One Year Countdown: Comprehensive Exams

A decade ago, I spent the winter applying to MA programs in medieval history in the US and the UK.  My subsequent experience at the University of York was a great one, but I was absolutely convinced after a year of Latin, palaeography, research, and writing that academia wasn’t for me.  I returned to the US, and I became a management professional, focusing on education, for a history-based nonprofit organization.

And, there, working in the institution’s archive, I changed my mind.

Writing workshops for teachers, training materials for my staff, and programs for students, I spent hours pouring over diaries, letters, charters, wills–even scraps of paper with notes–written in 17th and 18th century New Hampshire.  This was far from my only responsibility, but it was the one that I enjoyed the most.  I, like many researchers, never felt like I saw everything I wanted to see.  There was always more–another collection of documents, a new acquisition from an auction or a donor.  I used to tell my colleagues from other institutions that even the tiny slice of the available material that I happened to work with could inform at least 6 or 7 PhD dissertations.  Later, it occurred to me–maybe that PhD student could be me.

Although I applied to several schools to begin a PhD program in American history, the fascination I long held for Medieval History had never completely evaporated.  It was going to be a difficult road–I hadn’t looked at Latin in about eight years, I lacked working skills in important modern languages like French, and I had missed out on almost a decade of scholarship, both published and unpublished, in the field.  However, when I was presented with the opportunity, I found that I truly missed Medieval History, and I certainly couldn’t turn down a challenge.

I began the program in the fall of 2013, and this is my last semester of required history classes.  I have been working with Latin for over a year, although I can’t be parted from my Latin/English dictionary quite yet, and I am beginning my studies in French.  This year is particularly important–I anticipate taking comprehensive exams this upcoming fall, so reading–and reading a great deal–will be the order of the day for almost the next year.

Fortunately, I’ll have lots of help–5 cats, one dedicated partner, and a host of colleagues.  And coffee.


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