Summer’s Over

Summer’s over and it feels weird because I’m not headed back to class.  In fact, it’s the first time since Kindergarten (so, the first time in 19 years) that I’m not heading back to school in the fall.  {side story: it’s really depressing when your little brother, who’s nine, asks you what grade you’re in, and you have to actually count the number of years you’ve been in school, only to tell him: Well, I’m going into the 20th grade!} Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t yet reached that glorious day when I’ve graduated for the last time, but I’ve finally reached that point in grad school that I’m done with coursework.  I passed my doctoral qualifying exams with distinction in Modern German History, Modern European History, and the History of Sexuality in the Western World (for a list of books on the subjects, along with book reviews, see my post, here) – and man, was that the most stressful year of my life.  I think that I’m only now recovering from the trauma of exams so that I can finally get my brain back into academic mode long enough to focus on the next big hurdle: my research year.

This summer was a busy one.  On the first of June, my partner took an awesome job offer, and we moved from Buffalo to Boston.  This city is the most fantastic place I’ve ever lived, even though we’re far away from family and friends.  I think it’s a historians dream city!  Then, I spent the last two weeks of June in Germany, participating in the German Historical Institute’s annual Summer Archival Seminar, a nationally competitive program that trains advanced graduate students of German historical studies how to read old German script and maneuver German research institutions.

July and August were spent settling into our new home, and reading, reading, reading.  I had a lot of work to do to get my dissertation proposal (or, “prospectus”) up to snuff.  So, I quit reading about the Holocaust and the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, and started digging through books and articles on social activism and the relationship between protestors and national governments.  My advisor told me I needed to find a way to answer the So What? question – why should anyone care about my topic?  So, I got to thinking:  We’ve seen a wave of protestors overthrow regimes in the Middle East recently in the Arab Spring, as well as networks of people try to check governmental authority by revealing to everyone some of our government’s darker secrets.  So, instead of just focusing on how activists have remembered, presented, and used history, my project will now study how governments have interacted with protestors and their representations of history.

In the first week of September, I flew back to Buffalo to defend my prospectus, tentatively titled:  Homosexuals after the Holocaust:  Gay Rights Activism and Identity Politics in West Germany & the United States, 1949-1990.  My dissertation will focus on how a variety of actors, including gay rights activists, professional historians, and state authorities in America and West Germany, formed transnational collective memories of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals through communicating on a transatlantic – and transnational – public sphere that developed in the atmosphere of the 1968 cultural revolutions.  The existence of simultaneous, competing narratives of the past highlights a central point of my dissertation, which is that the politics of memory is a form of the politics of power.  By studying how different actors remembered (or did not remember) the heritage of Nazi persecution to achieve a variety of ends, we may gain insights into the relationship between activism, political power, identity politics, and our understands of the past.

Defending my prospectus was the last hurdle to A.B.D status (“all but dissertation”), which means that I am no longer a Ph.D. student, but promoted to Ph.D. candidate (I checked and there’s no pay raise with that promotion).  All of that simply means that I’ve done everything to qualify for a Ph.D. except produce a dissertation (what a small detail).  That’s why I could move away from Buffalo and not have to go back to campus.  Classes started four weeks ago, and I’m still in Boston.  I took the last three weeks off to visit with family and have some fun, because next week my dissertation research officially begins.  I’ll be doing some work in the archives of Boston’s The History Project, an organization with the goal of documenting Boston’s LGBT history. And then, come November 1st, I’ll be on a plane, on my way to spend five months in Germany visiting archives in different cities.  In April 2014, I’ll return to the US and spend three more months visiting archives here.  Tack on another year, and hopefully by then, I’ll be Dr. History Nerd.

I really needed the break from Academia and, more specifically, my own project, that the last three weeks provided.  At the beginning of the month, my mom, brother, and grandparents (affectionally known as Mama’rn’em) came and spent a week with us in Boston.  That was an experience Boston will never forget, I’m sure.  Whereas I’ve had some years to get used to the whole “don’t talk to strangers in cities, they don’t care about you” thing, Mama, Nanny, and Papa are still in the Southern mindset of “let me hear your life story while we’re in the grocery store line.”  We did all of the touristy stuff, but we also had a few days of just staying home, laying around, and watching movies.  It was a good dose of family time.  The day after that, I flew to Buffalo and defended my prospectus.  The next day, I flew to Florida to spend a week on my dad’s ranch.  It was back to waking up before the sun rises, mowing grass, working cows, and fixing fences before crawling into bed and doing it again the next day.

Luckily, my next stop on the trip was San Francisco for my partner’s birthday.  We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, ate fresh seafood at the Fisherman’s Wharf, had $2 beers in the Castro, got free chocolate at Ghiradelli Square, and got carsick going up and down all of San Francisco’s hilly streets.  The rest of the week, we spent in Santa Clara, spent a day at the beach (it was my first time on the West Coast and seeing the Pacific), wine tasting in Napa Valley, and hanging out at the boardwalk in Santa Cruz.

And thankfully, I’d been hoarding all of my Delta frequent flier miles for years and years, so all of my trips this summer were free!  My grad student bank account was sure glad that I signed up for the flier miles all those years ago!

But now I’m back, and it feels great to be home, but summer’s over.  My partner’s back at work, and I’m back to reading works of history and sending a bajillion emails, prepping for my research year.  So, while I’m not on campus, I’m definitely not done with school yet…

I’ve neglected A Curious Wanderer the past month or so (part of being in grad school is this never-ending feeling of guilt associated with unproductivity when you do anything except school work), but I’ve got plans for it:

  • I’ll be traveling a lot in the next year, so I can get back to the site’s roots and do posts about the cities I’ll be working in.
  • I want to continue to post reviews of the books I read for my qualifying exams.  Hell, I spent a lot of time writing them, I might as well share them, right?
  • Now that I’m back home, I want to start cooking again, so I’ll share any good recipes that I come across.
  • One idea that I’m toying with (If I can bring myself to quit Facebooking in the morning with my coffee and spend that time writing):  As my family traded tall tales these past three weeks, I realized that, told the right way, my old family stories could be really entertaining for readers…I think.  So, I want to pick a few of my favorites and share them with y’all and see what you think.

But, I’ll never get to any of that, if I don’t quit blabbing and rambling now.  I’ve pushed my procrastination to its end, and I guess I’ve got to go be a productive member of society and interact with people.



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Summer’s Over by W.J. Newsome is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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