Dec 17 2010
Yesterday was my final class of the fall semester. I presented my dissertation project to my classmates, and then various people from the history department came to our seminar for a little celebration. Since it was the Escalade last weekend in Geneva, the department provided a couple of celebratory chocolate cauldrons filled with marzipan fruit for the smashing (this has got something to do with a tale about a woman pouring a cauldron of vegetable soup over the walls onto the heads of the invaders…?). Embarrassingly, I turned out to be the youngest in the room, and so I was nominated to DO the smashing. Having never seen this little ritual before, I was somewhat of a loss as to what to do, and besides, I have no special patriotic feelings for Geneva. The Swiss people in class tried to convince me that I should pound it with my hand, but I thought I’d hurt my hand–that chocolate looked hard. So I grabbed a nearby corkscrew and half-heartedly beat the cauldron a few times, as the people around me egged me on. Then I ran away to the other side of the room, I’m sure looking as embarrassed as could be. Given that there were many bottles of wine and far too much chocolate for the number of people, we students carted it up to an office and continued eating and drinking for a while. It was a rare social event here at which I actually didn’t feel a strong urge to flee, and it was nice to get to know some of my colleagues better.
This semester was supposed to be light on coursework, heavy on dissertation prep. I’d say it has been equal parts heavy on dissertation prep and dog training. Next semester I’ll have to take 3 courses, not just one, I’ll have to keep working hard on the dissertation, Ruben will still be a puppy (hopefully with less separation anxiety!!!), and I’ll have to step up the wedding planning again. Yikes. I have two months now without any courses at all (though, with plenty of visitors), so I better get some serious reading done.
I know I rarely talk about my actual work here, so probably many of you readers probably know way more about how laundry works (or doesn’t work) in Switzerland than anything about my school, even though the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies is, after all, the whole reason we are in Switzerland. Well, first of all, the history department’s blog is a good place to start if you want to get a sense of the academic and institutional landscape. I’ve been asked to make a contribution to said blog, but I’ve been somewhat at a loss as to what to write there, so feel free to make suggestions. Here’s a nice interview with my supervisor.
To review what I’ve been doing to date, after taking two years of classes in both international history and a smattering of international law and political science, plus writing a master’s thesis on Jewish advocacy at the League of Nations in the 1920s using the League of Nations archives, I got my MA in September. I spent a couple months trying to figure out a PhD topic that would be interesting to me, feasible in terms of languages and location, and useful scholarly work. Currently, I’ve settled on researching the historical relationship between international, voluntary service and advocacy organizations and how these types of organizations each relate to the international system. I will explore that relationship through a selection of Jewish-American international organizations and their activities and interactions from the interwar through the postwar periods (roughly 1918-1960). I’m sure the topic will mutate significantly, but there you have it, my 4 year project. This is going to involve significant multi-archival work (hello YIVO, American Jewish Archives, and the US National Archives!), and a lot of reading literature that is tangential to my direct research. So much to do, and 4 years of lonely time management to struggle with.
P.S. Don’t forget to wish Seth a happy 25th tomorrow!