U.S. Intellectual History Blog

In the Lists: Reading for Exams

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

A Canon of U.S. Intellectual History

A Reading List for the Long Nineteenth Century

The U.S. History Canon

A truly canonical U.S. history list

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.

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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.

5 Thoughts on this Post

  1. It’s shocking to me that not a single person, in list or comment, mentions Louis Hartz’s Liberal Tradition in America (regardless of how you classify it discipline-wise).

    Bill Barnes

  2. Re: Hartz: There’s a separate post to be written about books that were considered classics and/or indispensable but have now fallen by the wayside, unjustly or not.

    “Transatlantic history in the long 19th century (1776-1924).”

    I have never heard of a long nineteenth century like this, so I’m interested to learn where this idea comes from. There’s a long eighteenth century (c. Glorious Revolution to Waterloo), followed by a standard-length nineteenth century, followed by a short twentieth century (1914-1989/91). This idea of the nineteenth century beginning in 1776 and ending in 1924 is rather novel, though. (And why 1924?) Must be pretty new. Does it originate in the transatlantic or transnational stuff? I am not familiar with that literature.

    • The idea of the long nineteenth century (1789-1914) comes from Hobsbawm’s trilogy Age of Revolution, Age of Capital, Age of Empire.

  3. I’m sorry — I figured it was clear from how I periodized my first two fields that my date range for the third one was tongue-in-cheek. For the “long 19th century,” I’m aiming for 1789 to 1914 — stretching it at both ends, but in a very conventional way. No disrespect intended to 1924.

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