Though the time of trial is still a year away, I have begun to prepare in earnest for my (in)glorious combat in the lists: the ordeal of qualifying exams.
At this point, my preparations involve hammering out the reading lists for my fields: American intellectual and cultural history (soup to nuts), American literature (Early Republic to the day before yesterday), and Transatlantic history in the long 19th century (1776-1924).
At my institution, the process begins manageably enough: I provide the profs supervising my fields with a preliminary list of texts I think I need to read, and then we make additions and changes from there. One value of having us students come up with the first list ourselves is that it gives our profs a benchmark for assessing our initial understanding (or lack thereof) of our fields. Do we have a sense of the basic boundaries, the major landmarks, or are we wandering lost in a trackless epistemic wasteland? That would be problematic.
Fortunately, those who have traveled this ground before me have left some trail markers to guide me and other grad students along the way. Indeed, some of the most helpful navigation aids for putting together a preliminary list are embedded in others’ posts and comments on this very blog.
For those of you putting together exam lists (or syllabi), I want to call your attention to several past posts on USIH that have featured discussions of “must-read” texts in U.S. intellectual history, U.S. history in general, the “long 19th century,” and so forth:
Secondary sources in U.S. intellectual history
Perhaps putting these links together in one blog post will be helpful to those who come after me on this pilgrim pathway. But as you can see from the posts and their dates, I’m certainly not the one blazing this trail. Thanks to Mike O’Connor and David Sehat for taking up these questions, and thanks to the other commenters on their posts for participating in the discussion and adding their suggestions. Most helpful.
I am sure to end up with a reading list for U.S. intellectual history that is somewhat different from the (combined) suggestions of these posts. But this isn’t a bad place to start.
Addendum, June 3, 2012 1:10 AM:
I have since finalized my reading list for U.S. Intellectual and Cultural history; I have posted it here.