predicting factor of what you'll want in ten years, so avoid looking at crystal balls or soul-searching for answers that don't manifest like that. People change due to cause and effect in the stimulus around us - so while you're content in your daydreams now, the changes in the future will temper you in many directions. There's no time in life for the "What If?" and the contented daydream - that, I might add, will undoubtedly be upset by reality's penchant for the dynamic...

---

I take a hard line on this for several reasons, even while your paper might be well written and researched. Remember, that's not the issue, the problem is with content. You have, in a brief synopsis, courted a historical figure on an issue that, well, frankly doesn't matter and ultimately you've made a major boo-boo in the historical sense - historians, on some level, must understand that it is not appropriate to apply the perspectives of the present onto the past - otherwise we'd have little to no understanding of it. That's the great aspect of history; we must think outside the box to understand why people acted, thought, believed, and behaved in years gone by... Diagnosing them almost accepts that they would fall into the category of our culture, our time, our beliefs, our assumptions, our customs, our rituals - when, in fact, Alexander the Great would most definitely NOT have been culturally equivalent to the American Caucasian male of the 21st century. He does not fall into the criteria of modern psychological or psychiatric patient and to do so he would have to be one of our own. Why? Because we subscribe, psychologically, to certain notions of the mentality of humankind in this culture and certain behaviors spark certain understandings that a person is 'suffering' from something. Add someone in from a virtually alien/otherworldly culture (like Alexander the Great) and you could label him with endless fetters of personality whatnots because, by the standards of todays assumptions it might seem so, even if the behavior or symptoms were actually part of his culture's ritual behavior and response.

[Please Note: I am not saying actual physical brain hardwiring issues in history are not wonderful things to write about; what I am saying is that when you start giving personality disorders, which I do not subscribe to for a variety of reasons (we're just categorizing people, folks, there's nothing new under the sun, I hate to say), to individuals in the past, you're calling for problems due to subjectivity and dooming your work to being laughed at for its abstract and useless vein of thinking.]

Thank you for the thoughtful reply.

On the touchy-feely part, well, I have been asking my "elders" lately, and my dad, particularly, told me he wishes he would have spent more time "following his heart" and doing what made him happy. He wishes he would have worked less, spent more time with his family and done the things he loved, like coaching cross-country. But he didn't. He "kept his head down" and "busted his ass all those years" as he says, to make more money and try to become a partner in his firm. And for what? My parents got divorced, they were often miserable, and my mom has all the nice things he managed to buy her over the years. Nothing happened the way he thought it would, so I do realize that things may change. But soul-searching is actually an excellent activity. It could have helped my dad to sit down and re-prioritize over the years and ask himself what he really wanted in life. (I don't believe we question the workaholic culture we live in, enough, but that is a different post). My years spent chasing a music career taught me a lot about my priorities. Now, I am only willing to put up with a certain level of crap before I change course, and I realized that love and family are far more fulfilling and enduring than any "rank" in life one might achieve. You only come to these conclusions through soul-searching. Still, I do love to learn and I would like a fulfilling career that allows me to balance my work and home life. I guess I believe in the idea that everyone has a path in life and it sometimes takes a little soul-searching to stay on yours.

I have to say I did feel that the topic of my paper was kind of frivolous. That said, I do realize that, technically, a serious historian should not attempt to apply perspectives of the present to the past. However, I am of the mind that it is impossible not to. Our values are present throughout the process of research, (they even show up in the language we choose to use) and are impossible to eradicate. Alexander was a man apart even in his own time, and he was downright dangerous and erratic. Our sources agree with me, in fact, on that. That really was the point in my paper. You have a lot of historians who will blatantly admit they admire him for all that he accomplished and they explain all of his glorious moments in battle. (They may mention that he was a bit inconsistent, and they say he was an alcoholic, which is an interpretation through a very modern lens if I ever heard one). Our ideas about what is of value, or worth admiration, in the past, are derived from a set of values that are (obviously) distinctly modern. It can be no other way. Therefore the presentation of what is "fact" in history, is often skewed. (If you would like some evidence you need only compare an older- modern- history book with one that chooses to include women's contributions in history. What a lopsided understanding.)

Anyway, I happened to have the opposite reaction to Alexander. I was trying to write a paper about how he managed to lead his men, but it led me in a different direction. I was disgusted by what I read. I wanted to make the point that he would be considered a maniac in our culture (and wasn't exactly balanced in his own), and that a person like that was dangerous. Why admire him? What is so admirable about behaving in such a selfish fashion? (There I go again, applying my modern perspective to the situation- but- do you suppose he was NOT selfish? Where are the stories of the hundreds of people hurt by his actions? Do you suppose the average farmer trying to put food on his table felt Alexander was entitled to acting as he did? We are missing a huge chunk of our REAL history, because historians have, for a very long time, been interested in only a certain type of history. Not that of the common person, or the woman, or the slave, but that of the wealthy and powerful person. We are just starting to pay more attention to these lost stories. Is it too much to assume that the average person did not always enjoy the violent actions of the few who held the power?)

I think we are quite wedded to our values, indeed, they are embedded in our very language. (I do not have any direct articles to point you to, because it seems rather intuitive that this is so. I know people have studied it, though). I don't think we can escape their impact on our research.

I guess that while I am certainly interested in ancient cultures and what they were really like, I am really interested in the human condition- something that is very similar in ALL cultures, even the modern ones that appear to be vastly dissimilar.

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Given that you want to keep a wide range of interests open and admire people who have multiple degrees, I would advise against going for a hardcore research PhD, which is all about specialization. Your post reminds me very strongly of some classmates I've had and lecturers I know, and they've been generally unhappy with higher ed. Since they don't want to shut down avenues of inquiry, they sometimes struggle to win grants, build a reputation, and make it through academic milestones that require intense focus.

That being said, you might find that there's a specific research area that really grabs you, and begin to narrow your goals as a result of the professionalization that grad school provides. An MA might be a good way to figure out if it's a fit or not. This isn't to suggest that your ambition to do popularizing work on a range of topics is wrong or bad, just that the academic machine rewards and expects a narrower focus.

You are probably right, but it is frustrating not knowing what to do with my passion for learning. I feel like I am something of a "Jack of all Trades" and that I will never, ever be a master of any of them. I feel like I am wasting any potential I have. I have teachers who only have MAs in history, so I do know that colleges will hire them for adjunct work. Maybe I should go with that. I also considered learning some languages and getting a degree in International Relations so that I could apply to be an Intelligence Analyst, but I have a feeling the bureaucracy in the government might make me seriously unhappy. (My husband is getting out of the Navy and I had no small part in pointing out enough inconsistencies in how he was treated to make him finally get fed up and want to leave. I did not attempt to manipulate him, but I become very irritated at inefficiency and stupidity, and the Navy is rife with such things, by virtue of its bureaucratic nature.) I could see myself pursuing a wide variety of careers and doing well in them, but I don't seem to belong anywhere. :(

I would be happiest with a high level of autonomy in my work, but I am not sure if that is too much to ask.

So...

The two routes I just mentioned-

MA in History vs. International Relations MA for an analyst position-

I really love history and Int'l Rel is something much different, I think. What probably has better job prospects and more choices out there?

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So...

The two routes I just mentioned-

MA in History vs. International Relations MA for an analyst position-

I really love history and Int'l Rel is something much different, I think. What probably has better job prospects and more choices out there?

You should probably ask "what has the better prospects for autonomy?"

The answer would be history. :P

Job prospects in the normal sense of the world might be better for the IR MA but if its happiness you're after, do the MA, think of doing a PhD if you want to after that.. you can always teach and maintain some level of autonomy, at least much more than what your husband got in the navy (or what you'd get in an IR analyst position)!

I'm no expert but this is my guess. I might be wrong.

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I have teachers who only have MAs in history, so I do know that colleges will hire them for adjunct work.

Not to be a nit pick, but no, you know that colleges USED to hire them for adjunct work. With more and more PhDs in the adjunct and community college pool, the likelihood that an MA will be easily employable is getting pretty small. I also don't think that adjuncting will allow you to spend the amount of time you want on writing, especially if you plan to be a primary caregiver for future children. A lot of adjuncts teach four or even five courses a term. May not sound like too much, but when you think about four courses times sixty students times five assignments that's 1200 papers or exams to mark every term. At 15 minutes per assignment, that's 300 hours of marking on the conservative side. The people I know who teach with an MA are limited to undesirable jobs, have little job security and high work loads. It's very difficult to publish under those circumstances.

It might work out as a job, and you may enjoy it, but it's not the best platform for writing. I'd ask your teachers with MAs how much time they have for writing and see if your goals are realistic based on their answers.

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Bethanygm, well, I'll be honest - I didn't intend to seem so damn dark when I wrote that first post! Heh. Though, with what you responded I'll pick that bone too; in a good way.

Please-please be kind, though! I am so tired this might be completely tangential and totally way too long to read.

I'm by no means against (or for) anything like soul searching - it's so obviously abstract that, well, I'll put it in the way I've learned to discuss relationships: If I see that the sum of an activity/partnership/endeavor is less than the parts which make it up, then I avoid it.

Soul searching is not something I'm against, by no means, since we all do it in some way shape or form. However, if it becomes a dominate effort over actually getting something done, I'd rather avoid it and fly by the seat of my pants.

Life's a crap shoot; people can soul search and never get anything but the same infinite possibilities as the people who don't participate in the divining rod aspect of our futures. I don't believe in fate, I believe in our beautiful irrelevance, and that humbling factor says to me to get my work done by my protestant ethic. Saving ego and emotion for the bedroom, bars and brawls - I mean, those are the places where theatre and soul searching matter.

Work is an entirely different perspective and one that I cherish; but that's of the value of the creature beholding it. In all that you've said you sound more like an anthropologist than a historian type - mixing fields and understandings is classic anthropology. The caveat of the world is that it is too complex to view in one lens - and anthropology knows it. It is the study of the human condition; though I avoid anyone with a cause in the field - too many agendas... No social science is a hard science, after all. The art, however, is gluing the pieces together while carefully avoiding self value and personal projection.

This is perhaps the reason I find fault in psychology's categorical dissection of human personality behaviors. It clarifies nothing. It's not like saying that someone's left brain has no connection to the right brain, that there is a chemical imbalance, or even that there's some sort of malfunction of development in the actual physical brain structure. Those things apply more so than going to, "Alexander the Great was eccentric for even his time!" Surely something could be said as wrong with all the brilliant military, mathematical, scientific, philosophical and creative minds of the human creature. Personality disorders are a ridiculous ritual we preform in the art of diagnosis; which is what this culture does, but it is also something we have to be very careful of when analyzing cultural material. Projecting it in there doesn't necessarily add anything to history, and so your point still is? Don't let all the great attempts to better understand the past that you've spoke about go to waste on trying to displace a figure through arbitrary means. So what if he was insane? He still got the job done in a most effective, dangerous, and brilliant fashion (I know nothing detailed about Alexander the Great so I have no vested interest in his existence, by the way)...

As far as the imprint of values; no, we cannot erradicate the mentality of ourselves from the representation we present to the world. However, what gives our perspective merit is what we pick up because our own personal lens allows us to catch details others may miss - through the appropriately trained lens that limits our own value input if done with the hand of a well trained cultural anthropologist. That's what anthropologists and certain historians do (not all historians, however, are trained in the elements of cultural perspective, naive realism, cultural relativity, etc-etc...). That does not, however, mean we ought to toss in the better half of how we think into our work - it's tricky but every anthropologist has dealt with this very problem, dealing especially with modern and primitive cultures. The past, however, deserves an even lighter touch, since the rebuke cannot come from the living but is a mute state of, well, the dead and gone.

What Alexander did was conquer. He made history - whether or not we like how he did it. I have no time for peoples likes or dislikes and the fault of the living is to always turn this world into an, "What's your favorite color?" contest. (That's arbitrary - I'm violet-blind.) Admiration, however, is far less dangerous than idolizing. For example: I cannot deny my admiration for the brilliant military mind of Erwin Rommel; but that doesn't mean I don't get upset knowing the men that died because of that striking mind in the North African Theatre. However, I do not like or dislike Rommel, regardless of my admiration for his stratigic brain. Likes and dislikes are just far too... American Idol for me... it negates true complexity on the fact this world is not black and white - it's a rich-rich gray scale of complexity.

I'm not jumping off any bridges here, but all of history and all of human whatnots are 'skewed'. We're human; that's what makes us interesting to ourselves. Of course, you can call the lack of women's historic contributions (or lack thereof) as lopsided, but I see it as a simple anthropological pattern of human gender roles. You'd see the same thing if women had the pen instead; nothing is ever fair. Granted, I, however, am not a feminist on any level. I do not believe in the equality of the sexes - nor ought it be about the inequality of the sexes, in my mind. It should be understood that we have roles in our culture and society; there's reasons for women's lack of historic input and none to get up in arms about. But we've risen above that, or so we feel, and lost all that makes us feminine to all that makes us sexless, roleless in the work place. I believe that every woman is entitled to her paradise as is every man, if they can make it so - but I do believe that if you want that paradise you can't "have it all". A tropical paradise lacks the winter; a cold north country lacks the summer sun; a temperate climate can't even muster the true dynamics of either - for a modern culture I see we have lost the idea of the necessity of sacrifice in our land of plenty. That is fine, for now, until we realize roles are necessary; we cannot have our cake and eat it too - if you understand what I'm talking about when it comes to the necessity of having roles vs. everybody having 2.5 kids, a dog, a house, a full time career, two cars, and free time regardless of gender. Two full time, career driven people with one kid is fun to watch. When exactly do they have sex...? Oh, yeah, never because they both are exhausted. Roles: I don't care what genitalia you have, but even in this world somebody has to pony up. You might feel the bite - especially dealing with your possible aspirations towards future educational adventures and the prospect of a family.

We are all part of a pattern of cultural reasoning and that is what is such a great reflection thanks to history and the patterns it shows...

Now, as far as your reaction to Alexander - fine, totally understandable. He was a warlord of great proportions; but a mastermind nonetheless. And, if the accounts of the average citizen were more solid, their stories would be great things to tell - as I am sure that the elation of conquering was not lost to the usual scale of horrible and horrifying. However, humans are brutal creatures as history forecasts. We are not kind; not even to brother or kin given the right cultural motivation. And, that world, while appalling to you, was not so unusual to the common folk - who saw much of the political dynamic hit home amongst them.

Throwing you into the hellfire of Ireland, or the throws of the Iraqi War would not bode well either; but there are common folk that live every day with stray gunfire, suicide bombers, and the possibility of air raids or trying to hold it together between ceasefires. It's amazing but all these common folk rise to the occasion and keep fighting, keep asking their governments to press on their own issues or let them dictate the issues without bravado to uprise against it. I suppose that any human is selfish to some degree. I believe some people inner reflect too much and some outwardly project; and lots of people are crazy - but if they're still functional within the bounds of a culture (even if they dictate that culture because they are, well, a conquerer) - are they crazy or medically diagnosable? Depends on the diagnosis; is it a real physical or neurological issue or is it a fabrication of someone who obviously dislikes Alexander the Great's behavior. I cannot suppose anyone playing with the world like a chess board can fully comprehend the sweeping mark they make or the lives lost at the calling of their command. They do a job and if they feel like it's the usual world around them it may not seem right or wrong (those two things are subjective anyway).

I cannot suppose Alexander was selfless or selfish; I can suppose he did well at what he esteemed to do. And, the farmer in the field could probably have felt that Alexander was definitely entitled to do as he did. Either by political or economic affiliation, or through the simple understanding that if he didn't he'd probably die. In other cases, I suppose in war it doesn't quite matter how he felt in the end - and I wonder if that implication was planted in the minds of the men and women at that time... Though the farmer's world perspective would have been interesting to understand the nitty gritty of their cultural 'world view', I wouldn't try to imagine it or defend it.

As you see it, historians are gold diggers for the rich and wealthy. The fact remains that, well, those were the people who could afford to keep really good records. But, the anthropologist will tell you that the common folk of all tier of living are part of the holistic glimpse into the world of the past and present reflections on the human condition; but the past doesn't like to yield all her secrets because we feel entitled to them. Accounts of such things are either hard to come by or do not readily exist. And, it is also too much to assume that the common folk thought so broadly about violence or the acts therein, I might add. We have a world scope today of broad perspectives and generalizations. What perspective did the commonplace man and woman have? Without the information, there is no book to write on that...

Hence, I'd still be hard pressed to see the argument as holistic or graduate level. It attacks too much and you utilized the ability to project yourself too much. But I understand your frustration and in your final statement you make a few key points - yes, there are obvious similarities in all cultures such as kinship relationships, gender roles (though now very different form the past), economic stratigraphy, rituals, rites of passage, and the list goes on. However, as a historian you have to be very careful where you start seeing parallels - as historians are not trained in cultural anthropology by proxy - which you ought to look into more closely since you seem to be at the cusp of going in that direction in your want for the Jack of All Trades theme and the general idea of getting multiple points of view. We definitely need more historic anthropologists... Mhmmm...

I'm also being sincere since I do cultural anthropology; though my heart is still within archaeology. But if you have the ability to remove yourself to the enth degree and an ability to take on the obscure subjects that history forgot (like the laypersons of old) and read, research and such... you ought to look into their world views and representations. That is what fleshes out the real history behind the kings and pharaohs. It brings in a little of everything to examine and is a real head spinner when you can see the structure of how people view the world, in all their wacky ways... Mhmm... Think about it.

Okay, I'm done writing a novella attempting to convert you into a historian with a cultural anthropologist background.

:lol:

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Of course, you can call the lack of women's historic contributions (or lack thereof) as lopsided, but I see it as a simple anthropological pattern of human gender roles. You'd see the same thing if women had the pen instead; nothing is ever fair. Granted, I, however, am not a feminist on any level. I do not believe in the equality of the sexes - nor ought it be about the inequality of the sexes, in my mind. It should be understood that we have roles in our culture and society; there's reasons for women's lack of historic input and none to get up in arms about. But we've risen above that, or so we feel, and lost all that makes us feminine to all that makes us sexless, roleless in the work place. I believe that every woman is entitled to her paradise as is every man, if they can make it so - but I do believe that if you want that paradise you can't "have it all". A tropical paradise lacks the winter; a cold north country lacks the summer sun; a temperate climate can't even muster the true dynamics of either - for a modern culture I see we have lost the idea of the necessity of sacrifice in our land of plenty. That is fine, for now, until we realize roles are necessary; we cannot have our cake and eat it too - if you understand what I'm talking about when it comes to the necessity of having roles vs. everybody having 2.5 kids, a dog, a house, a full time career, two cars, and free time regardless of gender. Two full time, career driven people with one kid is fun to watch. When exactly do they have sex...? Oh, yeah, never because they both are exhausted. Roles: I don't care what genitalia you have, but even in this world somebody has to pony up. You might feel the bite - especially dealing with your possible aspirations towards future educational adventures and the prospect of a family.

We are all part of a pattern of cultural reasoning and that is what is such a great reflection thanks to history and the patterns it shows...

I couldn't agree more with what's written above. Being a physics major, and only beginning to be exposed to the work of Pierre Bourdieu through a project that I did on musical preferences, I was led on to discussions about gender and the role of culture, etc. I then wrote a piece on homosexuality and evidence from recent research that there is very little, if any, effect of biology on such choices. I took evidence from work in linguistics (pronunciation patterns of certain vowels), sociology, etc to support that argument (which is nothing new anyway.. researchers have believed in this for quite some time anyway). Had some fun doing it, that's all. Pierre Bourdieu is a must read!

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Bethanygm, well, I'll be honest - I didn't intend to seem so damn dark when I wrote that first post! Heh. Though, with what you responded I'll pick that bone too; in a good way.

Please-please be kind, though! I am so tired this might be completely tangential and totally way too long to read.

I'm by no means against (or for) anything like soul searching - it's so obviously abstract that, well, I'll put it in the way I've learned to discuss relationships: If I see that the sum of an activity/partnership/endeavor is less than the parts which make it up, then I avoid it.

Soul searching is not something I'm against, by no means, since we all do it in some way shape or form. However, if it becomes a dominate effort over actually getting something done, I'd rather avoid it and fly by the seat of my pants.

Life's a crap shoot; people can soul search and never get anything but the same infinite possibilities as the people who don't participate in the divining rod aspect of our futures. I don't believe in fate, I believe in our beautiful irrelevance, and that humbling factor says to me to get my work done by my protestant ethic. Saving ego and emotion for the bedroom, bars and brawls - I mean, those are the places where theatre and soul searching matter.

I guess I do, however naively, believe in fate. I won't go into my reasoning on it, though. I also value intuition. Not above analytical reasoning, but perhaps in conjunction with it. It is my intuition (whatever intuition actually is..) that subtly guides me in the right direction and provides insight and sometimes is the catalyst for those eureka moments when trying to solve a problem or find connections.

Work is an entirely different perspective and one that I cherish; but that's of the value of the creature beholding it. In all that you've said you sound more like an anthropologist than a historian type - mixing fields and understandings is classic anthropology. The caveat of the world is that it is too complex to view in one lens - and anthropology knows it. It is the study of the human condition; though I avoid anyone with a cause in the field - too many agendas... No social science is a hard science, after all. The art, however, is gluing the pieces together while carefully avoiding self value and personal projection.

You know, I DID end up posting on Chronicle, and I got the same response about anthropology. I've been looking into graduate programs all morning for that, today. haha. I find myself more excited than I was when I looked at the history programs. I genuinely want to know what these books and articles I am seeing are about; (you know, on the faculty pages).

This is perhaps the reason I find fault in psychology's categorical dissection of human personality behaviors. It clarifies nothing. It's not like saying that someone's left brain has no connection to the right brain, that there is a chemical imbalance, or even that there's some sort of malfunction of development in the actual physical brain structure. Those things apply more so than going to, "Alexander the Great was eccentric for even his time!" Surely something could be said as wrong with all the brilliant military, mathematical, scientific, philosophical and creative minds of the human creature. Personality disorders are a ridiculous ritual we preform in the art of diagnosis; which is what this culture does, but it is also something we have to be very careful of when analyzing cultural material. Projecting it in there doesn't necessarily add anything to history, and so your point still is? Don't let all the great attempts to better understand the past that you've spoke about go to waste on trying to displace a figure through arbitrary means. So what if he was insane? He still got the job done in a most effective, dangerous, and brilliant fashion (I know nothing detailed about Alexander the Great so I have no vested interest in his existence, by the way)...

I do believe someone in my family could be diagnosed with a personality disorder, and if so, it would help the rest of the people in my family to understand that person better and come to terms with them. It would clarify quite a lot for us, actually, haha. And I guess I didn't really care about how well Alexander performed in battle, but rather what he was like on a personal level, and how dysfunctional it was.

I'm not jumping off any bridges here, but all of history and all of human whatnots are 'skewed'. We're human; that's what makes us interesting to ourselves. Of course, you can call the lack of women's historic contributions (or lack thereof) as lopsided, but I see it as a simple anthropological pattern of human gender roles. You'd see the same thing if women had the pen instead; nothing is ever fair. Granted, I, however, am not a feminist on any level. I do not believe in the equality of the sexes - nor ought it be about the inequality of the sexes, in my mind. It should be understood that we have roles in our culture and society; there's reasons for women's lack of historic input and none to get up in arms about. But we've risen above that, or so we feel, and lost all that makes us feminine to all that makes us sexless, roleless in the work place. I believe that every woman is entitled to her paradise as is every man, if they can make it so - but I do believe that if you want that paradise you can't "have it all". A tropical paradise lacks the winter; a cold north country lacks the summer sun; a temperate climate can't even muster the true dynamics of either - for a modern culture I see we have lost the idea of the necessity of sacrifice in our land of plenty. That is fine, for now, until we realize roles are necessary; we cannot have our cake and eat it too - if you understand what I'm talking about when it comes to the necessity of having roles vs. everybody having 2.5 kids, a dog, a house, a full time career, two cars, and free time regardless of gender. Two full time, career driven people with one kid is fun to watch. When exactly do they have sex...? Oh, yeah, never because they both are exhausted. Roles: I don't care what genitalia you have, but even in this world somebody has to pony up. You might feel the bite - especially dealing with your possible aspirations towards future educational adventures and the prospect of a family.

Well, I suppose the work of Marija Gimbutas is there to give the feminist something to believe in. (Gimbutas theorized that Neolithic societies in "Old Europe" worshiped a mother goddess, were somewhat egalitarian, and respected and revered women's roles - which were often, of course, child rearing and other more domestic activities. She provided evidence to support her theory that nomadic tribes from other areas of the world invaded "Old Europe" and changed the culture there. The nomadic tribes worshiped a violent sky god (sound familiar?), had a hierarchical society in which women were at the bottom. You can google it if you care. I hate to recommend wikipedia, but it currently has a pretty accurate summary about her research.) If her theory is considered to be a potentially true one, it certainly lends reason to getting "up in arms about" the status of women in the last 5,000 years of human history. She is an anthropologist, of course. As far as having my cake and eating it to- well- it all depends how I want to define success. In my mind, I have a choice between the masculine way of hierarchy (not in a gender sense, but perhaps in a yin-yang sense) - where one must make it up the ranks to be successful in life, and then there is a flip way of viewing it, in which I consider "success" to be the ability to pay the bills, spend time with my family, and still do some of the work I love. Fate hasn't given me a standard issue husband, either. He wants to have a career in computer science, but our roles are open. He doesn't mind being a stay-at-home dad, someday, and I don't mind being a stay-at-home mom. We'll work it out. Our priority in life is to maintain a decent balance between work and family life. We'll live frugally, invest our money, and do enough to feel financially secure. We'll travel and spend time with our family and nurture our marriage. That's the general plan lol. (And I am challenging our culture's concept of "success" here. Nobody ever wishes they had worked more in their last dying breath. Yet, many of us are "doing whatever it takes" to "make it to the top".)

However, humans are brutal creatures as history forecasts. We are not kind; not even to brother or kin given the right cultural motivation. And, that world, while appalling to you, was not so unusual to the common folk - who saw much of the political dynamic hit home amongst them.

Your perception of history is not a mutually agreed upon truth. We only have written history for the past 5,000 years. What were we like before that?

Hence, I'd still be hard pressed to see the argument as holistic or graduate level. It attacks too much and you utilized the ability to project yourself too much. But I understand your frustration and in your final statement you make a few key points - yes, there are obvious similarities in all cultures such as kinship relationships, gender roles (though now very different form the past), economic stratigraphy, rituals, rites of passage, and the list goes on. However, as a historian you have to be very careful where you start seeing parallels - as historians are not trained in cultural anthropology by proxy - which you ought to look into more closely since you seem to be at the cusp of going in that direction in your want for the Jack of All Trades theme and the general idea of getting multiple points of view. We definitely need more historic anthropologists... Mhmmm...

I'm also being sincere since I do cultural anthropology; though my heart is still within archaeology. But if you have the ability to remove yourself to the enth degree and an ability to take on the obscure subjects that history forgot (like the laypersons of old) and read, research and such... you ought to look into their world views and representations. That is what fleshes out the real history behind the kings and pharaohs. It brings in a little of everything to examine and is a real head spinner when you can see the structure of how people view the world, in all their wacky ways... Mhmm... Think about it.

Okay, I'm done writing a novella attempting to convert you into a historian with a cultural anthropologist background.

:lol:

Yeah, I definitely don't think my paper is graduate level, but it definitely gave me needed experience working with primary resources. I didn't realize how amateur my attempts at previous papers had been, until I sat there and read the REAL sources (sad, I know, but I just started my upper-division courses, and they are much more rigorous than the earlier ones). I suppose that for my Jack of All Trades tendencies, I am going to have to get training in cultural anthropology. ;) No one discipline feels broad enough to accommodate what I feel a pressing need to do. My favorite books, of late, have been by anthropologists, and I get so ridiculously excited when I read the clever ways in which they are using elements from different disciplines to support their current thesis. I love to look at the big picture and learn as much as I can. After I do this enough times, little tid-bits of knowledge start to come forth and I catch a glimpse of the connections between things that might, at first, seem totally unrelated. I do that in everything I do. It is how I diagnosed my thyroid disease when my doctors could not seem to connect the dots (a rather vague list of symptoms, thyroid disease), and it is how I am learning Spanish so quickly (my husband speaks it and I notice connections he's never seen). I think in patterns. That sounds stupid, it seems to be true. (Consequently, I SUCK at rote memorization. Chemistry was not my forte for this very reason, and biology put me to sleep, in the end. And it is not the subject material, it is the way they teach it. The courses could require much more critical thinking than they actually require the students to do. I wrote the Natural Sciences Dean about this before I changed my major, haha.)

Anyway, I am off to work and I will be looking up more information on anthropology programs in the coming months.

Thanks for the awesome reply! :)

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I could comment on a lot here [especially that whole section on feminism and how we shouldn't be upset over the oppression of women throughout history because it was just due to their anthropological "roles" - wow!], but I wanted to comment on how you keep indicating that you can't necessarily stay within one field, Bethany. That's completely fine! Why not pursue an interdisciplinary field? My undergrad major is interdisciplinary and my grad program will be as well. I do a lot with history, but also politics, gender studies [which in itself is interdisciplinary], sociology, and critical theory in general. I think it's tremendously important to be able to think about things from the vantage point of more than one discipline - it gives you a much more cohesive idea of how ideas fit together. Once you do that, you begin to see how artificially divided up "disciplines" can be!

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Without getting into the majority of what was posted above I will say this:

a) Your writing sample sounds like a potential Kiss of Death. Going back and diagnosing historical figures with modern mental illnesses is not accepted in most historical circles. Based on some of the other stuff you've said in this thread (I've just skimmed it) you seem to have an interest in "history from below" (it's an antiquated phrase by now, but it still works), and the sort of paper you do this is not an effective way of doing it. There are stories to be told about people who have faced oppression and struggled for better things: calling long dead generals crazy is a not a good way of telling those stories.

B) If most of your courses are correspondence you may want to consider going for an MA first or take some senior undergraduate courses. The leap from not being in class to the sort of close interaction which is part of graduate school could be pretty jarring. I also wonder about the quality of the reference letters you can get from people marking your papers via correspondence (particularly if they don't have PhDs or reputations).

c) I am not as willing to dismiss the issue of asking what exactly you want to be doing in ten years. Unless you want to be doing something which absolutely requires a PhD then there is no reason what-so-ever to go down that path. Publishing popular histories can be done with your current education and lots of practice or a creative writing degree (concentrating in creative non-fiction ideally), a journalism degree or something similar. A PhD is not a liberal arts degree: you don't do it to learn a lot about a lot of different things and become a more rounded person. It's a slog to specialize in a narrow area where you can produce original research. Unless you want to publish scholarly works and teach at the university level, you are better served getting another degree. What you describe as your interests don't seem to require a PhD. How do you feel about teaching at the high school level?

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I could comment on a lot here [especially that whole section on feminism and how we shouldn't be upset over the oppression of women throughout history because it was just due to their anthropological "roles" - wow!]

Please let me clear my point before we start 'wowing' anything or allowing what I have said to be taken into an offensive format, addressing my na

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First off - in the latter portion you discuss our own culture's stress of expectations upon males and females in contemporary society.What we are now seeing is a sensitivity coming out regarding women and men and the individual. As far as I'm concerned it's all an Oprah marketing campaign... but, cynicism aside, women are equally to blame for stereotypical likes and dislikes; and fashion is an ever changing ordeal we are not going to shed. We are still biological creatures; add culture and you have a kettle of ever changing fads

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First off - in the latter portion you discuss our own culture's stress of expectations upon males and females in contemporary society.What we are now seeing is a sensitivity coming out regarding women and men and the individual. As far as I'm concerned it's all an Oprah marketing campaign... but, cynicism aside, women are equally to blame for stereotypical likes and dislikes; and fashion is an ever changing ordeal we are not going to shed. We are still biological creatures; add culture and you have a kettle of ever changing fads
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Without getting into the majority of what was posted above I will say this:

a) Your writing sample sounds like a potential Kiss of Death. Going back and diagnosing historical figures with modern mental illnesses is not accepted in most historical circles. Based on some of the other stuff you've said in this thread (I've just skimmed it) you seem to have an interest in "history from below" (it's an antiquated phrase by now, but it still works), and the sort of paper you do this is not an effective way of doing it. There are stories to be told about people who have faced oppression and struggled for better things: calling long dead generals crazy is a not a good way of telling those stories.

B) If most of your courses are correspondence you may want to consider going for an MA first or take some senior undergraduate courses. The leap from not being in class to the sort of close interaction which is part of graduate school could be pretty jarring. I also wonder about the quality of the reference letters you can get from people marking your papers via correspondence (particularly if they don't have PhDs or reputations).

c) I am not as willing to dismiss the issue of asking what exactly you want to be doing in ten years. Unless you want to be doing something which absolutely requires a PhD then there is no reason what-so-ever to go down that path. Publishing popular histories can be done with your current education and lots of practice or a creative writing degree (concentrating in creative non-fiction ideally), a journalism degree or something similar. A PhD is not a liberal arts degree: you don't do it to learn a lot about a lot of different things and become a more rounded person. It's a slog to specialize in a narrow area where you can produce original research. Unless you want to publish scholarly works and teach at the university level, you are better served getting another degree. What you describe as your interests don't seem to require a PhD. How do you feel about teaching at the high school level?

I think this is dead-on advice. OP, plan on responding to it, or are you only responding to the posts that don't relate to your actual career plans any more?

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I think this is dead-on advice. OP, plan on responding to it, or are you only responding to the posts that don't relate to your actual career plans any more?

Outside of the fact I hijacked the thread into another direction, not the OP, I also second the statement about that advice ... minus the weird pushiness/snarking to get the OP to respond - which was kinda unnecessary, I'll add.

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I think this is dead-on advice. OP, plan on responding to it, or are you only responding to the posts that don't relate to your actual career plans any more?

Yes, sir.

:D

a) I am not planning on using that paper as my writing sample. I have stated that the thesis was somewhat frivolous, and I do realize it is not graduate level work. We have had quite a long discussion here on the problems with applying our modern perspectives to the study of history, and I now know more than I knew when I wrote that paper. And anyway, there is only so much I can do in a short, undergraduate paper (6-15 pages). I can only address a finite number of the points that would undermine my thesis (or destroy it all together). Therefore, I get to choose how much attention I want to pay to them. Also, I don't think my thesis could stand up to a more in-depth analysis than I was able to subject it to in 15 pages. (Of course, I knew that when I started it, and I also knew I could get away with ignoring some of the important points that would destroy my thesis, therefore, I decided it was safe to go with it. Undergraduate papers are usually never meant to be an in-depth, far-reaching analysis of a subject. They merely force you to dip your toe in the water. Certainly most of you must realize this. Most of my professors put a cap on how many pages we can write, and that, right there, decides how limited the analysis is going to be). I am also not expected to be sophisticated enough to "know better" than to apply modern cultural perceptions to historical figures, at this level, so I suppose I was allowed to get away with it. I did get an A in the class. I guess my teacher forgave the transgression and chose to focus on the quality of my analysis (even if it was based on an apparently pointless thesis)!

B) It could be jarring to go from online classes to working with real, live people, but I don't suppose the quality of interaction I am getting with my professors could get much better if I attended class. When I attended class, I was "talked at", not with. That is what lectures at this level are all about. Also, my professors in class rarely had enough time to sit and talk about the subjects one on one with me. In my online classes, I send detailed questions and comments to my professors, and they often reply with very long, well thought out answers. I have found that the quality of interaction I get is actually better in online classes. I was even able to have a few good telephone conversations with one of my instructors in which we talked about the material, and discussed what I wanted to do with my career. That said, I do plan on establishing some working relationships with the professors at my school through taking a few classes in person, and by connecting with some of tenured professors, to seek their advice. (I can also do some research on the instructors teaching the courses online that I need, take classes from those I would like to know better, and make sure I at least have the chance to show them what I can do.)

c) I don't think I want to teach at a high school level (although I have no way of knowing if I will always feel that way). I have reasons for this, but I'm not going to bother with them right now. Someone in the Chronicle forum explained the PhD track using an hourglass metaphor. The narrow part is the graduate training. When you have sufficient training in one area, you can afford to branch out (the wide part, obviously). The benefit of cultivating a solid foundation from which to branch out is obvious. I don't really see a PhD as being somehow limiting.

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Outside of the fact I hijacked the thread into another direction, not the OP, I also second the statement about that advice ... minus the weird pushiness/snarking to get the OP to respond - which was kinda unnecessary, I'll add.

Well, if I managed to unsettle GirlAtTheHelm, I guess I'm doing something right! :lol:

I'm just really interested in the initial question, and not at all in the hijack. Apologies for the bluntness.

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a) I am not planning on using that paper as my writing sample. I have stated that the thesis was somewhat frivolous, and I do realize it is not graduate level work. We have had quite a long discussion here on the problems with applying our modern perspectives to the study of history, and I now know more than I knew when I wrote that paper. And anyway, there is only so much I can do in a short, undergraduate paper (6-15 pages). I can only address a finite number of the points that would undermine my thesis (or destroy it all together). Therefore, I get to choose how much attention I want to pay to them. Also, I don't think my thesis could stand up to a more in-depth analysis than I was able to subject it to in 15 pages. (Of course, I knew that when I started it, and I also knew I could get away with ignoring some of the important points that would destroy my thesis, therefore, I decided it was safe to go with it. Undergraduate papers are usually never meant to be an in-depth, far-reaching analysis of a subject. They merely force you to dip your toe in the water. Certainly most of you must realize this. Most of my professors put a cap on how many pages we can write, and that, right there, decides how limited the analysis is going to be). I am also not expected to be sophisticated enough to "know better" than to apply modern cultural perceptions to historical figures, at this level, so I suppose I was allowed to get away with it. I did get an A in the class. I guess my teacher forgave the transgression and chose to focus on the quality of my analysis (even if it was based on an apparently pointless thesis)!/

A PhD is limiting because you spend 7 years doing one thing in one field of history (your comp fields may be different but they generally relate to each other) using one or two archives, reading the secondary literature on one field and that's pretty much it. You learn languages (often dead languages) that you need to conduct your research. After graduate school you teach in that field (if you can get a job) and then try to publish what you know. You read the journals in that field to stay current, you attend and present at conferences in that field and you hang out in archives that have holdings for that field. You can dabble elsewhere but getting a PhD and being an academic is very much about immersing yourself in a rather narrow field. People move between specific time periods and national contexts but usually within a thematic area and most people keep pretty tight research interests. The reason why it is limiting is because you need to have an absolutely insane amount of knowledge to regularly publish in a field and it takes years and years to amass the sort of expertise that's expected of academics. A PhD is a good foundation branch out from, but it takes so long to acquire it that unless what you want to do requires a PhD there is no reason not to pursue other avenues to get a similar foundation.

I sort of feel like your response was a refutation of my comments more than anything else, which is odd since you asked for advice. You asked a question at the beginning of the thread and my answer is basically that I am totally unsure of why what it is you want to do (i.e. not be primarily a scholarly research, not be a tenure track university professor) requires a PhD as opposed to a graduate degree in creative non-fiction or journalism.

You will not be able to be a scholar on the modern Middle East without modern standard arabic (and perhaps farsi and/or french)

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