Adventures and Conferences

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By Marcel Haas

If you ever wondered whether immersing yourself fully into academia is a good idea, this week’s post has some ideas that might convince you to do so. Let me begin by saying that I truly enjoy going to conferences. Think about the fact that the university allows you to go on a short holiday where you meet some interesting people, make great new friends (who can also be quite influential and helpful), and all you have to do is give a short presentation and listen to why people think that you should use different sources. Conferences become even more enticing when they are held in a different country than the one in which you are currently working. In my case, that foreign country was Mexico, and that conference the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Ethnohistory (of which I am a shiny new member). 

Right away, I felt the rush of oncoming adventure when my plane touched down on the runway of Oaxaca’s Xococotn Airport and I emerged into October’s tropical heat. The conference took place in a comfortable hotel a little outside the city center, which commanded a magnificent view of the valley. Oaxaca is an incredibly beautiful place that boasts architecture from the Spanish colonial era as well as modern art, markets, and restaurants that overlook the tremendous sight of ancient Monte Alban. The latter truly feels like the city of the gods it was meant to resemble. Built entirely upon the peak of the central mountain of the valley (which had been razed to create a massive plateau), it surely takes its place besides Mexico’s other archaeological highlights such as Teotihuacan and Palenque.

As a center of art, culture, and history, Oaxaca was the ideal place for a very special conference. The Society for Ethnohistory is generally focused on examining the history of Indigenous peoples of the Americas, but more specifically highlights the agency and achievements of Indigenous people in interaction with the colonizing Europeans (the latter part is mostly due to the source availability of course). In South Mexico, this focus allowed conference attendees to experience the region’s history while presenting their new research on exactly that. Coupled with the brilliant organization by the colleagues of UNAM and Oaxaca, the proximity to world-renowned archaeological sites (apart from Monte Alban, also the fascinating former Zapotec city Mitla is only a short cab ride away) made the conference week very special.

Besides its historic relevance and culinary excellence, it seemed to me that Oaxaca (and Mexico specifically) had also been chosen as a political statement in the face of increasing xenophobia in the United States. The choice reaffirmed the close connection of the Society with Mexico (especially considering that the “American” in its title does not simply refer to the US!), and the importance of Mesoamerica for the study of Indigenous peoples and the history of the continent. Importantly, a fiery speech by the outgoing president of the Society, Matthew Restall, emphasized the need for empathy for the suffering of other people, especially Indigenous women who have been the target of violence for centuries. 

After five days of talks, presentations, round tables, receptions, and late-night chats, the conference came to an end. Exhausted, amazed, laden with ideas and photographs, I finally made my way back to Michigan. The week in Oaxaca had been special, but also a perfect example of the experience we as graduate students, early career researchers, and even established scholars can have at one of the many conferences throughout the academic year. Alright, why aren’t you applying yet?

 Oaxaca, 2018

5 Tips for every PhD student's Partner

By Sara Papendorf

Many of the posts on this blog come from the point of view of those in the academic world. I thought it might be interesting (and helpful) for some readers to describe several experiences of a PhD student from a completely different point of view – the view of a partner. My name is Sara Papendorf, and I am the partner of Dave Papendorf, your favorite blog editor.  I am not an academic, but I’ve lived through the process and, therefore, have some tips to share.

To provide some context, my life as the partner of a PhD student started back in 2014. After much discussion about our future, Dave and I decided that he should pursue a PhD in history. Thus began the long hours of filling out applications. Dave applied to a number of different programs in the Midwest. I still remember how exciting it was getting letters in the mail from the different universities he applied to – honestly, I think I was more excited than Dave was! I have always been the mail checker in the family, so Dave had to kindly ask me to not open any letters without him. I obliged his request......well......basically. There were several times when I held a letter up to the light to try and see what it said. In fact, this was how we discovered that Dave was accepted into the program at CMU. It was a very exciting time for us!

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Fast forward four years later to July 2018, and Dave is currently in the writing stage of the program. As for me, over these past four years, I would say that I have learned much about being the partner of a PhD student.  If I were to provide you with any advice, here are some tips that I have found helpful: 

Tip 1: Expect challenges

Anyone who is currently working on or has completed a PhD program knows that the life of a PhD student is not for the faint-hearted. There are huge milestones in any program – being accepted, passing comps, completing one’s dissertation, defending one’s dissertation, and securing a job – not to mention that each milestone is filled with its own set of tasks to complete.  It has been important for Dave and me to recognize that this stage in our life is not permanent, just temporary and to expect that there will be difficult times throughout each major milestone.  Keeping this outlook has allowed us to pace ourselves, take one day at a time, and enjoy ourselves along the way.  

Tip 2: Show interest in your partner’s work

Frankly, I never had much interest in history during my academic years.  I much more enjoyed math and English.  It’s quite comical that my partner has such a great interest in history.  Even though I am not a huge history fan and it takes some focus to learn about history, I have discovered over the past several years that Dave appreciates when I take an interest in what he is working on.  My interest in his work doesn’t have to be a big ordeal; questions as simple as, “What are you reading about now?” or “What did you discuss in your colloquium today?” can go a long way.  I actually find great joy in hearing Dave describe what he is learning because I can tell that he truly enjoys doing what he does.  Last year, Dave taught his first course, which was medieval history.  At the beginning of the semester he asked me if I was going to attend any of his lectures. Looking back, I think he was half joking and half serious.  However, I was able to attend two lectures, and I know taking the time to attend really meant a lot to Dave.    

Tip 3: Be spontaneous. 

There are times when your partner will need to do something to take their mind off of the grind academia - studying for comps, reading primary sources in sixteenth century Latin (I might be speaking from personal experience here ;-)), or editing the same chapter of their dissertation for the fifty-second time.  From January to June of this year, Dave and I lived at the Leibniz Institute of European History (IEG) located in Mainz, Germany.  The IEG has dormitory-like living – single rooms equipped with a sink, shared kitchen space, and shared bathrooms. Over the six-month span, Dave and I both worked in our room every day.  I am sure you can imagine how easy it would be to go stir crazy working in a small space. To help keep us sane, we often took spontaneous walks along the Rhine River.  There were a handful of Saturdays where Dave and I intended to tackle several items on our checklist; however, instead of working, we decided it would be better for our quality of life to set aside our mile-long to-do-lists and spend some time enjoying each other’s company and enjoying our German surroundings. Sometimes an unplanned trip to get gelato or to the market was just what we needed.  And you don’t have to live in Germany to follow this tip – find some spontaneous fun that works in your locale!

Tip 4: Be supportive

Throughout the past four years, consciously attempting to be a supportive partner has been an important component of my role as Dave’s partner.  Supporting Dave has taken on many forms, and I have learned that sometimes being supportive is more about listening to Dave describe his concerns and struggles rather than offering my best solution to a difficult problem.  Honestly, this is one thing that has been the most difficult for me to do but has meant the most to Dave.  Lending a listening ear has often provided Dave with the support he needs to keep plugging along.  

Tip 5: If you get to travel, take advantage!

During the second year of Dave’s program, we spent the academic year living in Newcastle, England.  Knowing we would be in the UK for quite some time, we decided to book several trips to various locations across Europe – Belfast, Rome, Geneva, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, and Edinburgh.  While these trips could get prices, I would say that our experiences (seeing the spectacular views of Giant’s Causeway, walking the streets of ancient Rome, taking a ferry ride down the Amsterdam canals, and touring the catacombs in Paris……just to mention a few) were worth every penny.  I can honestly say that we made the most of our time in the UK and have no regrets.  Throughout all of our travels, we have discovered some simple ways to save money:  choosing to stay in an AirBnb rather than a hotel, packing a lunch (and dinner…and breakfast), and searching for deals on cheap European airlines (EasyJet and RyanAir). Traveling with Dave has been such a great privilege as he is often able to explain some of the history behind many of the things we have been able to see when traveling abroad.  As someone who was born and raised in the Midwest, I would say it’s often easy to get wrapped up in visiting places in the US. Don’t get me wrong, the US has much to offer, but the world is quite a big place.        

These tips are by no means scientifically proven. They are just the things that have worked for me and Dave over the past 4 years. I expect (and hope) that some, if not all, might be encouraging to you as well!

Study Abroad From Scotland to Michigan: Why You Should Take the Leap!

By Amy Greer

Throughout my four years of undergraduate study at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, my goal was always to teach history. After being told I had been unsuccessful for my PGDE – the first step to becoming a qualified high school teacher – I felt lost with what the future would hold for me after leaving Strathclyde. Little did I know that an amazing opportunity that would change my life was about to come along.

Although the previous few years have held many milestones, it is safe to say my Masters year at Central Michigan University has been my biggest growing year yet (and not just because I have to buy my own groceries and pay rent). Back in 2017, in the space of only four months, I had been awarded the fellowship to come to CMU, taken my honors year examinations, graduated, and was on a plane to Michigan. Looking back now, it is difficult to believe that my journey began only this time last year. Once all the paperwork had been completed and I no longer had anything to focus on, I questioned whether I was truly ‘ready’ – although I am not sure anyone would ever say they were completely ready to move four thousand miles away from the place they have always lived. However, I am so thankful I pushed myself take a leap of faith to attend graduate school…in America. (Pinch me moment for sure!)

In two semesters at CMU, I have not only grown personally but also academically. Any expectations I had of what graduate school would be like were blown away in the best way possible! For me, it was a different world: suddenly I had my own classes to teach, my own office in the department, and was in graduate seminars surrounded by PhD students, feeling completely out my depth. However, it is amazing how quickly I adjusted with the help and support of my fellow grad students and Professors. Our Transnational exchange program stretches far to places such as Germany, Newcastle, and France to name a few. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this honored exchange program and to work alongside an amazing group of grad students, many of whom I am extremely lucky to call my good friends.

One of the main things that first attracted me to the program at CMU was the graduate teaching position. It was a daunting but equally exciting prospect. This experience was either going to confirm or deny what I always believed I wanted to do with my life, and I think it is safe to say I will never forget my first lesson (or how nervous I was)! Over my two semesters of my Masters year, I had the chance to teach two different courses: HST 210 U.S. History through Michigan Eyes and HST 323 Native American History. With U.S. history being one of my fields, I felt slightly more comfortable; however, the prospect of having my own classes to teach with no experience was nerve wracking to say the least. Despite this, being thrown in at the deep end has allowed me to progress far quicker. It is amazing how natural it all becomes. Lesson planning, teaching, grading, and helping students, all while doing your own course work is extremely stressful. You certainly do not see rewards every day when teaching; but when you see students progressing in their writing, or just enjoying a lesson or discussion, it makes it all worthwhile knowing you had a small part in those students’ journey. 

During some down time (I know what you are thinking, what grad student has time for a social life?!) I have had the great pleasure of exploring some parts of beautiful Michigan. Throughout my year I have visited Detroit and more specifically the Detroit Institute of Arts – thanks to Professor Harsyani for organizing such a wonderful trip as part of one of my favorite classes I have had the opportunity to take so far.  I have also had the pleasure of visiting Tahquamenon Falls in the Upper Peninsula as well as Traverse City. Before coming to CMU, Michigan was not somewhere I had a lot of knowledge about. In fact, most people I meet back home in Scotland are intrigued to know more, and when people hear what Michigan has to offer and see the insanely beautiful photographs of the Great Lakes…who wouldn’t be sold?

I am beyond grateful for all that has happened in the past academic year: from all I have learned from my professors, to teaching my students, presenting my research in our annual International Graduate Historical Studies Conference, and having the opportunity to meet amazing historians such as Alan Taylor and Edward Ayers. I have much to thank CMU for, but I am especially proud to say I now have lifelong friends, who I am lucky to call colleagues, in what can only be described as very inspiring environment. Indeed, my passion for what I do gets stronger in a place where everyone loves what they do and works so hard. For now though, I am back in sunny Scotland (always the joke because it is hardly ever sunny) enjoying summer with my family and loved ones. Perhaps if it rains too much I can hide in the archives. Like for most of us that would be a day very happily spent for me. I look forward to returning to Michigan in the Fall and exploring what the next four years hold for me as a PhD candidate at CMU!


Amy Greer is a Scottish doctoral student at Central Michigan University. Her research interests are in Early Modern European History, focusing on education, women’s history, and gender studies.  

The Michigan Historical Review

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By Susan Paton, Assistant Editor, the Michigan Historical Review

For those of you who have not yet heard of us, the Michigan Historical Review is the state’s only scholarly journal covering Michigan history, and we are published twice a year out of our office in the Clarke Historical Library. It has its roots in an earlier journal, The Great Lakes Review, which began publication in 1984 out of CMU’s English Department (they took it over from Northeastern Illinois University who had been publishing it since 1974). It was then ‘repurposed’ into an academic history journal and came under the jurisdiction of the Clarke and CMU’s History Department. Under a unique partnership, the University provided the salary for an assistant editor, the Clarke supplied the office space, the History Department provided a course release and stipend for an editor (and for many years the book review editor as well), and the Historical Society of Michigan guaranteed a large number of printed copies by including it as part of one of their membership packages.

Thus, in 1986, the Michigan Historical Review was born, and we have been publishing twice a year ever since. What that means to Michigan and Midwestern history is the addition of over 200 articles (double-blind, peer-reviewed) and 1100 book reviews into the field. Most of our subscribers are university libraries, though we also have individual subscribers, and we can currently be found in either paper or electronic form in over twenty nations and thirty US states. Our participation in JSTOR, a national database of humanities-related journals, means an even wider distribution, averaging over 25,000 article requests and 12,000 article downloads per year.

I have worked as the MHR’s Assistant Editor during two separate periods: first for a couple of years in the late 1990s, while working on my PhD, and then again beginning in 2012. (In the interim period I owned and managed a restaurant and a wine & cheese market—but that is another story.) In my capacity here at the MHR, I edit article manuscripts and book reviews as well as oversee the daily operations of our small office. My duties are, thus, extremely varied, perhaps the primary reason I enjoy this job so much. On any given day I get to read (oh, and correct) a range of history articles, contact publishers about new books on Midwestern history, keep tabs on our many subscribers, answer our correspondence, and remind tardy book reviewers that we are hoping to hear from them soon—and a host of other little details.

I have learned so much about Michigan’s remarkable history over these past few years, and I have really enjoyed getting to know and work with so many fascinating and curious people. And the pleasure of getting to work at a job with so many appealing facets is matched by what is perhaps an even greater perk of my job—I get to work in the Clarke Library. For a nerd like myself (and I am probably safe in assuming like many of you), being around such a wealth of fusty volumes and beguiling artifacts is a dream come true. But the best part of working at the Clarke is its people, truly the kindest staff on CMU’S campus. And if this sounds a bit like a swan song, I guess it is. It is with very mixed emotions that I leave this job at the end of next month. I am moving to sunny California so I can be a bigger part of my grandson’s life. If CMU had a crown, the MHR and the Clarke would be its brightest gems. And I am so honored and gratified to have been able to call this little corner of campus home for these past six years. If you haven’t read one of our issues yet, I hope you will stop on by sometime soon. 


Susan Paton, has been the Assistant Editor of the Michigan Historical Review for a couple of years in the late 1990s, and then again since 2012. She will retire at the end of next month.