Monthly Archives: May 2014

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 .

Thesis Committee Meeting 4/30/2014

This past Wednesday, I took part in my first thesis committee meeting with Dr. Quigley and Dr. Shadle. I realize I might be a little late to the game, but I wanted to first contact Dr. Warren Milteer, the third member of my committee, before I met with the two on-campus members. The meeting went very well. I was somewhat nervous, as I expected pointed questions and criticism about my project. Both Dr. Quigley and Dr. Shadle, however, were very encouraging and helpful. This is not to say that they did not offer suggestions, but they did so in a way that was more conversational than biting. We talked about a variety of specific things that all three of us thought would benefit my proposal.

First, we discussed that it would be wise to focus initially on North Carolina. Only including one state would make the research and writing process more manageable, and I would not have to travel as much. More scholarship has been done on the North Carolina constitutional convention of 1835 than the Tennessee convention of 1834, so this would also present me with some historical work that I can base my analysis off of.

Second, we talked about my methodology. The graduate committee suggested to me that I primarily focus on race, rather than try to discuss race, class, and gender equally. Initially, I was a little hesitant, but after looking at more secondary sources and meeting with Dr. Quigley separately, I saw the light. Since Dr. Shadle specializes in race, he offered some excellent advice on my topic. He suggested I also check out some secondary works on the American Colonization Society (ACS), the organization responsible for raising money to send free people of color to Liberia.  Dr. Shadle then made the point that what was really being discussed in the convention was the disfranchisement of wealthy free persons of color. Those that were poor could not vote anyway. This discussion tied back to the issue of class in my study, and we all three agreed that I definitely need to be on the lookout for the combination of class and race in the primary sources.

The third major topic we discussed involved my primary sources and summer research trip. Neither Dr. Quigley not Dr. Shadle had any other suggestions for archival sources than the ones at UNC and ECU. However, Dr. Quigley did advise me to check to see if any of the sources are digitized before I journeyed to the archives for the physical copies. On the newspapers, they suggested that I begin by looking at how all of the newspapers across North Carolina reported the disfranchisement decision in the summer of 1835 and then work my way back in time as my research time allows. We all agreed that I did not want to spend hours poring over newspapers if I could help it. As a final discussion of the sources, both of them suggested I keep an open mind as I conducted research. It is natural for topics to change throughout the process, and I did not need to be completely wedded to an idea this early. For example, both thought that if issues of class and gender seem prevalent in the sources that intersectionality might  be more useful after all.

It was great to get together with Dr. Quigley and Dr. Shadle, and I look forward to working with them throughout the remainder of my time at Virginia Tech.