The Musings of a Wannabe Intellectual

Month: February, 2013

Confessions of a History Nerd…

I am currently looking through the course catalog for the fall semester. These courses are amazing. They are taught by celebrities (according to the world of K). I may die of excitement before I even get to Harvard. The below gifs are the only way I can express my current feelings:

excited2 excited3  excited11excited6 Fangirling-8 omg-excitedgreetings







tumblr_lmnwdxoX4P1qjmniro1_500 lemon-happyrunaway1


Black Women You Should Know: Diane Nash

“Who the hell is Diane Nash?!” – Attorney General Robert Kennedy

imagesDiane Judith Nash (born May 15, 1938) was a leader and strategist of the student wing of the 1960s Movement. A historian described her as: “…bright, focused, utterly fearless, with an unerring instinct for the correct tactical move at each increment of the crisis; as a leader, her instincts had been flawless, and she was the kind of person who pushed those around her to be at their best—that, or be gone from the movement.”

Nash’s campaigns were among the most successful of the era. Her efforts included the first successful civil rights campaign to de-segregate lunch counters (Nashville); the Freedom riders, who de-segregated interstate travel; founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); and the Selma Voting Rights Movement campaign, which resulted in African Americans getting the vote and political power throughout the South. (Source: Wikipedia)



You know, if the Freedom Ride had been stopped as a result of violence, I strongly felt that the future of the movement was going to be just cut short because the impression would have been given that whenever a movement starts, that all that has to be done is that you attack it with massive violence and the blacks would stop.

– Diane Nash


Freedom is people realizing they are their own leader.

– Diane Nash


…the African-American daughter who wants to pass is drawn back into the body of her mammy. Women are what they are; men are what they do. Women, especially black women, are embodied; men transcend.

Just as white ethnic mobility requires black fixity, so men need women. Mammy allows the blackface Jew, the jazz singer, to move forward; she pulls the whiteface African-American back to her maternal roots.

Michael Rogin, “”Democracy and Burnt Cork”: The End of Blackface, the Beginning of Civil Rights,” Representations, No. 46 (1994): 1-34, 16.

Black Women You Should Know: Septima Poinsette Clark

Septima Poinsette Clark (May 3, 1898–December 15, 1987) was an American educator and civil rights activist. Clark developed the literacy and citizenship workshops that played an important role in the drive for voting rights and civil rights for African Americans in the American Civil Rights Movement.”  She became known as the “Queen mother” or “Grandmother of the American Civil Rights Movement” in the United States.

She was active with the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, serving as Highlander’s director of workshops, recruiting teachers and students. One of the participants in her workshops was Rosa Parks. A few months after participating in the workshops Parks helped to start the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Clark is most famous for establishing “Citizenship Schools” teaching reading to adults throughout the Deep South. While the project served to increase literacy, it also served as a means to empower Black communities. (Source: Wikipedia)

Septima Clark

I have great belief in the fact that whenever there is chaos, it creates wonderful thinking. I consider chaos a gift.

– Septima Clark


septima clark


I never felt that getting angry would do you any good other than hurt your own digestion, keep you from eating, which I liked to do.

– Septima Clark



Listen: Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 25, 1976.
Southern Oral History Program Collection.

Read: Septima Poinsette Clark Scrapbook, 1919-1983.


Where all the BLACK women at?!


I’ve spent the past week immersed in black women’s history and the extreme absence of black women in American history AND African American history is startling. I never noticed it before, I guess, because I had never really read books that specifically address black women’s history, black feminist theory, and primary sources written by women about black life in America. I mean really, how many of you, dear readers, can list 10 historical black women in America? It seems as though the same women are used every Black History Month to pay lip service to the role of black women in American life. In my humble opinion, our historical memory isn’t giving credit where credit is due. This truly hit home for me when I read this passage in the 2nd edition of Michele Wallace’s Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (New York: Verso, 1990):

For the most part, it is the white male left that is writing the history of the 60s. The most important historical documentation of the 60s coming from the perspective of black participants has been the “Eyes on the Prize” Series of PBS television documentaries, and the books that have followed them, by Washington Post reporter Juan Williams. Not surprisingly, this version of events underplays the contribution of women, and the story of how the Women’s Movement, the Peace Movement and the white male left emerged from the Civil Rights Struggle. (xxii-xxiii)

The “Eyes on the Prize” series was the first documentary I saw on the African-American experience, in my first undergraduate history course, so it has a special place in my heart – I watch it annually. And thinking back on it, it does underplay the contribution of women during that time. I think about the work all those women did on a grassroots-level, all the women who worked hard long before the Civil Rights Movement to have the voice of the African American people heard and I want other people to think about them too. African American women should not be an afterthought in the history books.

Educate yourself about these incredible women!


Applying to Graduate School, Part Five: Written Sample

Determine what the school you are applying for wants in a written sample; it’s pretty common to submit a single written sample that is 20 pages, maximum. Check the program’s website.

Obviously you need to submit your best piece of work BUT it needs to be your best piece of work that showcases your ability to research; use a written sample that is primary source heavy, not a historiographical paper. They want to see that you are capable of original thinking (and according to the graduate officers and historians I have met, historiographical papers are less compelling and considered less creative).*

Try and submit a written sample that relates to your proposed research for graduate school.

Less is more. Keep it short (they’re reading hundreds). If it says 20 pages, 20 pages should be your absolute maximum.

If you want to use a thesis chapter, craft a coherent showcase of that work, simply add:

  • Introduction to the topic
  • Scope of the paper

Always, always proofread and edit the work you are submitting. Even if you got 100% for that essay, you need to double check that everything is right (grammar and punctuation), nothing has changed (facts and concepts) and that you are happy with it (because it is supposed to be a representation of your brain at work).

Written Sample


Writing Sample (College of Letters & Science, University of California, Berkeley)

Writing Sample (Department of History, University of Washington)

* This advice is, obviously, most applicable to people in history.

Applying to Graduate School, Part Four:Letters of Recommendation

It’s pretty standard for you to submit three letters of recommendations with your graduate application. It is strongly recommended that those recommendations come from academics you have either studied or worked under; people who have seen your capabilities.  You really need people who can comment on the following:

  • Academic achievement
  • Intellectual potential
  • Quality of writing/speaking
  • Creative, original thought
  • Maturity
  • Hardworking, motivated
  • Leadership
  • Integrity, character
  • Reaction to setbacks
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Emotionally stable and mature
  • Special skills

I was fortunate to have three such people. My recommendations came from a lecturer I had worked well with, my thesis supervisor, and the discipline convenor (also a one-time boss/supervisor).

The most important aspect of this (other than picking the right people) is organisation – I feel I can speak about this because I wasn’t as organised as I could have been and it created some needless struggles. Again, this is better described in a checklist:

☐ Give notice: speak to the recommender at least three weeks before it is due; they’re busy people and these things take time

☐ Have an information package ready to go: provide your recommender with copies of your personal statement, CV, transcript, the details of the program you are applying to and anything else that may assist their recommendation writing

☐ Emphasise the deadline: avoid confusion and just be clear that it needs to be done by a certain date

☐ Double-check that they are familiar with the online process

Waive your right to read the recommendation – I didn’t because I didn’t understand the process fully. Apparently recommenders, at times, feel uncomfortable writing letter you will see and so admission boards are likely to given them less weight. Just trust that the recommender will say positive things (otherwise, why are they a recommender?)

☐ If the due date is looming and your recommender still hasn’t submitted just give them a gentle reminder – again, they are busy people so give them the benefit of the doubt!

Additional Resources
Dr. M. Dennis Jackson, How to Get the Best Recommendation Letters for Grad School (website)

Letters of Recommendation (Indiana)

Letters of Recommendation for Graduate School: Who Are the Best Sources?

Graduate School Applications: Requesting Recommendation Letters (Purdue)

Applying to Graduate School, Part Three: Personal Statement

This is probably the most important part of the application; it showcases your individuality, your research and what you have to offer. Avoid using a boring letter template, space is limited and you want to grab their attention straight away – I opened with something very important to me, something that influences every aspect of the life; my Indigeneity.

You could approach the statement with a checklist:

☐ Who am I?
– Personal background
– Educational background
☐ Outline of research/ area of interest?
☐ Why is the study important? What will you add to the field?
☐ Why are you applying to that school?
– Demonstrate knowledge of the school
– Show how their work is linked to your research interests
– Name the relevant people
– How does that school relate to your overall goals?
– Are they doing things that interest/ excite you? Tell them!

There is no right or wrong way to write your personal statement – it’s personal for a reason! It’s an incredible opportunity to showcase what makes you special. Make sure you tailor your personal statement to ensure you are applying to the right school and the right department. Look at the faculties research interests and recent publications so that you can appeal to their curiosity (they’re academics, curiosity is inherent).

Write a draft as quickly as possible. It’s so easy to agonise over what to write about – your whole life in three pages is hard!  Just remember, it’s easier to edit than to fill a blank page.

Proofread your application! They are looking for any excuse to cut people out of the running; make sure you are writing about the right university (this, apparently, does happen – another reason to tailor statements!).

But, above all, emphasise the aspects that make you different. This is graduate school, they aren’t looking for lemmings who can sit a test or write pretty prose (although that does help), they are looking for eager people with cutting-edge ideas. People who can offer a unique perspective. People who love learning.

Handy additional resources

Writing A Convincing Personal Statement For Grad School

Writing the Personal Statement

How to write a personal statement that catapults you on to your chosen course

Applying to Graduate School, Part Two: GRE

Unfortunately, the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a part of most US graduate school’s admission process and (as I learned) no amount of moaning about the evils of standardised testing will change that. Make sure there is sufficient time between your test, the score reporting and the admission deadline. Official scores are sent out approximately 10-15 days after the test.

Be sure to thoroughly read the GRE website when you register for the test. They have plenty of resources to help you prepare for the test.

There are no hard and fast rules for studying for the GRE. I personally bought Kaplan’s 2013 GRE Premier and Princeton Review’s Cracking the GRE and crammed during the two weeks prior to my test. I would not recommend the “cram” approach. The Verbal component requires you to learn an extensive vocabulary list. I recommend you learn a handful of words a day: I used a GRE vocab. app and listened to podcasts, as well as the books. I spent far too much time dreading the math (“quantitative reasoning”) component rather than studying for it; there is a method to the GRE’s questions, you just need to learn it.

If you take away anything from this, it should be to take as many practice tests as you can! Practice, practice, practice! Both of the books I used came with practice tests and there are plenty online. Practicing helps you see where your strengths and weaknesses lie, familiarise yourself with their system and teaches you to manage your time.

The only other thing I can say is that the GRE is a tiny part of the entire application; though you should take it seriously, it isn’t the be-all and end-all; I think I’m proof of that.

Average marks for History

  • Verbal – 156
  • Quantitative – 148
  • Writing – 4.2

K’s GRE Results

  • Verbal – 156
  • Quantitative – 142
  • Writing – 4.0

Applying to Graduate School, Part One

Now that I have actually been accepted into a graduate program in the US, I feel as though I can write about the application process. I don’t think that this is (or should be considered) a “one-size fits all” approach  – in fact, I would recommend that you try making your application as unique as possible (because they are reading hundreds of them).

First, you need to become aware of the application deadline. I didn’t realise the deadline was quite so looming (I almost didn’t have enough time to get everything done!). It is recommended you start your application process as early as possible (Applications for Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) for Fall 2014 will be available September 2013).

The second thing you need to do is really look at the prospective university/ program/ professors. Make sure the work happening at that university is aligned with your own research interests. Look at the recent publication of your potential professors; is there anything you can offer them? Is there anything that excites you? If all else fails, EMAIL them! There is no quicker way to determine if you are interested in each others’ work than by actually making contact. The name/ reputation of a school should ALWAYS be secondary to the research you are interested in because, really, we are talking about at least the next 7 years of your life. It is necessary, for both you and the school, for it to be the “right fit”.

Because this is such a long-winded process and because I am, by nature, verbose this will be a multi-part blog topic. It will look at:

  • The GRE
  • Personal Statements
  • Written Samples
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Misc. tips and idea

PHD Comics: To PhD or not to PhD