Today I’ll take a step back from my series of posts on building an intellectual history of the South from 1965 until the 1990s—but not too much of a step. Instead, considering that for many of us the semester is coming to a close, I’d like to consider the ways in which historians maximize their time during the summer. It means different answers depending on where you are in your career as historian, but here I’ll sketch out my personal plan for the summer. By all means, as with any blog post, I hope to hear from readers as well, and gauge how historians use prime research and reading time in June, July, and early August.
First priority will be the start of comprehensive exams in the fall. Reading for both 19th and 20th century history, this will take up the bulk of my time. As it is, building reading lists is a wonderful opportunity to consider the gaps in your own knowledge and historiography. While the lists lean towards political and intellectual history, a diverse reading list is always a wonderful way to build a broad reading list. However, while the comps lists by themselves will be an arduous task, I won’t confine my reading to just those lists.
I have three book reviews also due early in the summer, so those books will occupy my time. But, beyond that, I’m going to devote considerable time to reading up on 20th century Southern history. While some of those books will be on my comps lists, my focus here is on recent works that have recently come out. One that I look forward to reading is the new Angie Maxwell work The Indicted South, which tackles questions of white Southern identity throughout the 20th century. While the book ends in the 1960s, it’ll still offer plenty to consider on the South during the Age of Fracture (for lack of a better term), as earlier manifestations of being Southern have to be considered, especially around issues of race, when asking how the South changes by the late 20th century.
Zandria Robinson’s This Ain’t Chicago, a book I’ve mentioned before, will also receive my attention during the summer. Conceptions of being African American in the 20th century deserve more than a monolithic definition. As I’ve written about before, considering what it means to be African American in the South versus other regions of the nation offers new ways of asking questions about the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power era, and other moments in African American history. Thinking about the plight of poor white Southerners during this era as well is key to my work, and I’ll be reading such books as Southern Diaspora by James Gregory to help me in that area.
For a brief moment I’d like to consider the state of African American history as well. I’m going to finish Pero Dagbovie’s African American History Reconsidered once the summer starts. Dagbovie’s book asks some intriguing questions about how we conceptualize African American history, and would be useful for any scholar who asks the question, “So just how should we continue to do African American history?” I think a similar book on Southern history (and, perhaps, intellectual history) would be welcome as well. In addition to these items, they’ll be a few journal articles I’ll close read. They offer interesting historiographical and methodological questions, and it’s about time I start digging into my research articles folder on my laptop.
I want to spend the summer considering these big conceptual questions for the sake of my dissertation and, to a lesser extent, for articles I’ll be working on. Suffice to say the summer will be a busy time for me. And, frankly, it’s important to admit up front that beyond my comps reading I may not finish as much research work as I’d like. Being flexible as a scholar, even during the summer, is important. It’s easy to beat yourself up over not finishing something, as opposed to admitting it wasn’t done, adjusting your schedule accordingly, and continuing to work hard. Happy summer folks. Make sure it counts.