Year-End Reflection

Like everyone else, I’m shocked that the year has gone by so quickly. And the scary part is that next year will probably fly by even faster with thesis writing and PhD applications…

I’ve learned a ton over this past year, especially in regards to writing and researching. Our classes, and especially working on the thesis proposal and research paper, have really pushed me to refine my argument and put out the best product that I can. Thanks so much to everyone who has offered feedback- you all have been so instrumental in this learning process! Working with primary sources has also been an amazing experience. My undergrad degree didn’t put a huge amount of emphasis on primary source research and so it’s been a bit of a learning curve to figure out how to locate and analyze those sources, but it’s been worth the work!

I’ve also loved the work I’ve been able to do this semester with Dr. Quigley and Dr. Mollin. They are tremendously supportive and have helped me to hone research and grading skills. Overall, it’s been a great, albeit busy, year. Now I’m really excited to dive into thesis research and focus in on my own analysis!

Reflection on the Past Year

On Amanda’s blog, she made the comparison that this first year of graduate school felt like the four-year transition from a college freshman to a senior. I think that is apt simile.

At the beginning of this year I had no idea what graduate school, or even the history discipline for that matter, was all about.  I thought classes would be more of the same as undergrad, with lectures, group projects, and tests. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This year has, without a doubt, been one of the most transformative academic experiences of my life, and I am not just saying that. I can tell my writing has gotten much better throughout the year. It is easier for me to write long papers, but I also think my writing has become more clear and concise. My reading have also increased. I can tease out the main argument of a work quickly and follow the argument throughout. Finally, I think my critical thinking skill have greatly improved after all of the reading critiques and essays we have written throughout the semester. I recently reread some notes I had made in a book last year, and I couldn’t believe some of the dumb things I had written in the margins that really had nothing to do with the book.

This year has been a tremendous struggle,as well. Sometimes I did not know how in the world I could complete all my assignments and GTA duties in the time allotted for them.  But through it all, I have developed a true love for history and learning that had not fully developed as an undergrad. I am excited for what next year holds for me in researching and writing my thesis, serving as HGSA president, and applying to Ph.D. programs .

First Year

I have said this to a few people, but I will say it again — I feel like I have gone from freshman to senior in a matter of months! Not necessarily in how advanced my knowledge or practice is, but in learning the ropes of graduate school in general. This past year has gone by like a really long movie on fast forward. I’m not really done yet. I still have one more assignment and grading exams, but when I am done I think I will take a nap for about 2 days or so.

This first semester of graduate school has taught me about what I want to do and what I do not want to do. What I want to do is work in the public history field. After getting a glimpse of exhibit management last semester in Public History class and at the Montgomery Museum, I’m really looking forward to my internship(s) this summer. I like the fact that museum exhibits and digital history make history come alive and off the pages of books into reality. It’s nice to be able to see or touch what was once a part of ordinary life a hundred years ago. It’s also nice to take that object and combine it with other objects to create a story. Rather than tell history, you can display history. Being hands-on and interpreting a historical event or time period through objects has become very appealing to me. I used to see myself giving lectures and grading. Now, that is the last thing I want to do. I’m grateful for my experience as a teaching assistant because I did learn that is a career that is just not for me. What is important to me is to be happy with what I am doing because life is just too short to be miserable in any job.

Other than career choices, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about how history can be interpreted and just what is actual history. I have also learned how to do lots and lots of work in a short period of time! The classes I’ve taken, even if they were way out of my geographic comfort zone, did teach me a lot, but I’ve learned just as much from my classmates! One of the best things for me is being able to exchange our work and provide feedback. I like the different perspectives and opinions that make me think about a statement or a question in a different way. Probably in a way I would have never considered otherwise! I feel like I am still growing as a historian and there’s still much left for me to learn. But at least year one is down–only one more to go!

 

 

Committee Meeting, Summer Plans, and 2013-2014 Year Reviewed

Wow. Hard to believe we have already  come full circle and completed our first year of graduate school!

Before recapping this semester and the year as a whole, I would like to briefly go over the my committee meeting from last week:

Overall, I thought discussions were productive, complimentary, and critical when needed. It seemed like all of the members were impressed by the amount of research I had collected and the literature I had read and collected as “comparable to that of a Ph.D. candidate.” My method was well understood: material culture as a lens into socio-cultural pastimes. With exception to log structures, I feel every member was in agreement with the appropriateness and usefulness of  the objects I had chosen to analyze.

Moving forward, however, the committee did suggest that I will need to restrain and confine my focus a bit more. Everyone was pleased to see that I had taken their individual advice in breaking down topical considerations to a particular set of people and their niches, they insisted, however, that I be even more precise in my focus statement. “It is a MA thesis,” one member admonished me to repeat to myself here on. Admittedly, it was a tad hard to articulate to my members where I was coming from  with regards to my argument(s) or premise(s). This was likely due to the size of the committee and some members having to leave early.  Nevertheless, I agreed with their points and even anticipated that they would suggest that I continue to hone in on a manageable and more precise focus. I foresee my focus shifting to just German communities as the material evidence I have is predominately German-based objects. Doing so will still allow me to talk about cross-cultural interactions, I am just using these German families/ communities as a topical stage to discuss broader themes concerning NRV social and cultural foundations up to 1810.

I made sure before any members left that I would be sending them draft edits throughout the summer, while I am out doing field work or visiting archives/ museums. In addition, at the insistence of Dr. Puckett, I will be conducting some very brief oral histories of descendants of the NRV first families (Linkous, Price, Harman, McDonald, Kent, Harvey, Ingles, etc.)

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In review, this semester was tough. Very tough. I had expected that my Fall semester would be more like Spring. The combo of thesis proposal writing and a research project of similar length was a daunting task. While I do see the benefit in assigning both classes at the same time, I did feel at times that focus for one was cut for the other.

Looking back at this year, I feel I need to make some continued improvement in my writing. I believe anyone would agree that I digest, analyze and vocally articulate my thoughts quite well. For some untenable reason, however, I seem to fall short when it comes to writing out my thoughts. Among my most commonly committed actions: clause use, long sentences, passive voice, word choice, sentence structure, are the most identifiable writing foibles.  I have begun looking at several works that I have been advised to use over the summer.

Otherwise I cannot begin to be thankful for Dr. Jones and especially my group members (Kristin, Betsy) who have been an invaluable resource in identifying where and when I needed improvement throughout my drafts. This semester was a valuable experience and a mile marker that is now crossed.  Let the research and editing/ writing begin!

The Last Post

Wow, so it is a bit insane that this school year is coming to a close. It’s been a trip for sure. Although this wasn’t my first experience with grad school, it was definitely a different experience from anything I have done before. First of all, it was great to take history classes again. Despite the stress of doing a lot of reading and writing, it’s still always fun to have the opportunity to explore new historical themes and perspectives. I think it’s great that the department gives us the freedom to take pretty much whatever we are interested in outside of the required courses. Taking classes like Dr. Hirsh’s History of Technology and Dr. Halpin’s US History from 1877 has been really informative and fun. I’ve been able to learn a lot and broaden my understanding of history. I’m looking forward to the classes I will take next year as well, even if I haven’t quite figured out what exactly I want to take.

I think taking courses like the two methods classes, Dr. Quigley’s research class, and the writing workshop were also very helpful. When I came here I had spent over a year out of school, so I was a little rusty on my research and writing skills. I feel like I’ve sharpened them a lot this year, and I feel totally prepared to begin my research this summer and then my research paper in the fall. Not only do I feel like a better writer, but I also feel like I am much better at taking constructive criticism. I’m going to be working on my project next year with the support of a fantastic, supportive committee, and I feel that I’m in the position to have a great thesis-writing experience next year.

Finally, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to work at Special Collections this year, and I look forward to going back in the fall. I have learned so much there, and gotten to work with some really cool collections. Special Collections has a great team of archivists and student workers, that are frankly just an absolute blast to work with. I know I’m not going on to work in academia. I’ve known that for a long time. Public history just makes sense for me, and working at Spec has reinforced that for me. I’m not sure if I will go on to work at an archives somewhere down the road, but I do know why I love the public history field. Although working with rare collections is super cool, my favorite part of working in an archives is helping people. Every week we all work a number of hours at the front desk working directly with the researchers who come in. Sometimes they know exactly what they want to look at. Other times they need a little more guidance. I love helping all of them. I love learning about the projects they are doing. I love the satisfaction of helping them find exactly what they need. To me, my weekly desk shifts remind me of why I have always loved public history and want to continue down that path. I love helping the public access history whether that’s through pulling a collection of Civil War letters for a patron or giving interpretive programs. I’m really glad I get to be reminded of that every week, and it makes me even more anxious to finish up this degree and get out there to do it full time.

 

 

First Year Reflections

Well, this year went quick!  Like several of you have already expressed, I feel like I have grown as a historian a lot this year.  Before coming in to this MA program, I really did not know much about how to understand and use frameworks and methodologies within writing.  Discussing this in Historical Methods and Dr. Mollin’s Gender course was a real wake up call!  And, while I am definitely still getting the hang of using frameworks and methodologies, I have really come to appreciate how useful (and necessary) these can be in writing about history.

I have also improved my research skills.  Dr. Quigley’s class was great exposure to working with primary resources, something I had not done too much of before this year.  Learning how to interpret sources, especially ones I did not know much about, has been really difficult, but definitely a valuable skill to have.  Our Research Methods class with Dr. Jones also taught me a lot about how to research a topic.  From learning how to understand the types of primary and secondary sources we need to support vague ideas and turn them into real, focused goals has definitely improved my research abilities, as has learning how to write a funding proposal, how to locate where materials are, and how to plan out an archive visit.   Writing a thesis proposal was also extremely helpful in solidifying research plans and really focusing how I will approach my topic. The real test of my research skills will be this summer, but I think I’m ready for it!

I feel that I have improved a lot as a public historian this year, as well.  My GA assignments with Dr. Cline have been incredible experiences and I feel like I have contributed real, valuable work to a project that has real potential to shake up the Public History world!  I hope to continue on with this experience next year!  Also, learning how to “think” as a public historian has been huge for me.  I have previously completed several museum internships, so I had a sense of the practical skills necessary for these environments, but I never knew how in depth the theories behind them were.  I think learning more about these will be a huge asset for working at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame this summer.  Lastly, learning how to think as a digital historian has been a major asset.  I have improved upon more technically advanced skills than I thought I ever could and I am so happy I stepped out of my comfort zone to do so.  I will also be able to use some of these skills this summer, as well as on a digital history component of my thesis next year.

One year down!

Over the past year, I have definitely developed my skills as a historian and a graduate student. When I came into the program, I had a bachelor’s degree in history, but it quickly became clear to me that I had no real training in the work of professional historian. I learned a lot in my historical methods class—from basics like what a historiography is to the important fact that it is not only okay, but even admirable to conclude different things from the same primary source as other scholars before you. Since I want to go into public history after this program, my coursework in that area was very helpful as well. While I may not agree with every new age technique for getting people “into” history and museums, I have learned a great deal about approaching the past in new and accessible ways for the public. As a first year graduate student, last semester taught me how to get the most out of a lot of reading material in a short amount of time.

This semester, starting to think about and work on my thesis has been very exciting. I found a topic that I’m really interested in, which is great since I will be spending so much time on it over the next year! I have always loved all kinds of history and could never pick one period or subject as my favorite, but as I have gotten deeper into my thesis work I have become less patient with assignments that do not further my historical goals. I surprise even myself with the amount of enthusiasm with which I come to a book on my subject after reading something not as applicable. Writing over the last two semesters has jump-started my academic writing skills again after over a year out of college writing nothing but public relations pamphlets, test questions, and cover letters. I have also been exposed to the digital world and can now successfully navigate blogs, Google Drive, and even technology like Dreamweaver, Omeka, and Neatline (on a very basic level). I feel like I can actually call myself a historian after the training I have received so far, and I look forward to diving head first into my thesis over the summer and next year and then hopefully finding a job where I can put my skills to good use. I am glad I took time off after college—I definitely needed the break. I think this program will give me the boost I need to launch a public history career, which is especially good given the fact that after a year in grad school I am confirmed in my desire to stop with my MA (although who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind in future!)

It’s been great becoming a real part of a department, as well. As a double major in undergrad, I never got to know more than a relatively small number of professors in both of my departments, and I never felt like I really functioned as a part of either, aside from coming to class, etc. Grad school does have its perks, especially the people I’ve been able to meet and work with over the last year. I can’t wait to keep growing as a historian and help smooth the path of the new crop of first years taking our place in the fall. In the meantime, I’m off to look at some monuments!

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Will my thesis prove to be “Glory Crowned?” Let’s hope!

Final Reflections

As a historian, I have grown exponentially over this year, especially this semester. From learning theory to content, all of my classes have contributed to my growth as a scholar. Although I know I will not incorporate everything that I have learned over the past year for my thesis, I know I will never forget it. The biggest thing  I will take away from this year is that being a historian is not about just doing research and writing, it’s about putting yourself into historical conversations and attempting to make your subject/topic well-rounded. I know we have not always been one hundred percent interested in each other’s projects, but this year also taught me that even through the extremely different conditions of each person’s research, we all provided each other with essential questions and feedback. Though no one else is working on French history, my peers offered me new ways and methods of seeing and approaching my topic. To me, that’s been another one of my greatest lessons–that a historian’s work does not only have to be relevant to their subject, but their theories and methodologies can be useful for other writers and academics. Over this year, at times, I was a little frustrated and discouraged when classes seemed to be too removed or unrelated to my area of interest, but I quickly found out that studying history would not be as fun if we all only took classes directly related to our fields. I never would have found out that I actually enjoyed gender history, and would probably not be choosing to focus on it now. That’s the main reason I want to continue on to hopefully be a professor one day, so I can help students understand that history is not founded on the memorization of facts but on the exploration of earlier peoples and time periods. I am really looking forward to continuing on in this process and delving more into my research this summer. Who knows what I’ll find next!

Proposal Update

Happy to be done with the revision of my proposal! I reworded my argument and added a significant amount of new material to my historiography. I realized as I added a “Sex, Marriage, and Scandal” section to my bibliography just how much reading I still have to do. But I think that books and articles from that particular section will be fun to read Smilie: :)

I looked at William Paxton’s proposal as a reference. I liked the structure he used for his chapter outlines and bibliography. I referenced his proposal since his subject is close to mine. I’m sure more will change about my proposal in the Fall, but for now I am satisfied with it.

Revised Thesis Proposal

It’s been a stressful last few weeks, but thankfully I have a complete thesis proposal to show for it! I had my committee meeting on Friday and both Dr. Quigley and Dr. Dresser gave me some really helpful suggestions for thinking about my research questions and argument. They also gave me some really useful advice for making the most of summer research.

This time around, the major revisions were a restructured historiography (much more thematic than my first draft), and some refining of my argument throughout (emphasizing the religious worldview that 19th century Americans understood the Secession Crisis within). My proposal is definitely still a work in progress and will no doubt change once I’m able to dive into summer research, but it’s awesome to have something down on paper to work with!