Historians consider why new doctoral students get disconnected from what drew them to the field

Historians in the News

At the beginning of a discussion on “closing the ‘passion gap’ in graduate education,” audience members at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association were asked whether they were graduate students or professors. The audience was lopsided grad students.

But judging from the discussion, professors in a number of programs are aware and concerned about the “passion gap” — enough to be rethinking some policies. One consensus on the panel was that even though undergraduates who pursue graduate degrees have fallen in love with doing history research, that is oddly missing from the first years of graduate education.

Tyler Anbinder, a professor at George Washington University, said that one of the things that has “gotten lost in the shuffle” of graduate programs is the experience of doing sustained history research (prior to the dissertation). Much of the writing in early years of a graduate program will be reviews and critiques and comparisons, not actual research, he said.

George Washington has dealt with this by adding requirements that graduate students do two original research papers in their first three semesters. “It’s getting students back into the archives ... probably what got you into graduate school in the first place,” said Anbinder....

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