If we were to write one of these for U.S. intellectual history, what would be the same or different? Here are some random thoughts, laid down in no particular order:
1. Since USIH topics are not universally covered by graduate schools, finding the program for you may be difficult. Some programs explicitly address USIH (i.e. Rice, UNLV) but many universities—including high-profile ones—simply offer intellectual history along the way, perhaps even in conjunction with European subfields (Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago). In the latter case you’re applying to study U.S. history or American Studies, and hoping to work under a professor who will set you up in the field.
2. Study philosophy in some fashion as an undergraduate to set yourself up for admission. Whether you make it a minor or major, or study it in an interdisciplinary setting (i.e. American Studies), make sure that you are conversant in the major areas of Western thought.
3. Even if you don’t pursue it in graduate school, have an area of preliminary expertise on which to hang your hat (i.e. Pragmatism). Be really well read in some aspect of intellectual history to give yourself the confidence you need to compete. That said, don’t twist everything back to your reading and knowledge. Don’t be the proverbial one-trick pony. Having your own area of knowledge gives you a basis from which you can approach the meta-level topics in the field. Nobody wants to deal with a “closed off” applicant/graduate student: give your potential mentor a chance to mold you.
4. Go in with your eyes wide open concerning future employment plans. Tenure-track professorships in U.S. intellectual history are an endangered and/or rare species. Study a secondary area (that you enjoy) that will help you be marketable in general U.S. searches. Since you’re studying U.S. intellectual history, you probably won’t be called upon to know another language (although Spanish would be helpful), but work on a non-European history subfield. “U.S. and the World” positions are trendy right now. But who knows how long that will last? So back to my first sentence, be flexible with regard to future expectations.
Other thoughts on studying U.S. intellectual history in graduate school? Leave a comment. – TL
PS – Perhaps we should develop a links section on the right for departments and institutes that encourage the study of U.S. intellectual history?