History-ing Turns West

Today I officially accepted an admissions offer from Stanford University’s history graduate program.

The decision was not an easy one, and for that I’m grateful. I had the extraordinary luck to be able to choose from several schools’ offers, all of which presented their own distinctive strengths and arguments for attending. Over the past several weeks I have often been almost embarrassed at being in such a fortunate position, of having the distinctive luxury of comparing a range of criteria such as programmatic fit, faculty involvement, geographic location, and financial support. Throughout the decision process, I was continually impressed at the generosity of professors and graduate students to reach out to an admitted student and happily answer all of my questions.

In the end, my decision to attend Stanford rested on a number of factors. I had been drawn since the beginning of the application process to the school’s strong involvement in digital history and humanities. Within the history department, efforts at the Spatial History Lab appealed to my background in and enthusiasm for historical GIS. That, in combination with a strong interest in the history of the American west, led me to apply to work primarily under Richard White. Stanford’s history program also posed a phenomenal fit in combining the strengths of both traditional historical training and a heavy emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches. The school holds tremendous appeal beyond its academics. I have family in the Bay Area (including my big sister), and California’s allure of sunshine, palm trees, and my all-time favorite mountain range proved intoxicating. Visiting the campus at the end of last week finally confirmed my decision, neatly summarized during a Q&A session with current graduate students when one of them said quite seriously, “I think the best thing about this place is that I am just really, really happy here.” An immediate and genuine chorus of agreement drove home that simple, but altogether critical point.

Finally, I can’t resist offering up some visual (and superficial) support for the “non-academic” side of the decision. I took both of these photographs out the windows of two university’s libraries while visiting schools last week to demonstrate the difference between New England and California:

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After a deep breath, I eventually clicked “send” on an email that effectively decided my future. And as the email disappeared, questions large and small immediately took its place:

Have I made the right decision?

I think so.

Am I prepared to attend a university whose mascot is a color and/or a tree?

Sadly, yes – my undergraduate mascot was a sagehen.

Am I ready for the perils of graduate school?

As ready as I’ll ever be.

Alongside these questions lurked a strange feeling, brought about by the surreal knowledge that I had just decided what I’ll be doing and where I’ll be living for the next half-decade. That feeling gradually gave way to one of deep gratitude. In the midst of staggering financial uncertainty and upheaval, I’ve been handed the tremendous opportunity to live out my dream of becoming a historian – an opportunity at once humbling, daunting, and overwhelmingly exciting.

Many, many thanks to the legion of professors, classmates, mentors, friends, and family members who helped make this dream into a reality.

California, here I come.

4 thoughts on “History-ing Turns West

  1. Now that I’ve had enough time to think, I definitely agree with your rational for choosing Stanford. While debating which program I want to join, I’ve been asking myself how happy are the current candidates at that particular institution? All the resources aside, having a happy cohort of fellow candidates can go along way in making your life less stressful come crunch time. My negative experiences at the MA level are completely overshadowed by all the good people I interacted with.

  2. Congratulations! And don’t sweat your feelings of “extraordinary luck to be able to choose from several schools’ offers.” You will get over it when you enter the job market if five years! The five years in California may be a prelude to the 40 in a state with Dakota in its name.

    Enjoy yourself. Some people complain of the grind of grad school but it is also an extraordinary intellectual adventure.

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