The 2017-2018 school year is starting this Wednesday, September 27. Even though I completed all of my graduate seminar work last spring, I will be taking one more class this fall. This class is an independent-study course (also known as a directed-readings course) in order to fulfill the requirements for my minor in African History. Getting a minor is one of the three main benchmarks for third-year students in the PhD program at Davis. (The other two benchmarks are passing the comprehensive examinations and proposing the dissertation prospectus.)
Every student in the UC Davis doctoral History program must complete a minor. To do this, students select a field of History that is different from their major field. Then, they find a professor who is willing to supervise their minor project. The student meets with that professor for a designated period of time–usually a quarter or so–and they discuss the contours of the field while they read some of its major works. Afterward, the student conceives of and writes up a syllabus for a hypothetical undergraduate course in that field, as well as a “justification paper” that explains the choices they made in creating the syllabus. He or she then submits both of these materials to their minor professor and, hopefully, the professor approves of them and grants the student their minor. (By the way, a student cannot move on to their dissertation prospectus unless he or she has successfully completed the minor, so this part of the process is kind of crucial.)
Overall, the purpose of the minor field is to make students more versatile, both in their knowledge of History as a discipline and in their prospects for a job after graduation. Studying a second field in detail gives students greater perspective on their own field of research. Also, having a syllabus in a secondary field ensures that graduating students will have another option about what they can teach once they are placed in a new job. As I am told, the syllabus is a helpful tool to have when job hunting. Obviously, universities hire new faculty with the intention of having them teach in their major-field areas; yet, a graduate might come off as a more-competitive candidate in the interview room if he or she can present and explain a syllabus of their own creation for another field of History entirely. Ideally, the university would see an added benefit in hiring a professor who feels comfortable teaching in more than one field of History.
So, what am I doing? At the end of last year, I finally came to the conclusion that I would pursue my minor in African History. I approached one of the UC Davis History professors who specializes in African History at the beginning of the summer, and I asked if they would supervise my minor project. Thankfully, they agreed, and they recommended that we take this independent-study course together to prepare. I spent the last month of the summer drafting a syllabus for this course and, after some revisions with the professor, a working version is finally complete. I have attached the syllabus to the bottom of this post for you to see. The course is called “West African Ethnographies and Histories of the Eighteenth Century.” I have removed some of the sensitive information, like the name of the professor as well as the time and dates of our meetings. Nonetheless, you will be able to see all of the good stuff: our overall vision for the course, the themes we have decided to focus on, and the works we have decided to read. I might be providing some week-to-week video updates on the course throughout the fall. We’ll see…
Thanks for reading. Best wishes,