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I'm new on here so hi.

I'm a European History major who is "starting" a graduate (MA) program in August. I say "starting" in quotes because I was an accelerated undergrad, so I took grad classes during my last undergrad year in order to get my MA in one year rather than two (while staying at the same university). I graduated last month with my BA and am moving right along into this program. 

I am a very anxious person (with my generalized anxiety disorder and major depression, mental health is always a bit of a challenge) so that's, predictably, starting to really come out in regards to my MA program. I have a lot of things going on in my personal life as well. The biggie in the personal life is... I'm 22 and (trying) to move out of the house for the first time. My mom is controlling and verbally abusive so it's a very difficult process.

But here are my program specific issues:

  • I'm supposed to have three committee members but, at this time, only have two. The professor who was going to be on my committee (when we discussed this around the time I was applying, etc) is taking a leave next year. This kind of jumbled my plan, as I'm unsure of other professors who would be a good match. I'm very happy with the other two on my committee so no complaints there! It's just an issue of pressure to get this last one.
  • I don't have my thesis topic figured out yet. I know I have time and won't be taking my thesis course (in order to do the writing) until Spring but I should be deciding and finalizing soon (in my opinion). My area of study, specifically, is the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. I have that part figured out (and have since my second year of college) but I have a really wide variety of topic interests and don't know how to narrow it down. There's also a matter of where are the sources I need (I'm limited to documents at the USHMM in DC due to travel expenses. I've been searching their archives and finding aids online) and what languages they're in (I know German and, obviously, English).
  • I feel like I'm not prepared and generally not good enough. Not much to be done there but it's definitely been a pain lately.

So I guess... does anyone have any advice on any of those points? Specifically the thesis topic bit?

Thanks. :)

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Hello :)

Regarding your advisor, I would read out to your other 2 and ask them for suggestions. They would know who might be a good fit and might have time, and then you can reach out at that point.

For topic, that's one of the hardest parts. Will you be writing a prospectus this fall semester? If so, you'll need to know your topic when school starts. I'd say read some books this summer and see what really excited you. Last semester I took a class on Nazi Germany (for my MA...starting my PhD in August) and I have some suggestions for books that might help you pick. Of course, it all depends on what sub-interests you have, but I suggest checking these out:

1. Marion Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany

2. Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men

3. Nicholas Stargardt, The German War

4. Robert Gellately, The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy 1933-1945

For the last bit, that's something a lot, if not most, of us deal with. Its imposter syndrome. It's normal and the best way to handle it is to just focus on your work.

Best of luck this fall!

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I definitely second the reading suggestions! I recently took a class on Nazi Germany and another on the Holocaust and our booklist included works by Richard J. Evans, and I rec. any of those. 

If you're interested in the Eastern front, I'd recommend: War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941 by Geoffrey P. Megargee. 

If needed, I also have links to a couple primary sources describing events of the Holocaust and the Wansee Conference notes from a seminar paper I wrote. Feel free to PM me! 

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I have to PM you.  I'm a sixth year in my PhD program (ABD already).  FWIW, I specialize in the Holocaust and Nazi Germany.

But for public info, just read, read.  Since you are looking at an enormous field.  You need to decide which lens you'd like to explore: the perpetrators?  The victims?  (I don't quite believe in "bystanders" because to them, if they remain silent, they're implicit collaborators, which fall into perpetrators category).  And within the two categories, you have many, many different actors.  You might want to begin by browsing through Holocaust and Genocide Studies journal. Truly, what are the questions you want to explore that drew you into the field in the first place?

You might also want to strong consider joining a graduate student group in the counseling center.  They will absolutely share your academic and personal anxieties and understand depression.  There might be a group running through the summer so check it out.


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Gitta Sereny's Into That Darkness and Primo Levi's The Drowned and the Saved, while excellent and must-reads, convinced me that I would be a much happier person studying medieval France. 

Edited by telkanuru
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Everyone else has given good advice so far. just to add to it, I'd say break up the Holocaust into categories which might interest you and i'll give you some questions to maybe help get your thinking. This is how i did it before i took comps last year:

1: The Evolution of the Holocaust: How have the terms and approaches that historians use to understand the Holocaust changed over time? How did the Holocaust evolve from discrimination to persecution to state-sponsored genocide? What was the relationship between Hitler to the governmental bureaucracy and its bearing on the evolution of the Holocaust? This category is still pretty big, but like everyone said, read, read, and read. I'd highly recommend Saul Friedlander Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution, 1933–1939 and The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 which are both phenomenally detailed for being surveys. 

2. Motivations/ Complicity for the Holocaust: Who were the executioners? What motivated them to undertake such radical actions and how were they able to carry out these atrocities? In this category you can take sides in the historiographical debates. The intentionalists like Gerlach and Goldhagen (who's pretty controversial, but essential to read in my opinion). The functionalists like Browning and Schleunes. Definitely read the Willing Executioners/ Ordinary Men debate which is available on the USHMM website. Ian Kershaw's "working towards the Führer" thesis is very convincing as well, he takes the best of both sides and i'd highly recommend reading Hitler, the Germans, and the Final Solution, it's a big book as well, but he broke it into 4 parts, if you just read the 1st part that would be very beneficial for you. As for complicity, Jan Gross, Patrick Debois, and Tim Snyder all have great arguments in their books. For example, one quote that really stuck out to me from Gross' Neighbors was something like: "One day in the summer of 1941 half of the population of the small Eastern European town of Jedwabne, Poland murdered the other half"  

3. The Holocaust in the East: How do the experiences in the East change our understanding of the Holocaust? Which assumptions about the Holocaust are challenged by the experiences in the East? Jan Gross, Patrick Debois, and Tim Snyder are all great candidates for this section too. I know when i started out being interested in Germany and the Holocaust, i really didn't know anything about the Holocaust in the East, Father Patrick Debois called in The Holocaust by Bullets. Another fascinating quote to ponder in his book is something like "More than 1.5 million Jews had already been murdered before the gas chambers at Auschwitz were even conceived of". You can use this to think about the Einsatzgruppen death squads, local collaborators (think the Ukrainian police at Babi Yar -- in 2 days some 33,000 Jews were murdered mostly by local police groups, not by the SS).

Gender and the Holocaust: How does a gendered perspective add to our understanding of the Holocaust? How did Nazi persecution (both for victims and perpetrators) differ between women and men? In this category you could think about Marion Kaplan's Between Dignity and Despair, Claudia Koonz Mothers in the Fatherland, and a great new one i just picked up in Wendy Lower Hitler's Furies.

Some more questions to help get you thinking (these are really similar to the comps questions that i wrote about last April): 

1) How do we understand the conditions that were present in Germany which allowed for the rise of Nazism in 1933? Which of these conditions were most significant? How did antisemitism in Germany evolve into persecution and eventually lead to genocide? Daniel Goldhagen suggests deep-rooted “eliminationist antisemitism” inculcated ordinary Germans with a primal hatred for the Jewish people — Is innate bloodlust a satisfactory answer to why the Holocaust occurred? Or is obedience to authority, conformity, and peer pressure the reason for the atrocities as Christopher Browning proposes?

 2) How do the differing perspectives presented in the historiography help define the Holocaust? Was the Holocaust a predetermined master plan of Hitler’s as intentionalists argue or did the initiative come from below with German bureaucrats as funcionalists argue; Or is Ian Kershaw’s argument of “working towards the Führer” the best way to understand why the Holocaust occurred because it includes the best attributes and circumvents the weaknesses of both intentionalist and functionalist arguments? Was the German Sonderweg a prerequisite for the Holocaust? How does the involvement of Poles, Ukrainians, and other non-Germans in the East complicate the Sonderweg thesis? How does the study of gender change or alter our understanding of the Holocaust?

3) How do recent revelations about the implementation of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe change our understanding of the Holocaust? In particular, how does this new historiography change our assumptions about, for example, the relationship between World War II to the Holocaust, the motivations of killers, and the breadth of complicity? Is it possible to reconcile these findings with earlier ones about Nazi Germany?

If i was just rambling, i apologize, but i love discussing the Holocaust and i really hope this helps you in some way. I know you need to narrow down your idea, and i think a good way to do that would be to break the Holocaust into categories like this. Good luck!

Edited by Reaglejuice89
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@Reaglejuice89 Breaking things down like this is a great suggestion! Also, those last three points are where my own research interests lay, so they definitely help me with pinpointing specifics about what I want to focus on. The functionalist vs. intentionalist debate is a fascinating one, particularly after reading the accounts from Eastern Europe and what we know of Poland being the sort of experimentation field when it came to killing. 

For more book recs for @anxioushistorymajorThe Third Reich in History and Memory by Richard Evans, which I've just acquired and I was recently recommended both Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933- 1949 by David Cesarani and Memorializing the Holocaust: Gender, Genocide and Collective Memory. I haven't read either of those two yet, but they're on the list of books I'm slowly getting.

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On ‎6‎/‎19‎/‎2017 at 4:46 AM, anxioushistorymajor said:
  • I don't have my thesis topic figured out yet. I know I have time and won't be taking my thesis course (in order to do the writing) until Spring but I should be deciding and finalizing soon (in my opinion). My area of study, specifically, is the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. I have that part figured out (and have since my second year of college) but I have a really wide variety of topic interests and don't know how to narrow it down. There's also a matter of where are the sources I need (I'm limited to documents at the USHMM in DC due to travel expenses. I've been searching their archives and finding aids online) and what languages they're in (I know German and, obviously, English).

Thanks. :)

Although there is quite a lot of difference between History and English, they work together to produce a better understanding of events and cultural positioning, especially from a humanistic POV. I took a Holocaust literature class at UMass as an undergrad senior the year I was there. It was amazing. Dr. James Young is (or was when I was there) the dept head of Judaic Studies at UMass, as well as being an English Professor. He has written several books on both the Holocaust and memorials of the Holocaust.  Many of the literary texts are biographical narratives. Some are fictional representations of biographical events. There are also some diaries. Looking at these pieces of literature will give you an introspection into the minds of individuals who experienced the Holocaust. It could add an element or twist to your thesis that is more personal and unique. You might even want to go back and look at pogroms occurring from the beginning of the century, such as the one at Kishinev. The reasoning behind this thought is that Chaim Bialek is considered by many Holocaust literary scholars, to be a Holocaust writer, even though he wrote "City of Slaughter" in the early 20th Century prior to the rise of Nazism. The poem reveals anguish at the Jews' situation, yet, offers a type of condemnation for their passivity. The pogrom and Bialek's subsequent poem show a ripeness in the timeline, that allowed Nazism to rise and to bring the Shoah to fruition. Steven Spielberg's Project Holocaust has been working frantically for over 20 years to record survivor stories for the benefit of the future. You might want to check the literary databases at your university, because there is beginning to be quite a lot of scholarship on the Holocaust and the writers often bring in historical support for their arguments.

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