Today was my last meeting with the graduate students. I asked them to each nominate an article for the class to read — something they felt had been important in their own development as a historian or in their current research. We discussed each in turn and it was great to hear, more than once, their descriptions of that electric moment of inspiration or insight. It’s a good and dynamic group.
Of course, sometimes, when you have such a group, you wonder whether you’re teaching them much at all but I think they’ve gotten something out of this course. They made connections to the course texts in their commentaries on their own papers and each others’ readings and research. I tried to draw each of them out, in turn, about how they thought about their own work and that of other historians. And I felt that I continued to give back to the group in other, less official ways: today I promoted two more important aspects of the profession I fear we don’t talk about enough with our graduate students: publication and professional meetings.
I encouraged each of them to think about their current work in terms of publication. One student’s already done so: the paper he brought to share was actually a development out of an undergraduate essay which is being considered for publication by a local society whose civic history he wrote about. Even there, though, we talked about strategies to follow up on that whether the society follows through or not. And with the others, I could see the interest in their expressions over the thought of having an article soon in hand.
That also led me to promote professional societies as an important venue for the students. I’m afraid that few of them view themselves as practicing historians, yet. But they are and will be — why not promote the student memberships, the chance to submit to conferences (or even just attend and be inspired) and the networking that comes from getting into the scholarly community outside their own institution. But I think I forgot to mention how the internet can be another venue for this scholarly growth: whether in finding communities such as we’ve found in the blogosphere or on more formal mailing lists or whatever.
Thankfully, that’s why we all have email!