Graduate School Update, June 2013

It has been a little while since I updated friends and family about what I have been up to in regard to schooling. I recently passed one of the major steps toward my degree so I thought now would be a good time to do that.

I have spent the last two years working on my PhD in Greek History at the University of Missouri. This past semester I finished my formal coursework for the degree and last month I also took and finished my comprehensive exams (more on this below). All I formally have left is to write my dissertation, a process I will begin sometime next week and continue to work on for the next several years. Informally, though, I also have teaching, conference presentations, articles to get published, and language classes to audit. The tentative schedule is to take three years on these projects, but some of it will depend on how much time I need to spend in Greece doing research.

As noted above, I am now ABD, meaning that I am finished with coursework and passed the comprehensive exams, so I have finished all but the dissertation. The comprehensive exam process depends a great deal upon the faculty members administering it. The committee of faculty members (as it is done at this institution) consists of five people: the advisor, three faculty members from the department, and a faculty member from another department. Those faculty members (sometimes in collaboration with the student) provide reading lists that ranges in size from ten or fifteen books or chapters to several hundred books.1 The student then prepares for the exam by reading as many of the books as possible. The process reaches a climax when three or more of the committee members prepare a battery of tests for the student to take over the course of three days. The committee members then read the written exams and within two weeks the merry band meets and the student provides oral answers to questions for two hours.

If the committee finds the answers satisfactory, the student emerges from the cocoon of the reading lists as a PhD candidate.

The next step is the dissertation. My project is going to be a regional history (of some variety) about Thessaly, the region in Greece north of the pass of Thermopylae, but south of Mount Olympus. The link above is to a Google map of the modern Greek province that provides a general outline of the area, although some Thessalian cities also claimed territory further south (mostly the plain right around the city of Lamia). Too, it is important to remember that lines on a map are not solid, particularly when dealing with a regional history of a region that was not united itself. The chronological bounds of my study are going to be roughly 510 to 344 BCE. But beyond nascent ruminations, what I just listed is what I know. I have not yet really begun.

I am not sure how much I am going to write about the project here or elsewhere online. I love the idea of being public with ideas and writings and have a tendency to think in ink, as it were, but there are also professional pitfalls in doing so. For one thing, everything written here–misguided, well intentioned,insightful, politically correct, exemplary scholarship, or the inverse of those adjective–is public record. Thus, even when there is no risk of intellectual theft of something as important to one’s career as a dissertation,2 there is risk of opinions being formed about incomplete work.

I still hope to have episodes that I can comment on as I get into work, but I will shy away from discussing anything that I stumble on and think that I may be able to get published.

1 I had four total lists that had something like five or six hundred books on them counting both primary and secondary sources. I also ended up citing a number of books that were not on any of the lists. I have also saved the reading lists that I used, as well as many of the questions I received and that I heard about from other people if there is anyone who would like to look at them.
2 And there is significant risk. There are plenty of academic horror stories about this sort of theft.

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