Comprehensive Reading Lists

I mentioned in my last post that I’m reading for my comprehensive exam. This is a subject of great mystery to those not familiar with it, so I’ll provide some elucidation for the curious. Basically, in the final months of coursework as a Ph.D. student (for me, there were four semesters of that), each student must choose three advisers, each of whom will direct the student’s reading of a separate list of fundamental texts in that adviser’s field of specialization. Each list is roughly 75-100 texts long, and students are given a certain amount of time to read them all, master them, and complete a written component for each list (ex: a 20-30 page piece of critical scholarship, a mock teaching syllabus on the literature of one of the lists, a “review essay” that summarizes the critical trends in scholarship on a field, etc.). At the end of this time period, a three-hour oral examination before the committee of three advisers determines whether the student is ready to move forward and write the prospectus for his or her dissertation. The prospectus requires another oral examination, and once that is passed, the “Ph.D. Student” becomes the “Ph.D. Candidate” and begins work on the dissertation. The dissertation is a 200-300 page piece of critical scholarship that proves one’s mastery of the field, the research and publication methods, and the customs and conventions of the discourse community. Finally (and I’m still a few years away from this), dissertation work culminates in the dissertation defense, which is basically an oral presentation on one’s dissertation, followed by questions and criticism from audience members. Passing the defense is the final step in earning one’s Ph.D.

At this point, I’m still working on reading for my comprehensive exam lists. I’ve finished up my first list (American literature, ca. 1600-1800) and my second list (American literature, 1800-1865). I’m about 1/3 of the way through my third and final list (Historiography of America, 1492-1865). It was my adviser for this third list who suggested that I apply for the research position with the History Department, since she is a professor there.

The next book on my reading list is Jane Kamensky’s Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England, for which I’m particularly excited because of my interest in early/colonial American rhetoric. I think that I’ll post about each remaining book as I finish it, and I’ll intersperse that with entries on teaching and other academic events. Thanks for reading!

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