CID Summer 2005 Convening: Supporting Intellectual Community

Topic 1: Creating and Nurturing Robust Intellectual Communities

Department of History

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

309 Gregory Hall, 810 South Wright Street

Urbana, Illinois 61801

History at Illinois

Some Building-Blocks of Our Community

Our department nurtures many interlocking intellectual communities, both within and across disciplines. We sponsor a plethora of extracurricular thematic reading groups, which provide a unique opportunity for graduate students and faculty to engage in discussion of the most recent and exciting scholarship in history, and in related fields. A monthly colloquium brings historians from outside the campus to our department, thus widening the scope of our community. And each semester, a faculty-led workshop provides dissertating students with the opportunity to receive feedback on their ongoing projects. Similarly, students writing dissertation proposals have been increasingly successful in obtaining funding for research, thanks to a proposal writing workshop coordinated by a faculty member. Both seminars have the added benefit of fostering collaboration among students, and of facilitating the interaction of students with faculty members in other fields.

The Fundamental Importance of Student Collegiality

Graduate students work together to provide mutual academic and social support, particularly in the first years of the program. Their efforts supplement and extend the faculty-run orientation for new students and the orientation for new teachers, in significant ways. For example, each incoming student is paired up with a more advanced graduate student as part of a mentoring program designed to ease the transition to life in graduate school, the department, and the towns of Champaign and Urbana. Our History Graduate Student Association affords students a voice in departmental policy and a social outlet through gatherings and sporting activities. Students are particularly proud of their efforts in creating an intellectual community that supports the investigation of women's and gender history, and these have led to the institution of a tremendously successful annual symposium, now in its sixth year. The internationally-recognized Journal of Women's History has recently migrated to the University of Illinois, and graduate students play an important role in its production.

Student Representation

Not only do graduate students interact with faculty in the day-to-day academic life of the department and in extracurricular activities, but they are directly involved in vital decision-making processes. Graduate students are represented on nearly all departmental committees and on all search committees, and there are always student delegates present at faculty meetings.

New Curricular Opportunities

As a result of our department's participation in the Carnegie Initiative, we have recently instituted a new first-year sequence designed to provide students with a common academic experience, a shared sense of intellectual endeavor, and similar set of skills, methods, and objectives. Because it is so new, we don't know how it will work; in particular, we don't know if we can succeed in addressing the needs and interests of students whose areas of research are often very distant from one another, in space and in time. But we are all excited about the possibilities for increased interaction and collaboration among students, and between students and the faculty who will be coordinating and team-teaching these courses.

Enriching Our Community and Those of Our Disciplinary Neighbors

Graduate students and faculty in our department are key players in the creation of thriving intellectual communities that embrace other disciplines, methodologies, and research agendas. A number of the area studies programs and centers for research that flourish at the University of Illinois are directed or staffed by historians, and these provide second intellectual homes for the many Ph.D candidates whose projects require, or invite, interdisciplinary contact. In addition to the programs described below, our department and our students are closely affiliated with the East Asian and Pacific Studies Center, the Russian and East European Studies Center, the Program in Medieval Studies, Native American House, the Gender and Women's Studies Program, the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory, the Latina-Latino Studies Program, the Asian-American Studies Program, the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security (ACDIS), and the Program in Science, Technology, Information and Medicine (STIM).

African American Studies and Research Program
Directed by faculty member Sundiata Cha-Jua, this program had its genesis over a generation ago in a series of student protests, and is still one of the most vibrant intellectual communities affiliated with the History Department.

Program in South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
This program, directed by historian Kenneth Cuno, supports an array of opportunities for students working in these areas of the world. It sponsors its own weekly lecture series, oversees linguistic instruction, offers prizes for student work, and coordinates study abroad initiatives.

Center for Latin America and Caribbean Studies
Directed by historian Nils Jacobsen, the Center is an expression of the University's longstanding commitment to the study of Latin America, which began as early as 1904, when the School of Agriculture sent a delegation to São Paulo, Brazil. In 1909 the Department of History began offering courses on Latin America, and the Spanish Department followed in 1928. The Library began collecting materials from the region before World War I, and now houses one of the finest collections in the world.

Center for African Studies
Established in 1970, the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois is one of the leading African studies programs in the United States. Under the leadership of historian Jean Allman, it is committed to providing comprehensive and excellent educational opportunities for graduate students, including a wide range of course offerings and regular instruction in six African languages, which augment the resources of the History Department.

The Department Family

(A Reflection by Carol Symes, Assistant Professor of History)

When I was in graduate school, anyone so unwise as to have a spouse or children was tacitly encouraged to disguise or downplay this unhappy fact of nature; it was regarded, by many members of the faculty at that institution, as an indicator of weak-mindedness, betraying a lack of serious commitment to scholarship. It came as a very pleasant surprise, then, to find that an entirely different atmosphere -- and attitude -- prevailed in the Department of History at the U of I. Demographics, in part, explain this: ours is a young faculty. There are senior scholars in our department (full professors, occupants of chairs) who are also the parents of infants and toddlers; others, of course, have school-age children, teenagers, or adult progeny. But demography alone cannot account for the cheerful, organic way in which the spouses, partners, and children of graduate students are also welcomed and integrated into the department; to me, carrying my old baggage, it is remarkable. And I am certainly not the first to find that intellectual community can be more readily sustained when the life of the mind is not considered separate from the well-being of the individual: mens sana in corpore sano implies a sound scholar embraced by a thriving family, as well as a well-trained mind in a healthy body.

Contact Information

Antoinette Burton, Professor and Chair,

Kathryn Oberdeck, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies,

Carol Symes, Assistant Professor and Graduate Teaching Assistant Coordinator,

The Community-Building Initiatives of Our Students

Many of the most powerful fora for intellectual exchange that exist in our department are the products of graduate student initiative. The Graduate Symposium on Women's and Gender History (see below) is the most prominent example, but students also find opportunities for collective engagement in the History Graduate Student Association (HGSA), an affiliate of the American Historical Association; the International Students' Caucus and the Women's Caucus; and a chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, a national professional society. We are also proud of the leadership shown by our students in the recent successes of the Graduate Employees' Organization, a union whose efforts on behalf of teaching- and research assistants has enriched the intellectual lives of all students by helping to ensure that they can pursue their degrees in a supportive academic environment which is also a supportive workplace.

Graduate Symposium on Women's and Gender History
The Graduate Symposium on Women's and Gender History was inaugurated in 2000, as the capstone event of the History Department's Women's History Month celebration. It has since expanded to include contributions from graduate students drawn from programs throughout the United States and Canada, and from programs such as American Studies, Anthropology, Art History, Classics, Comparative Literature, English, History, Communications, Library and Information Science, Sociology, and Women's Studies. The Symposium has also strengthened its original mission by encouraging the historical analysis of gender in its myriad intersections with questions of race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality.

Extending the Boundaries of Our Campus Community

In many ways, the initiatives of our graduate students have inspired faculty to create a larger intellectual community for historians at the University of Illinois. This year, we will be hosting the annual meeting of the Society for French Historical Studies. Last year, our department became home to The Journal of Women's History, which involves graduate students in a number of key professional activities -- as has long been the case for students who work on the staff of The Slavic Review, another scholarly publication based at the University of Illinois.

French Historical Studies
In 2006, the University of Illinois will host the 52nd annual meeting of the Society for French Historical Studies, thereby bringing hundreds of historians to the campus and adding an international dimension to our department's intellectual community.

The Journal of Women's History
In the summer of 2004, this prestigious journal found a new home in the History Department. Edited by faculty members Jean Allman and Antoinette Burton, it also provides important editorial opportunities for graduate students.

Creating a Community of Teachers: A Challenge

A major topic of discussion in our community this year revolves around questions of undergraduate teaching, an endeavor shared by faculty and nearly all graduate students in our department. We would all like to see more -- and more meaningful -- teaching opportunities emerge for our students, most of whom work as teaching assistants or graders, but many of whom would like to be able to design and teach their own courses. The difficulty, of course, is balancing the demands of research with those of teaching. So, as we work to provide excellent graduate student teachers with more outlets for their creative and scholarly energies, we are also working to develop a series of workshops and practices that can train students to take on these responsibilities -- thus making them an organic part of their academic lives, and not a hindrance to their writing and research.

This electronic portfolio was created using the KML Snapshot Tool™, a part of the KEEP Toolkit™,
developed at the Knowledge Media Lab of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Terms of Use - Privacy Policy