Paula Petrik at George Mason University | Readings


what i do

For those of you who interested in taking a graduate readings course with me, I’ve put together a few guidelines to organize the process. First, I primarily offer both master's and doctoral readings in nineteenth century US history (major field) and applied new media (minor field) as well as specialized readings in US West, legal, and business history. Second, I also do readings in nineteenth topics (minor field or major field) that prepare a student for a doctoral research seminar. Essentially, this is a nineteenth-century reading list that emphasizes a particular topic. Students who have arranged these readings have done work read in the areas of nineteenth material culture, domestic law, and the photography of the American West. Finally, my new media readings concentrate on applied history; in other words, I'm interested in the techniques and applications that bring history into digital form.

what you need to do

Like most traditionally trained historians, I can go from Pequots to Pop, but I am primarily a historian of the nineteenth century and am most comfortable in that hundred years. There are others in the department that are much better versed in this period’s bibliography and, if Civil War/Reconstruction is an area that you wish to explore, I encourage you to seek these faculty out and sign on with them. My own predilection does not mean, however, that readers cannot add and subtract texts and move into other periods (including Civil War & Reconstruction within reason) to fill gaps in their knowledge. Before we embark on a readings course, I will need to have a list of the books that you have read in your courses. Working with your list, we can make sensible choices that will both appeal to your intellectual interests and fill the blanks. Once I have your bibliography, we will meet and draw up an individualized readings list.

what is required

For my purposes (and yours as well), you will be required to submit a brief (2-3 typed page) paper for each text assigned for a reading period; the papers should both summarize the basic argument of the text, its methodology, evidence, and conclusions. You are particularly encouraged to use these papers to make connections among different readings in the readings course as well as among books that you have read for other courses. You need to think about how one book relates to another in terms of historiography, methodology, and general approach. The papers are due at the meeting at which you are discussing the particular readings. You will hate doing this, but I guarantee that these papers will come in very handy for your exams whether you are taking the master's written or doctoral orals.

Generally a readings course meets every other week during the semester. Master’s readers will choose 8-10 books from each of the periods, while doctoral readers should read 10-12 from the two lists. Those that are starred are required.

I also think that reading a good college-level American history text would not be amiss. Such a text would furnish a refresher for those periods that the readings course does not cover. I would suggest Boyer et al.’s Enduring Vision, Davis et al.’s The Great Republic, or Rosenwzeig, Who Built America.