Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Progress Report

Months of Beard Growth While I Waited for A Date to Defend

My dissertation proposal defense was held last Friday (April 16). The verdict of the committee (3 political scientists and 2 historians) was that I passed the defense and will move on to the comprehensive exams. Those exams will take place in May.

The specific comments that I got from the committee (besides, "I like the proposal") focused on the sense that I was communicating others' Lincoln really well, but not really saying what my Lincoln is. A book that came out in 2008, Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World, contains in its subtitle the general point that I need to present a new perspective, that is, mine. The volume itself contains recent essays by notable historians. I am going to reread several of the essays that deal with two areas I'm concentrating on at the moment: use and abuse of Lincoln (or maybe "theft" as David Blight put it in his illuminating essay in Our Lincoln, "The Theft of Lincoln in Scholarship Politics, and Public Memory") and Lincoln's contradictions (Lincoln was after all "big enough to be inconsistent", as Du Bois said).

I've been thinking about the disparate topics on Lincoln that went into the proposal, all of which have been dealt with in someway or another in posts on this blog. Having to come up with a unifying theme for all of the subjects means that some things will have to be scaled back or simply scuttled. At this time I would say that the contradictory Lincoln is the theme that will frame the dissertation. The late George M. Fredrickson already used the Du Bois statement for a great book title Big Enough to be Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Race and Slavery so I'll have to come up with something else.

The comprehensive exam questions will help in deciding on the framework. Until then I'll be buried in source materials trying to preempt the exam questions (which I don't know yet). A brief description of how comprehensive exams work: Each of the committee members gives two questions, pick one; Write 25 pages per day per question; Two (2) days to edit said pages; Hope you made some sense during the week and have retained your sanity. Added degree of difficulty: I have to start teach my American Politics summer course the day after comps end.