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Non-typical fields


jcharbinger
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What are people's thoughts on painting yourself as interested in non-typical fields? I'm really into French Imperial History, Global History, and history and memory. Sometimes its hard finding professors who specialize in these ares, so am I a better candidate if I say that I am more broadly interested in Modern Europe?

Who else out there is having difficulties finding a program that fits their unusual research interests?

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Those three areas all seem to be pretty common... and two out of three seem pretty easy to find with the new found popularity of Atlantic World history...

I have a sort of secret interest in doing a field in the history of sports. When I am done my MA and have to apply for the PhD somewhere I will likely have to put that idea to rest, however.

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I talked with a professor at a top 10 about this. I have a large topic in mind but I want to work across fields- I don't want my committee to be made up of all US historians. I want to dabble a bit on Latin America, Europe, Israel, and China, depending where my final dissertation topic ends up. He said that the most IMPORTANT thing you can do is find an advisor who is interested in your ideas and topic and ask how should you go about applying since you generally have to check off a geographical area box (Europe, US, etc). It'll be a smart idea to talk with someone in the department to see how the department works together and feels about global history before you write the application. Some history departments haven't gotten their shit together on this trend and probably won't know how to deal with you when disseration time comes.

Just know... do not mention International History unless you're looking to do diplomatic history like US-Russia relations during Cold War, at least that's why I learned from this prof and an old prof of mine who's an expert on this. Oh, that said, as the former told me to see how the potential department defines "international history" and "global history".

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Lots of rhetcomp folks are working on sports now. Seems an odd fit, but after talking to them it sounds quite interesting.

Sociology folks are doing a lot of sports stuff now as well as econ (mostly doing statistical and business side stuff obviously) and obviously people in the phys ed and kinesiology departments are working on some historical stuff. The problem is that I am interested in doing the social history of sports as a field (but not writing my dissertation on a sports related topic) but most of the people working on sports history are either working at schools where I would never, ever consider doing a PhD for various reasons and/or writing stuff about sports that is just straight up terrible. Elliot Gorn at Brown is the exception (although I don't think he does much sports history any more).

I guess my two biggest problems are that I don't have enough of a desire to do it as a field to make it a primary factor in picking a school and I think that a lot of what is being written in sports history isn't very good.

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Sociology folks are doing a lot of sports stuff now as well as econ (mostly doing statistical and business side stuff obviously) and obviously people in the phys ed and kinesiology departments are working on some historical stuff. The problem is that I am interested in doing the social history of sports as a field (but not writing my dissertation on a sports related topic) but most of the people working on sports history are either working at schools where I would never, ever consider doing a PhD for various reasons and/or writing stuff about sports that is just straight up terrible. Elliot Gorn at Brown is the exception (although I don't think he does much sports history any more).

I guess my two biggest problems are that I don't have enough of a desire to do it as a field to make it a primary factor in picking a school and I think that a lot of what is being written in sports history isn't very good.

I agree. I also have a secret interest in doing sports history. The problem I have briefly observed is I am very much afraid, skeptical of committing myself to a graduate program about sports.

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Elliot Gorn at Brown is the exception (although I don't think he does much sports history any more).

@thepoorstockinger: Elliot Gorn's a great guy; I did undergrad work with him and he was one of my closest advisors, partly because he DID do some scholarly work around sports and masculinity and popular culture. I'd highly recommend working with him in Brown's Am Civ or History departments. He's a very knowledgeable and an easy-going professor who demands good work. I know he's working with a student now who's doing some work around steroid use and male body image.

also to you and @geigwm6, there's a guy at Purdue named Robert Lamb who, I believe, does work with some graduate history students on projects related to sports. There's also Michael Ralph in NYU's American Studies program (Cultural Thought, they might call it now?) who does some interesting work around sports, race, masculinity and history...

Just some names that I came across in my own investigation about sports history. Glad to see there are others interested in similar fields.

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It'll be a smart idea to talk with someone in the department to see how the department works together and feels about global history before you write the application.

Thanks everyone for the useful responses. Now I have a good reason to actually contact a professor. Instead of just writing them to say, "hi, I'm great and I want to go to your school."

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How exactly would you go about pitching an idea like that to an advisor without a paper or anything? I have some ideas concerning sports that I like, but I wrote my thesis paper on something very different. Both my sports ideas and my thesis are on the American Civil War though. I would just be afraid of not being taken seriously, if I don't have a significant paper to back me up.

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How exactly would you go about pitching an idea like that to an advisor without a paper or anything? I have some ideas concerning sports that I like, but I wrote my thesis paper on something very different. Both my sports ideas and my thesis are on the American Civil War though. I would just be afraid of not being taken seriously, if I don't have a significant paper to back me up.

Is it baseball and the civil war? Because there is an unholy amount of literature on that field.

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Is it baseball and the civil war? Because there is an unholy amount of literature on that field.

Not exactly, it has to do with this, but isn't baseball during the civil war or anything. Everything I have seen or researched deals with the history of baseball or the influence or presence of baseball throughout the civil war. What I am interested in is more focused than that.

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  • 3 weeks later...

If researching sports makes you happy, then find a way to pursue it. Make it a chapter or two in the dissertation, that you can pull out and expand on for a subsequent book. Apparently sports is the new thing. I'm hoping to bring it to my own department, ideally through an undergraduate course but we'll have to see what happens.

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  • 1 month later...

i had thought about doing a history of boxing in nicaragua. might still pull that one out some day. history of sports isn't really that uncommon, i think you could make a serious dissertation out of it, not relegating it to one or two chapters.

and i will say that you'll probably need to do a paper on it, on your own, or at the very least a lit review paper, to convince most advisors that don't sign up to the idea of sports study right away. a colleague of mine has finished his MA and moved onto his PhD, but he's completely changed his topic so his advisor is making him write the equivalent of another masters first just to make sure it would work. this is before he's writing his prospectus. extra work in the beginning, certainly, but if the paper goes well it becomes a chapter in his dissertation, so it all evens out.

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What are people's thoughts on painting yourself as interested in non-typical fields? I'm really into French Imperial History, Global History, and history and memory. Sometimes its hard finding professors who specialize in these ares, so am I a better candidate if I say that I am more broadly interested in Modern Europe?

Who else out there is having difficulties finding a program that fits their unusual research interests?

There are a number of schools with World History programs, including Washington State University. I'm an Americanist, but we have a strong World History program here, and world is one of my secondary fields.

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