OAH Dispatch: Sometimes “I just need to listen”


Mary R.S. Bracy teaches history at Warner College in Lake Wales, Florida

Here is Mary R.S. Bracy‘s latest post from the Organization of American Historians meeting in Sacramento. Click here for Mary’s previous OAH post: “She Persisted: A New Assistant Professor Tells Her Story.”  Enjoy!

As is usually the case when I go to conferences, I have about five million things rattling around in my head at once. Yesterday was a full day. Today I’m headed back home, so I feel like this  has just been too quick!

I sat down to write this dispatch last night, but I was simply too tired to type any words on the screen. Our panel started off the day at 8:00 am. I was excited to get going, but was a bit disappointed when we only had three audience members.  I guess this is what happens when you’re up against a panel on “Hamilton!” I have participated in a lot of conference panels, but this was one of my favorite.  It was first panel I’ve been on where I’m the one with the most experience!  I would have never been brave enough as an MA student to even think about presenting a paper at a big conference like the OAH…so I was really happy to see my fellow panelists doing that.

I like to get out of my comfort zone when I go to conferences, so the other panel I attended yesterday was “When All That Is Left Is Words: The Writing Sensibilities of Civil War Soldiers.” Sarah Gardner (Mercer University), Peter Carmichael (Gettysburg College), and Timothy Williams (University of Oregon) each presented papers. I was especially intrigued by Professor Williams’s paper “Prison Pens: The Culture of Writing in Civil War Prisons,” which focused on prisons as intellectual spaces.

I only made it to two panels overall, which is about what I expected.  I gave up trying to do everything at conferences a few years ago.  If there are papers I really want to see, or colleagues I want to support, I do that, but otherwise I simply try to absorb the intellectual atmosphere.  Sometimes this is exhausting; other times it’s completely inspiring.

This time, I’m taking away a deep sense of inspiration from my fellow panelists, who are all young and excited and passionate about what they’re doing.  I am in no way old, but I am disillusioned.  The academy has hurt people I care about.  It hurts to see my friends leave the profession.  It’s been frustrating to talk with them as they fill out hundreds of job applications, only to have nothing.

But I’m an optimist at heart, and being on a panel with graduate students fed that optimism.  They know that this job market is terrible. But they love the job so much that (at least for right now) the problems seem like a distant future.  I tried to offer a dose of reality.  I mentioned that the job market is terrible and graduate students need to be thoughtful about the future.  But when they started talking excitedly about passing comps, planning dissertations, and writing grants, I just shut up.  Because in my disillusioned world, I just needed to listen.

The American Historical Association is Looking for Summer Bloggers


Here’s the skinny:

The AHA is seeking two aspiring graduate-student bloggers, each to write a series of posts on historical documents from their research projects. If you are looking to hone your blogging skills and share the process of doing history with a wide audience, consider applying to be a summer blogger on AHA Today, and show readers how historians’ habits of mind shape the way they see the world.

This year, we’re challenging our summer bloggers to select a historical document and write about its significance to their research. (Think of “document” expansively—it could be a letter, a memo, an article in a community newsletter, a photograph, a map, an oral-history interview, a sound recording, or a nontraditional primary source.) We especially want to hear about how engaging with this particular document led you ask different questions and how it took your research in exciting new directions. You might also consider these questions:

Read the entire call at AHA Today.


Applying to Graduate School in History: A Guide and Timeline

scribesYesterday we did a post on choosing a public history graduate program.  Today I want to call your attention to Michael Hattem‘s excellent “Applying to Graduate School: A Guide and Timeline.” Hattem is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Yale writing a dissertation titled “Past and Prologue: History Culture and the American Revolution, 1730-1800.”

Needless to say, I will be sharing this with my students who are interested in graduate studies.  Thanks, Michael!

How to Interview for a Job at a Church-Related College or University

Chapel of the Resurrection (exterior), Valparaiso University

Chapel of the Resurrection (exterior), Valparaiso University

On Saturday, I wrote a post about interviewing for jobs in history departments at teaching colleges.  Today I offer some tips about interviewing for a teaching job at a church-related college or university. These also come from an Inside Higher Education piece I published in December 2012.

Here is a taste:

If you get an interview at the American Historical Association or another meeting with a church-related college, you need to do your homework. What kind of church-related college is it? A good place to start is Robert Benne’s Quality With Soul. Benne identifies four different types of church-related colleges. I have charted my own course in this post, but have relied on some of Benne’s classifications.

There are many schools that have historic connections with Protestant denominations. This, of course, does not mean that those connections will have any bearing on the hiring process or the AHA interview. For example, Duke University has a historic connection to the United Methodist Church, but this connection will play no factor in the search process. The same might be true of a place like Gettysburg College, a school with connections to the Lutheran Church. If you have an AHA interview with this kind of church-related school, there is no need to treat it any differently than you would an interview at a nonsectarian school or public university. You may not even realize that you are interviewing with a church-related school!

Other church-related schools take their church-relatedness a bit more seriously. Catholic schools, for example, might ask you if you have any problems with the Catholic mission of the university. In most cases, however, this issue will not be raised during the AHA interview. (It might be raised by an administrator during an on-campus visit). The only exception to this rule is the small number of Catholic colleges who only hire Catholic faculty. If these schools interview at the AHA (most will not), the committee will not only ask you if you are Catholic, but will want to know if you are a practicing Catholic. (Yes, a private school can ask such a question).

Read the rest here.

How to Interview for a Job in a History Department at a Teaching College

Messiah ImageA few years ago I wrote this piece at Inside Higher Ed. Perhaps some of my thoughts here might prove useful to graduate students and others preparing for interviews at the upcoming American Historical Association meeting in Atlanta.

Here is a taste:

This piece is about interviewing at colleges and universities that stress teaching over research. This, I might add, is the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities. It is important to remember that the phrase “teaching college” can be applied to a host of different kinds of institutions. Elite and not-so-elite liberal arts colleges, private comprehensive colleges, and non-flagship state universities, for example, would all find a comfortable home in the “teaching college” tent.

This may be stating the obvious, but it is still worth mentioning that committees from these colleges are looking for an excellent teacher. Some may want to hire a “teacher-scholar,” or a person who sees their vocation in terms of blending traditional scholarship and teaching. Others may want someone who is a teacher first and a researcher/writer second. Still others may not give a lick about your research or how many books and articles you hope to churn out over the course of your career. Whatever the case, all of the colleges in this category want a person who not only works well with students, but actually has a desire to do so.

As you might imagine, your “research” is not going to be as important to the search committee at a teaching college as it might be if you were interviewing with a research university. This does not mean that the search committee will not care about your dissertation or book manuscript. In most cases committee members will ask you about your research and, in some cases, may find it quite interesting. You may even find that many of these colleges have incentives in place, such as summer research stipends or course reductions, to help you achieve your research and publication goals. But always remember that teaching comes first.

Read the rest here.

Andrew Henry on Blogging and Graduate Students

Andrew Henry is a Ph.D candidate in Religious Studies at Boston University.  He is a scholar of Late Antiquity and the host and creator of Religion for Breakfast. Follow him @andrewmarkhenry Andrew is covering the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Atlanta for us this weekend.  Here is his first dispatch: “Religious Studies Blogging Comes of Age, but Grad Students Need Not Partake?”  –JF

Even a few years ago, academic bloggers of religion needed to defend their online endeavors to their colleagues. In a market where ideas are currency, why would you share these ideas publicly for free and especially without the careful vetting process of peer review?

It seems, though, that academic blogs of religion have come of age, or at least, that is what James McGrath announced at the start of the AAR/SBL panel on Blogging and Online Publishing. Formerly dominated by personal blogs, the religious studies blogosphere now features slickly designed sites ranging from non-profit web journals such as Ancient Jew Review to inter-disciplinary platforms like The Religious Studies Project which produces regular podcasts, interviews, and articles from leading scholars in the field.

The AAR/SBL panel featured several heavy-hitters to showcase this newly triumphant religion blogosphere—Bart Ehrman, Wil Gafney, and Lawrence Schiffman.

All three panelists shared a deep commitment to public engagement. An academic blog, they argued, can be a vital aspect to your teaching and research as you share complex ideas with a broader audience. Moreover, academic blogs offer an opportunity for academics to collaborate on projects, providing instant feedback to half-formed ideas that can eventually grow into a larger project such as an article or monograph.

Despite these benefits, all three panelists strongly cautioned graduate students away from blogging. Graduate students, according to Bart Ehrman, should be focused on their research. Blogging is a huge “time suck” that can slow down their progress toward finishing their dissertation. The other panelists warned that graduate students might inadvertently torpedo their careers by writing something that will be held against them in a hypothetical interview for a tenure-track job.  Of the three panelists, only Wil Gafney saw some benefit in graduate students blogging, though she did note the possible negative effects blogging could have on job searches outweighed the benefits. 

It seems that academic blogging is great, but, according to this panel, the risks outweigh the benefits.

After tweeting this unanimous opinion, something of a firestorm erupted on Twitter. Several newly-minted tenured professors cited their blog as a critical factor that secured their job. Others stridently defended graduate student blogging, saying blogs can help hone writing ability, develop ideas, and forge professional relationships between academics.

In a battle of anecdotal evidence, though, what advice should graduate students follow? The blogosphere of religious studies has clearly justified its existence, but where the graduate student fits into this community still remains tenuous.

Why the Ph.D is Killing History

Robert Zaretsky, a history professor at the University of Houston, joins the chorus of historians lamenting the way Ph.D students are trained.  Here is a taste of his essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The Future of History.”

…Consider the tempo of life in graduate school: It moves at the same glacial pace as did life during the age of Phillip. Still governed by guildlike regulations and socio-professional traditions that our early-modern ancestors would recognize, the careers of grad students advance as languidly as trade caravans once did across North Africa.

Trudging slowly across the desert of coursework and dissertation research, grad students pass the many skeletons of peers who had, without success, launched themselves along the same route. As they pass the oases of independent cafes and bookstores, a good number of these exhausted explorers will quit their trek and join the tribe Aibeedee. Their professional lives will come to resemble what one of Braudel’s students, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, called l’histoire immobile, when history seems to idle, if not stall and stop altogether.

For those who survive the desert passage, and reach the port of a tenure-track position, time shudders back into movement. Just barely, though. The seven-year span of time during which your worth will be weighed and fate determined will move as sluggishly as a ship across the Sargasso Sea. The seaweed of service committees will cling to your hull as you wallow in the becalmed waters of academic presses. The process of revise and resubmit for articles you had already chiseled to perfection, the sending out of book proposals to editors who mix short bouts of interest with long periods of silence, the larding of dozens of obscure footnotes demanded by anonymous manuscript readers will make Philip’s Mediterranean seem like the floor of the NYSE in comparison to the static sense of tenure-line life.
The pace of life does not change dramatically for most of those who reach the El Dorado of tenure. Committee servitude deepens as post-publication lassitude descends; now that your dissertation has (finally) become a book, your life has (suddenly) lost its compass. Often, of course, another monograph will take root and slowly flower during la longue tenurée,accompanied by the annual harvest of a lone scholarly article. But academic time, at least when measured against the professional world beyond academe, continues to move with Braudelian languor.
It is hardly surprising, then, that we are unprepared for the tempo and temper of the times. We have handicapped ourselves, in addition, by a process of professional fission, fracturing into a growing number of subdisciplines. As our profession continued to sprawl, we fastened on ever smaller matters, and phrased our work in ever more arcane jargon. Mostly indifferent to the art of storytelling, we have been dying a death by a thousand monographs.

50 Key Thinkers in History

Are you starting graduate school in the Fall and want to get caught up on the latest theory in historical studies?  Over at the blog of the Historical Society, Heather Cox Richardson suggests that you check out Marnie Hughes-Warrington’s book Fifty Key Thinkers in History.  She describes the book as a “godsend for showing students the lay of the land so they can then absorb individual hills.” Here is a blurb about the book from the Routledge website:

Fifty Key Thinkers on History is a superb guide to historiography through the ages. The cross-section of debates and thinkers covered is unique in its breadth, taking in figures from ancient China, Greece and Rome, through the Middle Ages, to contemporary Europe, America, Africa and Australia; from Bede to Braudel; Marx to Michelet; Ranke to Rowbotham; Foucault to Fukuyama. Each clear and concise essay offers biographical information, a summary and discussion of the subjects approach to history and how others have engaged with it, a list of their major works and a guide to diverse resources for further study, including books, articles, films and websites.

A Digital Analysis of Sermons Preached After Lincoln’s Assassination

This is very cool.  A group of Emory University graduate students are using digital tools to map geographic and thematic patterns in sermons preached after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  The project is called Lincoln’s Logarithms: Finding Meaning in Sermons and it not only offers new information about Lincoln in digital format, but it also serves as a useful guide to digital tools.

Here is a taste of an article on the project at the Emory website:

The [Lincoln] sermons are something we honed in on because we think the analysis we did could be helpful to a lot of researchers,” says Sarita Alami, one of three graduate fellows in the library’s Digital Scholarship Commons (DiSC).    

“Nothing exists like this right now,” says Alami of the online guide. “The sermons are a game piece for creating a guide for people who are interested in doing digital projects and don’t know what tool to use or where to turn. We created an online map so that researchers can know what to try.”  
She and her colleagues hope their new approach will help other researchers at Emory and have broad applications. “Digital tools can enable scholars to know what questions to ask, and at the very least they make it faster to be able to ask interesting and relevant questions,” Alami says.  

Working with Sara Palmer, a digital text specialist with the library’s Beck Center that digitizes and curates rare collections, the DiSC scholars each used a different digital text tool to gauge its effectiveness in comparing the sermons. Some tools were useful, some not so much.

Do You Have an "On Campus Visit?"

I hope that many of my readers on the academic job market get calls this week inviting them for an “on campus” interview.   Over at gradhacker, Julie Platt has some good advice for those who will be traveling to colleges and universities for job interviews over the course of the next month or so.  I have listed her main points below, but read the entire post to see how she develops them.

1.  Be prepared to be “on” all the time.

2.  Be prepared to talk to the “bigwigs.”

3.  Be prepared to talk about everything and anything, especially during the job talk.

Dispatches from the AHA in New Orleans (6)

Mary Sanders reflects on Day Two at the AHA–JF

So much has happened today that I’ve been puzzling how best to approach it.  I want to spend the bulk of today’s post talking about William Cronon’s remarkable presidential address, emphasizing in particular what I think it has to say to graduate students.  Before I do that, though, let me briefly summarize the three panels I attended.
I started off this morning with “The Christian Origins of the American Century,” chaired by Malcolm Magee of Michigan State, with comments by Andrew Preston, fellow of Clare College at the University of Cambridge and arguably the most vocal proponent of incorporating religion into the study of U.S. foreign relations.  The three papers, by Cara L. Burnidge, a doctoral candidate at Florida State University, Mark Thomas Edwards of Spring Arbor University, and Caitlin Carenen of Eastern Connecticut State University were all excellent examples of Preston’s 2006 call to “bridge the gap between the sacred and the secular” in that discipline.
I then decided to change things up and attend a panel completely out of my comfort zone: “Pastoral Responses to Trials and Disasters in Early Christianity.”  I was struck by the creativity and thoughtfulness of the papers presented by Christine McCann of Norwich University (VT), Robert McEachnie of the University of Florida, and Molly Lester of Princeton University, as well as by the enthusiastic comments by Megan H. Williams of San Francisco State.  This student of twentieth-century American religion was certainly impressed.
Finally, I attended “A Matter of Individual Choice, The Lives of American Catholic Converts,” chaired by Una M. Cadegan of the University of Dayton with papers from Lincoln Mullen of Brandeis, Stephanie A.T. Jacobe of American University, and Charles R. Gallagher, S.J. of Boston College.  Erin Bartram, my fellow dispatch-writer, was also on this panel.  All of the papers were fascinating discussions of the lives of converts both before and after their conversions.
Now, on to the meat of the evening: Professor Cronon’s speech.

I found Cronon’s speech on storytelling inspiring in a variety of ways, but I want to focus this post on two things that came to mind as I listened (and took vigorous, illegible notes).  First, I could hear echoes of Robert Tracy McKenzie’s recent presidential address to the Conference on Faith and History, held at Gordon College in October 2012.  Both speeches raised questions about who exactly it is that historians talk to, and how exactly it is that we do that…and why it is important to do it well in a variety of different ways.  In fact, thinking about my affiliation with CFH and my (admittedly limited) knowledge about the conversations that happen within that group, I felt as though Cronon’s emphasis on storytelling reinforced many of the themes that have been discussed in those meetings.

Second: Cronon said a lot of different things tonight.  If I had time, I think I’d like to unpack the various levels of his talk.  But instead, I want to simply say this: I think much of what he talked about can be especially relevant to graduate students.  Admittedly, this interpretation of his remarks is colored by my own interests in the worlds of graduate students, interests that are in turn shaped by my own story of graduate education (a story that incorporates issues of personal and spiritual growth, my relationship with my history-professor father, and struggles to think about my role as a young historian and to discern some sense of calling).  Yet, as Cronon talked, I found myself nodding vigorously along, especially when he related an anecdote about the formative experience of having a professor answer a question with “I don’t know.”  My thoughts on this are not particularly organized yet, but I cannot help but feeling that his point about not being afraid to admit what you don’t know is an especially poignant one for graduate students—as is his encouragement to afford our students the same respect as we do our colleagues.  I’m hoping that I can incorporate a lot of what Cronon said into my musings about what graduate students do and how we do it.

Bernard Bailyn: The Best Books on Atlantic History

Over at The Browser, Bailyn introduces us to Atlantic History by recommending five books on the subject. He picks two of his own books, but we will give him a pass since he is, after all, Bernard Bailyn.

Bernard Bailyn, Atlantic History: Concept and Contours

Jill Elliott, Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492-1830.

David Eltis and David Richardson, Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

David Armitage and Michael Braddick, ed., The British Atlantic World: 1500-1800.

Bernard Bailyn, ed., Soundings in Atlantic History: Latent Structures and Intellectual Currents, 1500-1830.

Graduate students:  Are you writing these down?

Do You Want to Work in a National Park?

If so, then you should consider for applying for Park Break: “a unique learning fellowship for graduate students contemplating a career working in parks, protecting areas, or cultural sites.”

This looks like a phenomenal program.  It is an all-expense paid seminar for grad students thinking about a career in the parks.  It will meet in Boston during the week of October 15.

Learn all about it here.