Breadth Exams Begin!

Today, at 9:00 am, my breadth exams began.  These are exams that should be analogous to qualifying exams at other institutions, which means you must pass them in order to progress to your oral examinations.  If you pass your orals, you can proceed to writing a prospectus for your dissertation.  Once that’s cleared, you are considered “ABD”, or a Ph.D. candidate whose done everything but write the actual dissertation itself.

The breadth exams are in three parts:  one 10 page essay on one list, one 10 page essay on another list, and then an oral component a little bit after the essays are written.

I picked up my American section first.  These are my two question options:

  1. In 1893, three years after the U.S. Census Bureau had announced the disappearance of a contiguous frontier line in the western territories of North America, Frederick Jackson Turner delivered his “frontier thesis” to a group of historians in Chicago.  Challenging the prevailing view that American traits and institutions could be traced to European sources, Turner maintained that “the existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development.”  Discuss five American writers who either share, challenge, or in interesting ways complicate Turner’s revolutionary belief that the existence of a physical (and psychological) “frontier” throughout the nation’s early history was the defining feature of American experience.
  2. “Isms” are notoriously clumsy and inaccurate labels when applied to individual writers, and yet they provide a sometimes convenient way of conceptualizing major trends and transitions.  Choose five writers from your list who allow you to sketch the contours of “Realism” in American fiction from 1860-1920.

Oddly, I sighed a breath of relief when I saw the questions.  Five writers I can choose from my thirty-odd.  Something very concrete to focus on.  Ten pages; just two pages per writer.  This is manageable.  I even know a little about Fredrick Jackson Turner’s “frontier thesis”, since we discussed it a little in the U.S. Empires class I took last year.

All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.  I just have to keep chanting that.

UPDATE:  Dude.  I really can’t believe it…but I did it.  I wrote 10 (well, almost 11 thanks to intro/conclusion) pages on the first question.  There was a sizeable part of my psyche that didn’t think that was going to happen.  I’m sure I’ll be mortified by my writing and content later, but here is my Amercian Breadth Essay.

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