Jenny Reeder


E-history: Tailoring the Future to Meet our History
November 7, 2006, 3:08 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I am completely fascinated by the juxtaposition of e-books and graduate scholarship and preparation and training to enter the academic world. While I love the idea of an e-book for the possibility of easy access and quick searching, perhaps it is the old fogey historian in me that needs something tangible to touch and hold if I’m going to sit down and really read. I want to be able to mark something up, to feel the weight of how many pages are left, to thumb back through my scribbled margins, and to see the transitions of skilled writers between paragraphs and chapters.

That said, I also am attracted to hypertext, to the possibility of linking straight to a source (imagine–even a manuscript, a journal, a newspaper scan, a map). E-books feel more accessible, less constrained, and more connected… to other electronic sources. What have I lost by relying only on hypertext and not on good old-fashioned library searching? When will the gap be completed? When will everything be available at my fingertips? Or will it?
Patrick Manning adds another important level to this discussion–what implications does this have for academic history? What about graduate study? If the wave of history is electronic, how are graduate students being trained to meet the wave? He says, “doctoral programs need to go beyond producing research monographs, preparing in addition to guarantee the ‘generation succession’ of the discipline.” He makes some interesting points about the traditional “first book” by new PhDs to modify but not transform historical interpretation, that there is no room for innovation in the quest for tenure. He argues that in order to meet the present and future electronic wave, young scholars need to apply innovate strategies rather than maintain tradition.

As I explore my own possibilities for a dissertation, I find myself intrigued by Manning’s argument… and also guided by the need to find a job upon graduation. As so many of my PhD friends warn me, I need to keep job possibilities in mind as I explore dissertations.

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2 Comments so far
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On your last point Jenny, I have to completely sympathize. Though I already have my job, I have been encouraged to write a dissertation that benefits not only myself, but also my department. I have great resources here, people who can help direct me to the materials I need and the topics I may need to cover. But for my whole experience to be a success, for my department to feel it was smart to pay for part of my education, I need to produce a ‘worthy’ dissertation. The pressure on this side is just as bad as on your side, trust me!

Comment by Jennifer Levasseur

Jen – my suggestion is to write a dissertation on a subject that, in order of priority (a) interests you, (b) is executable within a reasonable amount of time and (c) meets department approval. I don’t mean to minimize the importance of department approval and “scholarly worthiness,” but spending that much effort on a project that doesn’t float your boat is too much like work.
On a secondary note, please give my website and/or blog a visit. I haven’t had a comment in weeks and am beginning to wonder if they can be accessed.

Comment by John




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