What I’m Taking This Semester, Spring Edition

The spring semester commenced in mid-January, so classes have been in session for a few weeks. Let’s take a look at what I’m studying this time around.

My first class for the week is Modern US, which meets on Monday afternoons. Although I took a lot of history classes in college, none of them concentrated on US history per se (I almost became a medievalist, but that’s another story), so I thought this would be a good opportunity to fill in some gaps. It’s a discussion-based course rather than a survey, with the readings focusing on the American West. I’ve got some familiarity with the West from having lived out there, but my understanding of it revolves around the Southwest, New Mexico, Arizona, etc. The West is enormous, however, so I appreciate getting to learn about other regions. I also like how the books make a point of connecting the West with national history in general, so I’m getting to learn more about how it influenced policies in other regions.

We read this for the first session of Modern US. This book deemhasizes political boudaries in favor of family networks as the source of power in western communities during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

On Wednesday I have Ethnic Modernism. This course looks as modernism as it developed through various ethnic groups in order to demonstrate that white men alone did not invent it. While it takes a look at art, literature, and music, it’s primarily a literary course, so I’m getting the opportunity to read a lot of seminal works I hadn’t gotten around to yet, such as Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives. I haven’t taken a literature course since college, and that focused on Yuan-dynasty drama, so I’m enjoying the opportunity to critically read fiction again.

Three Lives embodies Stein’s unconventional use of language, with repetition encouraging readers to slow down and consider language as a convention.

Thursdays are dedicated to an independent study I’m taking with the professor who taught my capitalisms course last fall. Since there’s currently no course on the New Deal in the course catalog, I talked to him about putting together an independent study about it, since my dissertation will concentrate in this area. In addition to the New Deal, we’ve also been looking at museum history and world’s fairs, topics that I’ve always wanted to read more about but hadn’t gotten around to in a conventional class setting. What I really appreciate about this course is that, aside from being able to read more about the subjects that most interest me, it’s an opportunity to more clearly articulate and refine the questions that underpin my scholarly practice as a whole. The dissertation, after all, is not the pinnacle of my career, so taking the opportunity to really explore why I’m interested in certain topics will enable me to more thoughtfully craft research projects and inquiries in the future.

Bone Rooms considers the prominence of human remains in museums collection and research, and highlights the ethnical quandaries of museums as colonial institutions without neessarily offering a clear-cut solution.

The spring semester definitely has a different feel from the fall. The biggest difference is the amount of reading I’m doing. I read plenty last semester, but since Digital Humanities had a big project attached to it, I also worked a great deal on the computer. This time around, the focus in on reading multiple books a week, and more importantly, mastering how to read for comprehensive exams. After I finish my coursework next fall, I’ll have to complete several reading lists on different subjects, with the combined lists usually totaling around 200 books. Unless you’re the Sonic the Hedgehog of reading, there’s no way you can actually read them all cover to cover, so you have to learn to assess the argument from the introduction, conclusion, chapter headings, and other organizers. I was hesitant to do this last semester because I wanted to get all the content out of the books, but with so much reading to do this term, I’ve decided to practice this approach now so I’ll be ready next year.

The classes themselves also feel different because they’re smaller. Since second-year Ph.D. students generally finish their coursework in the fall, enrollment tends to be lower and classes have a more intimate feel. Modern US is my largest course with 7, compared to Digital Humanities last semester which had 15 or so. My independent study is the smallest with its one-on-one setup, but even Ethnic Modernism only has one other student. So far I’ve been really enjoying it, as the class discussions feel more like conversations. As an introvert, I’ve always been at my best socially in intimate groups anyway, so I appreciate it.

So here’s to a new semester of learning and discovery!

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