When I wrote my blog post last September, I was looking ahead to all of the academic work that I needed to complete that year – some coursework, teaching, and my preliminary exams. Happily, I start this year with all of those milestones under my belt and can now say that I am a Ph.D. candidate. So far, being a candidate has been vastly different than my first three years of the Ph.D. program. Last year, the academic calendar kept me in check, as I was responsible for both attending my own courses and for preparing lessons as a GSI. This year, I am on fellowship and am working on my dissertation prospectus and research. Being a candidate is a bit disorienting, since I have moved from (generally) studying and teaching other scholars’ work to producing my own. As an historian, the bulk of my work comes from archival sources. For the foreseeable future, I’ll be working in archives in the hopes that I will be able to answer some of the questions I’m asking in my dissertation.
First, of course, I’ll have to defend my dissertation prospectus. In the past year, my dissertation project has changed in some ways. I read around five hundred books during my preparation for the prelim exam, so it makes sense that some of my ideas would have changed. For instance, I’m thinking about how my work might fit into larger scholarly debates about American history; this isn’t something I was prepared to do well a year ago. I’ve also thought more about how I want to frame my dissertation in response to all of the other works I read. In addition to all of the reading I did for prelims, I spent a few months of this summer reading targeted books and articles on my dissertation topic. I’m still continuing this process (there are more books to read), but I now have a better sense of what I’m working on.
In July, I started my dissertation project by conducting research in Liberia. I accompanied Professor Brandi Hughes on a trip to the country in order to assess the availability of documents there, and to meet individuals who might be willing to talk about Liberia and its history. Liberia suffered a major civil conflict and war that only ended in 2003. In general, my work focuses on antislavery during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in the Anglophone world. Specifically, I am examining the British colony in Sierra Leone and the American colony in Liberia as spaces where antislavery activists tested out new ideas and negotiated boundaries in the immediate wake of the American Revolution. Most important, I want to examine how women, especially African-American women, were both involved in and rallied against these projects.
Already, this year feels very different than the last. One of the things that attracted me to graduate school and academic work is the ability to do something different each year (and to some extent, each day). I get restless very easily. As a grad student, it’s exciting to be able to teach and read one year and go off and visit archives the next. I’m hoping that this year is a lucky one for me – searching through archival sources can be tedious, but I am optimistic that I will find good material!
About the Author
Marie Stango, Ph.D. Student, History
Published in: Student Voices