The summer provides scholars with opportunities to get together and workshop their research at institutes, seminars, and symposia intended to foster group discussions on discrete topics like theory and methodology. For students of American History, one of the best opportunities to meet and discuss their work is the Futures of American Studies Summer Institute. This year, students and faculty from Fordham were invited to apply to participate in the Dartmouth institute with support from the Fordham Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Among the community of Fordham Americanists who participated was Glenn Hendler, Associate Professor and Chair of the English Department, who gave a talk entitled ““The Civil War and the Ends of the State.” Also among the Fordham delegation was History PhD student Stephen Leccese, who presented work in progress on nineteenth-century mass consumption and economic thought. Stephen sent us this postcard with details of his experience at the institute.
The best part was workshopping a paper at the Institute. We broke into seminar sessions of about 10 people each in the afternoons. Each day 2 or 3 people read a paper they were working on- it could have been a dissertation chapter, an article proposal, or anything else. I read “Nineteenth-Century Economic Thought and New Perspectives on the Rise of Mass Consumption,” a slight revision of the paper I worked on during our Research Colloquium. I got some very interesting feedback from people outside my field, since about 95% of the seminar participants were from English or Literary Studies departments. While I was skeptical about how helpful their comments would be, I was surprised at how interested they were in a work of history. They provided some great suggestions that I will certainly be adding into my paper as I work on it further.
Overall it was a very welcoming environment. Highly accomplished scholars, early career academics, advanced and early PhD students all interacted together without any sort of hierarchy. Even though I was in a different discipline than most other participants and was also much earlier in my PhD work (most were several years in and working on their dissertations), all expressed legitimate interest in what I was working on.
Although there wasn’t much down time (we attended about 40 talks throughout the week, plus meeting with our seminars every afternoon), I did have a very nice dinner out with my seminar group after our last meeting. It was a chance to be much more casual around everyone after a week of pretty serious scholarly discussion. I plan on maintaining contact with several members of that seminar, both as colleagues and friends.
It was an educational experience because I’ve only studied history since I started college. There were very clear methodological differences between myself and the rest of the participants. Though I don’t agree with all of the methodologies from Literary Criticism, I very much appreciated the chance to see these scholars in action. It gave me a view of something I’d never seen before.