Many second year students in our program have called this course the most beneficial in the program. On the surface this course, taught by Dr. Lanier, seems terrifying. The course has no books and requires no outside reading, but within the 15 weeks of the semester each student will write two twenty-page papers which must be written on a related topic. Many students, such as myself, are using this as an opportunity to write two chapters of our thesis, which is the smart thing to do since we all have to write one anyway.
The course outline is pretty simple. Each week, three students in the class turn their paper in on the Friday before the class period. The rest of the class has the weekend to read the other student’s papers and we have to write a short review for the student and for Dr. Lanier (she just wants to be sure we are actually reading!). In class, we just discuss the papers as a class with the students. We offer suggestions, criticisms, and compliments.
This class is helpful in many ways. First, we all get some experience reviewing the work of others who are writing in different fields. Second, we are expanding our knowledge on topics that we may have no experience with. History is very diverse and it is great to read what everyone is working on. And that is the most important part of the course. We get to read each other’s work. We have been together now for a semester and we have an idea of what the others are researching, but we actually get to read and respond to the work they have done so far. Some students have more developed ideas than others and at this point that is fine. Others know exactly what they are writing about and have done much of the documentary research. I, however, am somewhere in between. I have a very solid notion of where my thesis will go and I am using this class to begin my thesis work.
Incidentally, my first paper was due yesterday and we will discuss it next week along with two other papers. I completed and turned my paper in on Thursday, and I really do look forward to the feedback. I have a rough idea for my second paper and for my thesis and the feedback I receive next week could change that route. But that is not a bad thing. It is great having 16 historically oriented and intelligent fellow historians to bounce ideas off of and receive feedback from. I think the second year students are absolutely correct in their assessment that this course is the most beneficial since writing is at the center of graduate research.
Next week I will take a look at HIST 593 – Historic Preservation. A great class! Until then…