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Tell me about Renaissance!


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Hi all,

I'm just looking for some general feedback / advice on PhD programs that are strong in Renaissance, the subfield I'm interested it. By this point I've obviously done some of my own searching, but in some ways I feel like it's been pretty limited to big name schools and "the top 20." I just want to make sure I'm not missing out on any hidden gems! If anyone has any info or can speak to any program, I would love to hear thoughts!

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Could you be more specific about your interests? What about the period do you like to study? This will help me and others offer recommendations. 

You can also take a peek at last year's thread on the Renaissance. There was some discussion of individual programs in there. 

Edited by Ramus
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Yeah, "Renaissance" is pretty broad. I'm going to assume that you mean literature of the English Renaissance, and right off the bat, you should probably start using the term "early modern" instead. People still do use "Renaissance" in casual conversation about writers like Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, Marlowe, Jonson, Bacon etc., but "early modern" is the preferred term these days.

Anyhow, you will have to be a bit more specific in terms of field / era interest -- early modern / Renaissance encompasses roughly 150 - 200 years, after all, and contains a wide range of poetry, drama, and a wide variety of other investigative / philosophical writings besides. Having said that, your original comment about the "top 20 schools" is roughly on point, but you can't let that limit your search. For instance, my own program has a fairly strong early modern department. In fact, both the department chair and co-chair are early modernists (the co-chair has one foot firmly in Medieval, but she has done a lot of research and publishing on early modern interests as well). The chair just edited the forthcoming Arden Shakespeare edition of The Comedy of Errors, which is no small undertaking. I'm saying this not so much to pump the tires of my own program as to suggest that there are many options for great early modern programs outside the top 20. Notre Dame and Washington U. in St. Louis, for instance, are worth looking into. I seem to recall that University of Oregon has a fairly strong department in that area as well. 

What you're mainly looking for are a few professors who have research interests in the same ballpark as your own, as well as evidence of departmental support. Yes, the USNews top 20 contains a lot of programs that meet both of those criteria, but your investigation into grad schools should probably go deeper. One helpful approach is to find a few recent texts / journal articles that you like and are pertinent to your interests, and figure out where the authors teach. Sometimes you'll get a "lone wolf" at a SLAC, but sometimes you'll discover that there's a strong core of people in your field at an otherwise less obvious program.

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Thanks for the feedback! Yes, I suppose I should be more specific– I was sort of looking for a general overview of any programs anyone had an opinion on, but I can describe some of the work I've already done! 

What I'm really interested in is Shakespeare and his contemporaries (a bit cliche, I know. I'm actually wondering if that will hurt my chances of acceptance?). I wrote my senior honors thesis on Richard III, Richard II, and Macbeth, and I'm interested in possibly continuing this work or pursuing something similar in grad school. I'll just attach the abstract here.

I am familiar of course with the term early modern, but it seemed that many of the schools I've looked at used "Renaissance" in defining their subfields? But thank you for the tip! I'll be as specific as possible in my SOP and make sure I double check which term is being used by a particular institution.

Thank you to all!

 

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What I'm really interested in is Shakespeare and his contemporaries (a bit cliche, I know. I'm actually wondering if that will hurt my chances of acceptance?).

No, it won't. Shakespeare will always a huge part of early modern study, so don't be worried about that. I am, however, a bit more concerned about you trying to present this thesis as the seed of your graduate study. While the thesis sounds like a lot of fun, I'm not sure how many programs would look at a Weberian reading of politics in Shakespeare as really innovative. But more to the point, it would be hard to link this project up with current scholarly trends—and I can't overstate the importance of doing that in your applications. Weber isn't hot or new, nor is reading politics in Shakespeare.

This isn't an attempt to poo poo on your thesis or your methodology, far from it. I just want you to know that you'll need to figure out a way to get this project "to speak" to current scholarly trends. You might be successful in the application season even if you don't do that, but you'll need to do so if you want to be competitive for the really top programs.

But to your question: if you're interested in Renaissance (I use this interchangeably with 'early modern,' as I think most people do now) drama, you can look just about everywhere. Almost every doctoral program is going to have someone that works on Shakespeare & Co. If you want to restrict yourself to Ren drama and politics, the field narrows a bit. UCLA is a pretty good option.

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No, it won't. Shakespeare will always a huge part of early modern study, so don't be worried about that. I am, however, a bit more concerned about you trying to present this thesis as the seed of your graduate study. While the thesis sounds like a lot of fun, I'm not sure how many programs would look at a Weberian reading of politics in Shakespeare as really innovative. But more to the point, it would be hard to link this project up with current scholarly trends—and I can't overstate the importance of doing that in your applications. Weber isn't hot or new, nor is reading politics in Shakespeare.

This isn't an attempt to poo poo on your thesis or your methodology, far from it. I just want you to know that you'll need to figure out a way to get this project "to speak" to current scholarly trends. You might be successful in the application season even if you don't do that, but you'll need to do so if you want to be competitive for the really top programs.

But to your question: if you're interested in Renaissance (I use this interchangeably with 'early modern,' as I think most people do now) drama, you can look just about everywhere. Almost every doctoral program is going to have someone that works on Shakespeare & Co. If you want to restrict yourself to Ren drama and politics, the field narrows a bit. UCLA is a pretty good option.

Thanks for the feedback! I sort of figured as much- while I'm very proud of this project, it certainly isn't groundbreaking, and my advisor stressed that for an undergraduate thesis the goal isn't necessarily to reinvent the wheel. But I will definitely keep up my research on what is being talked about and published now. 

As a follow up, do you have any advice regarding how I can still use this in my application? (Or, not "still use" but use to the best advantage. I'm hoping that having even written an undergraduate thesis and having received honors for it will help to set me apart.) For example, I'm planning on using (a portion, probably, as it is 50 pages) this thesis as my writing sample. How would you address this in a SOP? Is there a tactful way to discuss this work while acknowledging that it is not necessarily "cutting edge" and that my graduate work will head in a different (and hopefully more relevant) direction? I hope that makes sense.

Thanks again for the comments! They are very much appreciated. 

 

Edited by othersamantha
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Is there a tactful way to discuss this work while acknowledging that it is not necessarily "cutting edge" and that my graduate work will head in a different (and hopefully more relevant) direction?

Rule #1 in Grad Apps: Never point out your own weaknesses! Instead, you could use a template like this: "In my undergrad thesis, I explore X. When conducting research for the project, more questions emerged about Y and Z within the context of X. I hope to pursue those questions as a graduate student." 

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Rule #1 in Grad Apps: Never point out your own weaknesses! Instead, you could use a template like this: "In my undergrad thesis, I explore X. When conducting research for the project, more questions emerged about Y and Z within the context of X. I hope to pursue those questions as a graduate student." 

What an excellent answer! That makes so much sense, and yet, it would have taken me a long time to get to this conclusion. Thank you!

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