Dispatches from Graduate School – Part 40

*Re-posted by permission of John Fea’s The Way of Improvement Leads Home*

Cali Pitchel McCullough is a Ph.D student in American history at Arizona State University.  For earlier posts in this series click here.

After what I consider an embarrassingly long hiatus, I return to my Graduate School Dispatches routine.  Thanks to Dr. Fea and to my readers (Hi, Dad!) for your patience during my absence. I felt especially uninspired during the fall semester. I had what only a privileged graduate student could consider an unfair grading assignment that had my nose in bluebooks for a disproportionate amount of time. I needed the winter break desperately and feel reinvigorated for my final semester as a PhD student before I enter candidacy (fingers crossed) in the summer.

I look toward my last semester of coursework with a bit of heartache. In some way, this is the beginning of the end. In less than six months I take my qualifying exams and move from student to candidate. Although a quick search through the past year and a half of Dispatches will return more than a few melancholy missives on graduate school life, I envy those students still sitting in the lecture hall or seminar. What I love most about the study of history is the dialogue, the collaboration, and the opportunity to learn from seasoned scholars. To borrow an analogy from Jane Jacobs: the classroom ballet. Academia is a lifelong pursuit of knowledge, but there is a marked difference between furiously taking notes from a foremost historian on the Bracero Program and standing before a classroom delivering a synthetic commentary on the United Farm Workers. I will always look fondly on my time facing the lectern.

Despite the distress I felt (and will likely continue to feel) over my workload, I am more equipped than ever to take on my nine concluding credits. My course lineup agrees especially well with my interests. I’m taking two readings courses, one in urban history and the other in food production and consumption. The former prepares me for my secondary field in urban history, while the latter familiarizes me with a literature necessary for my dissertation prospectus due next fall. I am fortunate to work with two great faculty members, Philip Vandermeer and Matt Garcia, respectively. In my other course, North American Cultural Landscapes, we will read the likes of Tuan and Meining in order to better understand the systemic interaction of human beings with their environment.  Susan Gray, whose work deals with the interplay of place, race and gender, teaches the course.

It’s quite the array of courses if I do say so myself, and what a fine way to close out some of the most rewarding
years of my life.

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