HIST 804 Minor Field Proposals and Exam Information

Proposing an 804

You have a great deal of flexibility in defining your minor fields.  If you have two courses related to a subject, and can find a faculty advisor willing to work with you on an 804 directed readings list to round out and cap those courses, you probably have a minor field.  So please think carefully and creatively about what minor fields you want to take – these are an important moment for you to build competencies, and also to badge yourself as an expert in these fields. 

As you are looking for a faculty-member to advise your 804, remember that our faculty have diverse interests.  Think about things they have published as well as courses they have recently taught, and don’t be afraid to reach out to them to float an idea for an 804 if you think they might be a potential advisor. 

The reading list for your minor field should include roughly 50 books in total – these are the books that you will be examined on.  But you will have read a number of these books in the 2 courses you took as part of the minor field; the 804 meetings will be devoted to reading additional books and placing them in dialogue with these other works.  In theory, if every book you read for the two previous courses was directly relevant to the minor field as you have defined it, this means you would likely be reading about 25 new books for the 804 course (assuming each of the previous courses in the field taught something like 12-13 monographs).  In practice, not all of the books on the two courses will be appropriate for the 804 examination; the looser the fit between the courses you took and the list, the more reading you will need to do as part of the 804 readings course. 

One of the important intellectual challenges in putting together a list is organizing it – deciding what the relevant subfields are in the field, and which books belong where.  The exact shape of these subfields will vary from case to case, and will often involve a few drafts and some dialogue with your advisor – but in general, something like 7 subfields, each of 5-7 books (including articles where appropriate) is typical.

When discussing your list with your advisor, please provide them with the syllabi for the two courses you are counting to the minor field.  In the book list you propose to the Graduate Committee, please mark the books you have already read with an asterix.


Some Commonly Offered Fields

Given the interests of our current PhD students, some fields have been offered with greater regularity in the past few years.  They are listed here, alongside a number of faculty members who are interested in supervising 804s in these areas, in case they are helpful to you.  You are obviously under no obligation to do any of these fields, to do fields like these, or to do these fields with these particular faculty if there is someone else you have in mind. 

Public History: Spencer Crew; Joe Genetin-Pilawa; Alison Landsberg.

Digital History: Mills Kelly; Lincoln Mullen; Jessica Otis; Stephen Robertson.

Atlantic World:  Joan Bristol; Christy Pichichero; Cynthia Kierner; Jane Hooper; Randolph Scully; Rosemarie Zagarri.

Cultural History:  Matt Karush; Alison Landsberg; Sam Lebovic;  Mike O’Malley; Sun-Young Park; Suzanne Smith.

History of Women/Gender: Yevette Richards Jordan; Cynthia Kierner, Jennifer Ritterhouse; Stephen Robertson; Rosemarie Zagarri.

Military History:  Christopher Hamner; Meredith Lair; Christy Pichichero.


How to Write the Exam

The end-product of the 804 is a written exam. You will write two 10-page essays, answering broad historiographical questions about the field.  The goal here is to map the field and to think about the large-scale conversations that are taking place between the books, as well as to identify new avenues for research and scholarship.  You will need to draw on specific examples from specific texts to help you make this sort of argument, but the goal of the exercise is not to test that you have read and comprehended the details of all of the books – the goal is to show you have developed your own understanding of how the books in the field fit together.  So the priority is on analyzing connections and disagreements and miscommunications between the texts, as well as between different sub-sections of the field. 

The model for this form of writing, in other words, is the historiographical essay. This is a different form of writing than a book review. You need to maintain your critical eye on each book, but you need to write about the texts at a higher level of abstraction/generalization – you cannot simply string together a series of interesting discussions of individual texts.  This is difficult and takes practice, but it is an important skill. (You will need it, for instance, in writing literature reviews for your dissertation).  Here are some examples that suggest some ways one can write this kind of piece – but talk to your 804 advisor to make sure that your expectations and theirs are in alignment.

  • John E. Wills Jr., “What’s New? Studies of Revolutions and Divergences, 1770-1840,” Journal of World History 25, no. 1 (2014).
  • Peter Geschiere, “Witchcraft, Shamanism, and Nostalgia: A Review Essay,” Comparative Studies in Society and history 58, no. 1 (2016).
  • Paul Lovejoy, “The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on Africa: a Review of the Literature,” Journal of African History 30 (1989).
  • Antoinette Burton, “Parsing the Woman Question, Rethinking Feminist History,” Journal of Women’s History 20, no. 1 (2008).
  • Kevin Kenny, “Twenty Years of Irish American Historiography,” Journal of American Ethnic History 28 (4) (2009)
  • Emily Conroy-Krutz, "An H-Diplo State of the Field Essay, on 'Empire and the Early Republic,'"H-Diplo, Essay # 133, Sept. 10, 2015, Http://tiny.cc/E133.
  • Cornelia H Dayton and Lisa Levenstein, "The Big Tent of US Women's and Gender History: A State of the Field,” Journal of American History, Volume 99, Issue 3, December 2012, Pages 793–817,
  • JGAPE is publishing classic book reviews that often situate the works in a broader field. Here’s an example: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1537781418000622
  • The Oxford Handbook of American Indian History, specifically the topical chapters.
  • Foner and McGirr book *American History Now*, which has historiographical essays for many times and topics. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14bt8pw