teach me, for i'm not done with book-learnin'
July 24, 2010 9:39 PM   Subscribe

I want to attend grad school to study history with a radical/liberal professor or program anywhere in the world. My qualifications are mediocre, but my passion is sincere. What are my options?

I don't know what is relevant, so apologies for the length.

When I started school at 22, I only knew that a degree, and that not having "a degree, any degree" was holding me back from the jobs that would challenge me and hold my interest. I blazed through two years of community college in a year and a semester, and took the spring and summer off. In the fall, I got a .88 GPA because I had switched to environmental science from a liberal arts background and was overwhelmed by the expectations of the university system. They kicked me out after that one quarter because my transfer credits didn't count toward my academic standing. I switched to philosophy, got back in through summer school classes, and spent my junior year working toward a philosophy degree. After a few history classes, I gradually realized that my philosophy classes were mostly the study of the thoughts of dead white men and my history classes taught the critical study of the thoughts and actions of dead white men. The latter inspired more passion in me. I added more and more history classes, and I'm as passionate as ever about it. Now I have one more year of mostly history, and I'll be done. I'm now 27. I am a U.S. citizen.

I have a 3.1 GPA in history and a 2.97 overall. My community college GPA was 3.3 and my University-only GPA is 2.68 and climbing. I have one super-senior year of college and then I'll graduate. I don't know how I'll do on the GREs, but for an approximate prediction, I got a 1290 on the old SATs. My college is a well-known scientific research university.

I didn't even know grad school existed until I was an adult, and certainly never considered it to be an option. I have spent a lot of my stay in this college town focusing on being a part of the community and being an integral part of a local volunteer-run non-profit. In fact, when I graduate, I fully expect it to be this non-profit volunteer work that gets me a job I'll be excited to have. Jobs that I qualify for turn up in my inbox from time to time from various listservs.

My strengths are creativity, plays well with others, and a sturdy passion for learning. I know grad school is more work than I think it will be. I have seen a lot of my friends struggle with the stress of qualifying exams and unfinished dissertations. I'm open to Masters and PhD programs as well as their equivalents if they're called something else elsewhere. There's no need to deter me with "wtf are you going to do with a grad degree in history," please.

I was diagnosed with ADD and put on ritalin from 4th-7th grades (then insurance changed), denied the diagnosis for a long time. Last summer I read up on it and realized I'm a textbook case. Didn't get diagnosed because the psychiatrist wanted to talk to my parents and I didn't want to involve them. I do not want to be medicated. I have decent coping skills (google calendar email alerts, what!) and patient friends, but not stellar grades. (My grades would probably be at least 0.3 better if I just handed more things in on time. I am working on this, as I feel like it is disrespectful to my teachers.) I didn't think I needed impressive grades for anything once I was in college, and turn that excess energy to my other love, the aforementioned non-profit.

I expect I can get at least 2 good academic recommendations (maybe 3 by the end of the year) and as many professional recommendations as I need. I have focused on recent non-"western" history. I know this is not sufficiently narrow for grad school, but believe I can narrow it down as needed.

Question: Are there schools that are appropriate for me, and me for them? If I could have everything I wanted, it would be oriented toward a study of non-western civilization(s) from some radically liberal perspectives. It would accept me in spite of my grades, and cover the cost of tuition such that I could actually afford to attend. I don't speak any language fluently other than English, but I'm willing to live anywhere that meets my above qualifications for a dream program. Arbitrary examples include: Sweden, Oregon, Antarctica, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Peru.

Thank you!
posted by lover to Education (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Part of the reason I don't have more history recommendations is that literally half of my history teachers retired after I took a class from them.
posted by lover at 9:44 PM on July 24, 2010

I would suggest choosing a graduate program based on its quality, not based on whether it has a radically liberal perspective. Programs with an identifiable radically liberal perspective are not likely to be good programs. If you actually wish to get a job with your Ph.D., you need to go to the best program possible; be the radical student in that program if you wish, but it's being misguided from the get-go, and limiting your future options severely, to choose a program based on the supposed radical perspective it may have.
posted by jayder at 9:48 PM on July 24, 2010

To clarify, I'm not concerned with getting a job with my degree at the moment. Whether this is cause to attend grad school - that's not the question.

It's important to me, if I'm going to study history at a grad school, to have sufficient common ground with my advisor to share respect and understanding. The entire school or program doesn't need to be known for being radical.
posted by lover at 10:10 PM on July 24, 2010

Forget about your SATs, that's literally kid's stuff. Your SAT score stopped mattering the second you stepped foot in college. Your CC GPA also doesn't count anymore. The plain facts of the matter are that you have a low general GPA, a middling major GPA and not nearly enough time to raise them unless you plan to stay in college some more. This will severely limit where you can go to graduate school. I'd really and honestly suggest you take some classes over if your school offers grade-replacement. Turning a few Cs into Bs will help you out.

You may want to search the College Confidential forums for advice for getting into grad school with a low GPA (like this one.)

By the way, I have (diagnosed) problems with academic environments as well, and almost always request extra time for papers. I have never once been denied, or even asked to prove my diagnosis. Instead of just handing things in late, explain your situation as soon as it becomes relevant (usually on/before the due date of the first paper.) Handing in a paper late is not particularly "disrespectful," your professors were college students once as well. Not talking about it with your professor hurts no one but you.
posted by griphus at 10:34 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know others will disagree with this suggestion, but you might consider doing an M.A. at a less-than-best program (perhaps at the school where you are now) to strengthen your chances of getting into a Ph.D. program. The problem with this is that you'll likely have to pay for it, or at least part of it, as you won't likely get an assistantship your first semester with your current academic record (however, nobody knows this for sure until you apply) - I would normally say that paying for an M.A. in History is a bad idea, but that's not the question you asked, so I'll just mention it, but your GPA's not stellar, so it might be the best way to prove that you can handle a Ph.D. If all you're after is an M.A., this still might be your only option, but the only way you're going to know for sure is to apply - I would work very, very hard on your writing samples (I'm not in history, but I assume history programs ask for writing samples) and statement of purpose and apply to as many schools as you can possibly afford to apply to.

Speaking form personal experience, I had a 2.8 cumulative GPA as an undergraduate, worked (and became successful) in a field unrelated to my major (I was an English major), but decided I still wanted to pursue my interest lit, so did (and paid for) a part-time M.A. at a very reputable school which led me decide to switch careers and pursue my academic interests full time - I was admitted to a 'Top 5' program in my field for my Ph.D. Now, when I did my M.A. I was making a comfortable living (I was in software development) so paying for my masters while I worked wasn't a huge deal, BUT I don't regret it, and I know I wouldn't be in the program I'm in now if it weren't for me paying for that M.A.

Others will advise you never, never to pay for a grad degree in the humanities, which I generally agree with, but there are exceptions, and if you're dead set that this is something you want to do, then you might have to consider that you'll have to pay for it. There are plenty of graduate programs in history at less-than-top programs that wouldn't necessarily be long shots to do an M.A. (with the idea that you will use that M.A. as step toward a Ph.D. from a top program that WILL pay you to go to school.)
posted by drobot at 11:05 PM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all of your answers so far, especially drobot. I won't attend grad school if I can't afford it, but I'm willing to put in the necessary work. Which universities might be appropriate to consider?
posted by lover at 11:37 PM on July 24, 2010

Based on my friends' experiences with applying to grad school in history: you should figure out what you want to specialize in first. Then, go to the best quality program you can get into that has several experts in and near that area. A great way to find those professors is just to see who's writing what you consider the most interesting current papers in your subfield.
posted by synchronia at 11:43 PM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I can't give you the specifics you want (I hope others will) but a small piece of advice from experience extending past the actual education portion of my life: when you research, locate, and talk to specific professors. Email them, meet them when you can (the value of proximity is huge and you can often get a great education closer than you expect if you find the right people). I have never met a great professor who wouldn't take time to interface with a person with the genuine desire to learn. They know the system inside and out and the advice they give you on how to develop into the place in academia you want to be in is unequaled.
posted by nanojath at 11:46 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

My strengths are creativity, plays well with others, and a sturdy passion for learning. [...] There's no need to deter me with "wtf are you going to do with a grad degree in history," please.

Here's the thing: graduate study is not about "creativity" or "passion for learning." Those are necessary, but insufficient and ultimately secondary, traits and they aren't as important as the desire to become a professional (in the fields you're talking about, a professional academic) researcher in a particular discipline. You're describing yourself and the work you want to do in ways that indicate you don't really get this (SAT scores, seriously?), and articulating your reasons for wanting to go to graduate school as though it were just another seven-to-ten years of college courses — but it's a completely different thing. Graduate school is not just spending more time as a student, nor is it a place to read around in hugely broad topics like "non-Western" history and radical or liberal politics (you realize these aren't the same thing at all, right?). Instead it's about acquiring the narrow-but-deep knowledge, and acculturing yourself into the role, of a specialist researcher in some very specific field and discipline. (This is also why "wtf are you going to do with a grad degree in history" is actually an excellent question for you to consider — not because of some generic philistine complaint about the humanities' job-irrelevance, but because you haven't indicated what you want to do with the degree, what career path it's going to prepare you for, at all.)

I don't mean this to be discouraging — in fact, I think it's ultimately a great and cheering realization that you can become the intellectual you want to be outside of academia, perhaps even better than within it — but I really think you should reassess this plan after spending some post-graduate time in another career. Being a well-rounded, passionate reader and student of a topic like non-Western radical history is a wonderful, laudable goal, but it is not something that graduate study in some specific subfield of history will really do much to help you accomplish.

There's a lot to read on this subject. Please read Tim Burke's great essay "Should I Go to Grad School?" immediately, if you haven't already. Also take a look at the discussion of history in the (somewhat outdated, but still very useful) book The Real Guide to Grad School.

All of this disregards the questions you're raising about your qualifications, because you shouldn't really be focusing on just getting admitted to a graduate program without also thinking a lot more about what it would mean to be in one. Once you do some more reading and talk to your academic advisors more about this, you'll also have a better understanding of the questions about qualifications. Just briefly, though: some of the things you're hung up on here, like SAT scores or Ritalin, are pretty much irrelevant, but some things you've tossed in here as asides are much more important than you seem to realize — e.g., having no languages but English combined with a primary interest in "non-Western" history is a likely deal-breaker all by itself.
posted by RogerB at 11:57 PM on July 24, 2010 [18 favorites]

"half of my history teachers retired after I took a class from them"

Doesn't matter. If they're published and had decent careers you can still call on them for rec. letters. They're still "in the loop," academically speaking.

At this point you should be talking to your current history professors. They're your best resource for information on which programs are the strongest and which are most suited to your interests.

As for graduate school itself, all you can do is apply. To be blunt, I doubt you'll get any offers for a teaching/financial package. But you never know -- all you can do is put in the time to diligently apply to a set of programs that might be right for you. DO study hard for the GRE (any big bookstore should have some sort of self-study guide) and DO make sure your applications look neat and professional, and make sure you stay on top of your rec. letters and transcripts getting to where they need to be on time.

I went to graduate school for English, but having known some guys in the history department, I do wonder what you language background is. It's great if you want to study "non-Western" history but do you have the language skills to study from non-Western primary materials? As an undergrad., it's perfectly acceptable to study in translation. At the graduate level, it isn't.
posted by bardic at 1:06 AM on July 25, 2010

I appreciate all the general advice. I didn't consider it an option available to me until recently, but I know how grad school works, or at least I think I do. Most of my friends are or were grad students. I've read all the AskMe advice about grad school for the past year and skimmed 'should I go to grad school' and 'how to be a grad student' books and blogs. I understand the basic ideas, but you're right. I've never gone through the process myself: my understanding of it is not from experience.

I know SATs don't count. I was giving that number as a high school equivalent. I was saying that "this is approximately how well I do on tests;" not that I expect it to count for anything. I'll be sure to study hard for the GRE.

RogerB: I speak conversational French and Spanish as well as nominal experience with a few non-romantic languages, and am happily able and willing to learn language if a program requires it. I am aware that

It is my belief that the act of studying something in depth will lead to a greater ability to have interesting and useful perspectives and skills outside the immediate field of study. I'm perfectly happy to be a specialist researcher in some narrowly-defined aspect of history (that I'll work on figuring out during this last year of BA study) during grad school and then to move on to some other tangentially-related-if-at-all field. I understand that this is not traditional and that this is not thought of as practical. If y'all will find it reassuring, I am working long-term with a local non-profit. This is equivalent to career experience, the only difference being that I am not a paid employee because none of us are.

Given that I'm not concerned with following a traditional or practical path, how can I find schools/professors/programs that interest me? I was hoping for some broad suggestions for places to start looking. Is going around talking to all the professors who have written current interesting papers the only best way to approach this? It feels a bit like finding a needle in a haystack.

I've talked to all my professors, but the one teacher whose interests really matched my own only ever got late papers from me and was visibly annoyed with me because of that by the end of the quarter. The other potentially-useful professor keeps making suggestions that are more relevant to her interests than mine.

Night y'all, I'm off to sleep. It sounds like the answer to my question is that I don't get to work backwards and find a professor/program that I like/will accept me and then suit my interests to that program, and that I should dig around and read more papers. Thanks for any future answers and all your advice. A laundry list of places, people, or papers I might like to consider is still very much welcomed. I understand that it's subjective, but your favorite historian or a recommended history department or your favorite current history paper are welcome. I'd really love to see some international-to-me options, if that's not asking too much.
posted by lover at 1:43 AM on July 25, 2010

I want to nth RogerB's comment. Graduate school is not more undergraduate courses; it is professional training for academic research. Programs are set up to turn out academics, and often assessed on how well they do so (e.g., placement rates in tenure-track jobs). I commend your passion for learning, and I want to help you figure out how to achieve your goals, but from what you have described so far, I don't think graduate school is what you are looking for.

Here are some other options to consider, however:

You can email professors who have taught courses that would be interesting to you (at the graduate or undergraduate level) and ask them for copies of their syllabi/reading lists. Explain that you are interested in those topics, and would appreciate some suggestions for good books and/or articles to explore [x area] on your own.

You can find a group of people with similar interests and start a book club that reads through major works in these topics, discussing them as you go along. It may be challenging to find members initially, but if you can get a good group together, these kinds of reading groups can be unbelievably satisfying intellectually. For this kind of topic, you might have success by forming a group online and using iChat-style videoconferencing (does Skype do multi-way videoconferences?).

You can consider auditing a class taught in the way you want. There are non-degree-seeking options with undergraduate classes, and it's often possible to do so for graduate-level classes as well if you can get the appropriate approvals. To do this, you would find a course that looks interesting, talk to the professor about your interest in taking the course, and complete whatever university paperwork is necessary to enroll as a non-degree-seeking student.
posted by philosophygeek at 5:39 AM on July 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I actually thought the SAT comment was sort of relevant, as a ball-park estimate of how likely the OP is to do on the GREs. The GREs don't matter that much for admissions, but they do matter for getting funding. At least, that was the case when I applied to grad school. It's been a while now.

I agree that the only way that this is going to happen is to do a Master's degree, which will probably be unfunded and at a non-prestigious university, and then use that to apply to PhD programs. One other little piece of advice that I will throw out is to try to do a BA thesis. A really solid piece of writing can bolster your application a lot.

Having said that, I have real doubts about whether someone with a 3.1 in-major GPA belongs in grad school. And if you think ADD was a problem in undergrad, wait until you get to grad school. I had an overall GPA in the 3.7s in undergrad and an in-major GPA in the 3.8s, and even though I thought I'd figured out how to manage my ADD really well, it still kicked my ass in grad school.
posted by craichead at 6:01 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

It is my belief that the act of studying something in depth will lead to a greater ability to have interesting and useful perspectives and skills outside the immediate field of study.

Your belief is false. The kind of "studying" you do in a PhD program in the social sciences does not expand your perspective in the way you seem to want, and it does not give you additional skills to do anything other than enter academia in your field. Moreover, a PhD is considered a hindrance in many other career fields (that is, employers will think you're overqualified and reject you, so you'll be less employable with a PhD than without one).

I'm perfectly happy to be a specialist researcher in some narrowly-defined aspect of history (that I'll work on figuring out during this last year of BA study) during grad school and then to move on to some other tangentially-related-if-at-all field. I understand that this is not traditional and that this is not thought of as practical.

It's not about what you're "happy" to do. PhD programs have a limited number of spaces available and a very, very limited amount of funding to offer. They simply will not give those spaces or that funding to someone who is not intending a serious academic career. It would be the equivalent of you seeking a full scholarship to medical school and telling the school that you don't want to be a doctor, but that you think going to medical school will help you in your recreational bird watching. Your choices are either to be honest and get rejected, or to blatantly lie about your career plans, effectively stealing money and resources from the department and from the aspiring academic who would have gotten them in your place.

If y'all will find it reassuring, I am working long-term with a local non-profit. This is equivalent to career experience, the only difference being that I am not a paid employee because none of us are.

Not even slightly reassuring, no. Non-profit work experience doesn't give you any insight into what a PhD program will be like, nor does it put you in a better position to be accepted.

Look, I realize that I'm being very harsh here, but I really think that you have an incredibly wrong idea of what grad school is like, what it's for, and who should go. My full-time job is to mentor and advise grad students in the humanities, so although I've never done a PhD myself, I can tell you that you are not, with your current mindset, a good fit for academia. I would strongly urge you to think about what you actually want to do for a living, figure out what you need to do in order to get on that career path, and then think about other ways to indulge your passion for "radical history."
posted by decathecting at 6:50 AM on July 25, 2010 [11 favorites]

RogerB is correct. So is decathecting.

You're going to do yourself a huge disservice that will haunt you for years to come if you believe that grad school is the only way to do what you want to accomplish, and it's a mistake to assume that grad school is an ideal or even a good way primarily to satisfy a longing to study something in more depth. You say that you would use the study to move on to some other tangentially-related-if-at-all field. You acknowledge that this is not practical. Well, it's not.

My advice would be to take a step back and think about what you want to be doing for the next 5-10 years. If it involves being an academic, with all of the work and the expectations that field carries, then you may want to try some of the suggestions others have given, including getting a master's first. If you have any level of doubt that being an academic is something that you want to be doing in 5-10 years, then you shouldn't go to grad school.

The first term you are in grad school, you will feel a queasy feeling of impending doom at the amount of work and time you are expected to put into it all. If the concrete reason you're going to grad school isn't enough to overcome that feeling of impending doom and to keep you going when you're up at 4 in the morning working and you haven't gotten any sleep in 48 hours or more and you have no idea how you're going to finish all the unfinished work you have that you haven't even started yet, then that reason is not enough to apply to grad school in the first place. Because the feeling of impending doom will almost certainly turn into almost constant and eventually paralyzing panic and dread.
posted by blucevalo at 7:13 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your choices are either to be honest and get rejected, or to blatantly lie about your career plans, effectively stealing money and resources from the department and from the aspiring academic who would have gotten them in your place.

Adding to this: Just as importantly, in this latter scenario, you'd also be lying to yourself.
posted by blucevalo at 7:27 AM on July 25, 2010

> RogerB is correct. So is decathecting.

Yup. And if you thought your teachers were irritated at your turning stuff in late in college, you ain't seen nothin' yet. If you do decide that (despite everything) you really, really want to try grad school, you may have to reconsider the medication thing, because "I have ADD" is not going to fly as an excuse. Grad school professors—yes, even the "radical/liberal" ones—tend to be demanding, intolerant, and impatient. Grad school, like med school and law school, is a hell that you have to traverse to get to what you really want. In your case, it doesn't sound from what you've said that there's a "what you really want" that actually requires grad school and will force you onward through all the crap.
posted by languagehat at 7:55 AM on July 25, 2010

I'm on the tail end of a PhD in history, and my first piece of advice is listen to decathecting and RogerB.

I just want to say that the kind of advice you're asking for (good papers to read, professors, programs, etc.) is impossible to answer since you haven't figured out what you're interested in at all. Stating your interests as "a study of non-western civilization(s) from some radically liberal perspectives" shows that you are not ready to go to grad school in history; getting admitted and funded requires showing that you can handle the intellectual work without trouble (this is shown in grades, recommendations, and your writing sample), and that you know what you want to study (shown in your statement). Everything else (ADD, GREs, volunteer work, passion for learning) is pretty much irrelevant (I think GRE scores are just an easy way to screen applicants out right off the bat if they don't make a minimum cutoff).

To make a long story short, if you're interested in going to grad school in history, think really deeply about what you want to study. Think even deeper about what you whether you want to be an academic. And, if you're interested in doing any non-US field of history, know that you will need to have acquired language skills to read primary source documents in your area of specialization, and that this requires WAY more than basic speaking fluency, as the documents you will be looking at will often be written in specialized or bureaucratic language that is more often than not archaic and difficult to understand even for native speakers. Not impossible, but nothing to sneeze at either; on the bright side, having those skills will strengthen an application enormously.
posted by agent99 at 8:05 AM on July 25, 2010

drobot is right. The good news is some programs do offer funding for MAs in history if you look hard enough. I didn't know this myself until after I got my PhD in history from an Ivy, full funding, etc.

Your credentials as you presented them here would not keep you out of the running for funding for an MA in my experience as a history professor. I can't be of a lot of help, but I can give you the name of at least one program to look at. Please memail me if you'd like.
posted by vincele at 8:25 AM on July 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

The first term you are in grad school, you will feel a queasy feeling of impending doom at the amount of work and time you are expected to put into it all. If the concrete reason you're going to grad school isn't enough to overcome that feeling of impending doom and to keep you going when you're up at 4 in the morning working and you haven't gotten any sleep in 48 hours or more and you have no idea how you're going to finish all the unfinished work you have that you haven't even started yet, then that reason is not enough to apply to grad school in the first place. Because the feeling of impending doom will almost certainly turn into almost constant and eventually paralyzing panic and dread.

This is right on. I'm about to start a history PhD, and it's kind of equal parts terrifying and exciting. If I weren't entirely sure that this is what I want to do, I would be on the first train out of here-- and I've already secured generous funding and will be studying at a school high up enough in the history rankings that the idea of me ever getting a job (while definitely not guaranteed) at least isn't laughable.

Other people have mentioned languages, and I want to second that. My field requires 4 specific foreign languages (two of which are the major languages used in my field and time period, two of which are the major non-English scholarly languages used to write about my field), and I applied with competence in two. I'm spending this summer taking a grueling intensive class for a third, and I will probably have to spend next summer doing the same for the last. I will be spending my first day as a full-fledged grad student taking translation exams in two of these languages. None of this is negotiable-- understanding the necessary languages as a historian is sort of analogous to understanding chemistry as a doctor.

I think that you should, at the very least, take a year off after graduating with your BA before applying to grad school. In history, it's not uncommon to come back into the academic fold after several years away from it (I'm 23, took a year off to work after college, and I'm one of the youngest first-years in my department). During that year, you should do some serious thinking and narrow down your focus, take a night class in a language that you know that programs will require (Spanish could maybe be helpful in post-colonial studies, but you'll need to be able to translate from it), and build up a specific long-term plan of what you want to accomplish with your study, in terms of which big questions you want to play around with as a historian. If you can't articulate some sort of trajectory for your research as an applicant, you won't be accepted.

Anyway, I agree that non-Western work is fascinating and important. When you're looking around at programs, or even just books to read, look for the term "post-colonialism"-- I'm guessing that's where your nebulous interest will take you.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:42 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

In addition to all the good advice above, I want to add another word of caution: applying to a school because you want to work with a specific faculty member is frequently (not always, of course) a recipe for disaster. Putting to one side the potential disjunction between a professor's stated politics and his or her actual treatment of graduate students, professors leave. Or they have too many graduate students to work with another one. Or they have so many graduate students that they shouldn't be working with another one, but do anyway--to the student's grave detriment. Or they get sick, or take sabbaticals, or have extremely reduced teaching loads, or...You get the picture.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:13 AM on July 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Now that you've clarified your intentions and goals, I think some of the harsh comments you're getting are a little off base. You're not trying to become a professor, you're not trying to get a job. You're seeking what I call a "vanity graduate degree," which sounds derogatory but I don't mean it that way ... I just mean you want a degree that you do not expect to actually make you any money or benefit you in any tangible ways other than personal satisfaction. You're wanting this educational experience for unique, idiosyncratic reasons ... So it really does not matter how "good" the program is or whether you are actually suited for study in a conventionally good program. There are schools that I have heard about anecdotally (they often have names that include such terms as "integrative studies") that sound like they might be up your alley. New College in San Francisco seems to have a pretty explicitly leftist orientation. Etc.
posted by jayder at 11:28 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Applying to a school because you want to work with a specific faculty member is frequently (not always, of course) a recipe for disaster.

In case this is responding to my suggestions upthread - I agree, it's better to find a program with multiple possible advisors.
posted by synchronia at 11:53 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Listen to these people (RogerB and decath).
posted by k8t at 11:55 AM on July 25, 2010

I made the mistake of enrolling in grad school for reasons similar to yours. I wasn't 100% committed to Being an Academic and going forth to create more academics.

I cared a lot about my subject and enjoyed the intellectual community but because I was there for dubious reasons--and most importantly because I never narrowed my focus--I wad immediately overwhelmed and never recovered.

What I noticed about the grad students who did well, these folks who are actually finishing their PhDs and getting real jobs: they had a project inside them that had to get out. They nurtured a coherent, urgent, interesting question and the only way to answer it was to devote their professional lives to working on it. For them it was a miserable grind that was totally worth it. For me, it was a miserable grind that I couldn't even justify with a decent answer to, "so what are you studying?"
I wasn't studying; I wad flailing. After two and a half years of flailing I dropped out. It was an embarrassing, exhausting ordeal.

(I was going for an MA/PhD at a very good but not top-ten private university. In English, but I had a lot of contact with the historians.)

That said, I think you should look into Master's programs. You have every right to be excited about history and an MA would be a great opportunity to bring your skills up to the graduate level without committing to ten years of grueling craziness. It's much less traumatic to walk away from an MA (or to decide you want to do something else once you have it) than to decide to drop out of a PhD after x years of investment.
posted by Neofelis at 11:59 AM on July 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

1. Sorry about the typos, especially wad for was
2. What about interdisciplinary Master's programs?
3. I meant to say this before but yes, take your language skills to the next level. That might even help you narrow your academic focus in interesting ways.
posted by Neofelis at 12:05 PM on July 25, 2010

I think people here are being harsh because, in general, going to graduate school in the humanities is not a good idea. It's very stressful, very expensive (even if you're fully funded, you're sacrificing your prime earning years to make a pittance), and extremely competitive. I'm finishing my dissertation right now, I have a really terrific postdoc lined up, I really liked graduate school, and I still would do my absolute best to discourage anyone from applying.

But to answer your practical questions: the frame of reference you're using to categorize programs (as radical or liberal) isn't helpful (which is why you're not getting the answers you want). I am not a historian, but these terms are not how historians categorize themselves. Even someone like Howard Zinn, the patron saint of American radical history buffs, would be described as a social historian with a focus on civil rights, civil liberties, and critical pedagogy. Generally speaking, historians aren't concerned with being liberal or radical, they are concerned with a particular time period and particular focus within that time period (e.g. "U.S. cultural history; 19th-century U.S. intellectuals; comparative study of cities."). Look at a history department's faculty page to see how some historians self-describe.

Any decent grad program in the humanities will have plenty of classes on Marxism or post-modernism or whatever you might consider to be "radical" or "critical" philosophy. You want to look at BIG state university history programs which will have a diversity of very fine faculty to work with (I agree with Thomas J. Wise - I came to NYU to work with a particular faculty member who left after my second year, and I was lucky enough to have lots of other great people to work with). Check out Berkeley's History Department for an example: it's a top-ranked department with a long liberal history and amazing faculty members. Realistically, you won't be accepted to a program like that with your current grades, but it will help you learn more about graduate level history, which you will need to do in order to pick an appropriate program.
posted by alicetiara at 12:24 PM on July 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I will start by look into New College and the program vincele suggests.

I feel like I did a poor job of accurately conveying my question (and perspective and background), and this thread is riddled with assumptions and misunderstandings. These things, they happen. From this I've learned how to be a better Asker and Answerer in the future. You all shared useful suggestions and ideas, and I really appreciate the time you took to offer me advice. Thank you!
posted by lover at 1:03 AM on July 26, 2010

For what it's worth, I have a humanities grad degree unrelated to my professional occupation and it was a completely enriching (and, yes, at times hellish) experience. I would not discourage anyone from going to grad school in humanities if they think they would enjoy it or benefit from it. Some people take a very hard line "grad school is to be grimly endured, never enjoyed" position, which really doesn't match reality for some of us.
posted by jayder at 6:14 PM on July 26, 2010

one more bit of info for you - New College of California is no more. They lost their accreditation a little while back.

I'd agree that a traditional graduate program is probably not what you're looking for - I think you want something a bit more outside the lines. I don't have any great suggestions for you, unfortunately ...
posted by chbrooks at 6:53 PM on July 26, 2010

An M.A. in History is not just a vanity degree. As someone who teaches in a terminal M.A. program, I can say it does the following:

1) gives students a chance to figure out whether they really want to pursue a PhD
2) serves as professional development for primary/secondary school teachers, which boosts their salaries
3) leads directly to community college teaching
4) leads directly to public history opportunities (museums and the like)
5) leads directly to prep school teaching, similar to 2
6) leads to other stuff people find along the way
7) tangential to 1-6, the Armed Forces send officers to M.A. programs in history as part of their career paths.

The PhD track in History is essentially a professional course designed to churn out one thing only: professional historians.

So I didn't know any of this before I started teaching students whose goals aren't becoming professional historians.

I think it's cool that smart people go to school in History and learn to think as historians, outside PhD-->professor box and get jobs doing other things. Like I said, the outside of the box wasn't really that apparent to me before I started teaching.

I don't think a terminal M.A. in History is for everybody. There are a lot of drawbacks, the biggest of which is the cost. But from what the OP says about herself, she should at least look into her options. It's not accurate to say that it's a PhD or nothing kind of decision, which is exactly what I would have said before I finished graduate school.
posted by vincele at 7:14 AM on July 27, 2010

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