Aaron Wirth '05
Aaron received a B.S. in History in 2005 from Edgewood College. He is a doctoral candidate in Brandeis University's Comparative History program.
Deciding how to best use my degree in History
Initially, I was undecided as to what I wanted to do with my History degree. However, when I took Prof. Hatheway's class Historians, Historiography, Historical Methods, the major opened my eyes to several avenues of historical interpretation. After that class, I began to take the possibility of graduate school seriously. I was most interested in European history, but there was an obstacle: two languages are needed to enter a History graduate program, and I only knew Spanish. Professors Jay Hatheway and Frank Casale encouraged me to apply to study abroad in Rome the next year. It was a semester-long intensive language program, but there was plenty of time to take in all the sights. I stayed in Rome for 11 months, where I wrote my Senior Honors Thesis using the Italian National Archives as a resource. In the end, I had my second language. At that point, I was certain I was going to graduate school.
Graduate studies in History
Applying for graduate schools is as busy—if not busier—as taking a work-heavy course. Fortunately, throughout it all the Edgewood History Department was incredibly helpful. Prof. Hatheway was my adviser and reviewed my letter of intent, C.V., writing sample, etc. I asked Prof. Witt a lot of questions about the job market and interview process. All in all, I applied to 10 different universities and was accepted to four (this is pretty common, so don't fret.) I decided on Brandeis University because they offered me a five-year fellowship, a one-year Master's program, and a guaranteed admittance to the Ph.D. Comparative History program. They not only paid for my expenses, healthcare, and insurance but also paid me a hefty stipend for five years. I credit the Edgewood History Department for preparing me in every way. The professors covered every possible outcome and it benefitted me significantly. My History degree has helped me form an extensive network of co-workers, friends, and even famous historians. Moving to the East Coast forced me to become independent quickly, and adapt to living on my own.After my fifth year, I was asked to teach at Brandeis, and created two of my own classes—Medicine in Literature and Madness & Medicine in the Modern Age—as my area of specialty is the History of Science and Medicine. Travel grants have allowed me to travel to Europe annually for research. I am currently on a Dissertation Year Grant, which allows me to finish my dissertation without having to work an extra job. I plan to defend my dissertation in May 2012, and am applying for tenure track positions.
"I credit the Edgewood History Department for preparing me in every way. The professors covered every possible outcome and it benefitted me significantly." Aaron Wirth
If you're thinking about graduate school
If you want to go to grad school, don't worry about feeling anxious or nervous. Everyone is in the same boat. Do not go to graduate school because you have nothing better to do. Ask yourself: Can I picture doing this for 6-7 years? It is not for everyone, but if you love academia and history, and discussing topics you love with others who love them, it is an amazing place to be. Also, read, read, read. You must love to read and discuss historical issues. Graduate seminars are the crux of the first two years of a Ph.D. program. Learn how to read a history book, because there will be times when you have to read all week long. Writing comes later, and takes a lot of practice. If you do make it to graduate school, don't be afraid to switch topics. Most of us do. I entered Brandeis with a goal of writing on pre-Fascist politics in Italy. I ended up writing on Italian psychiatrists, neuropathologists, and hygienists who fought the Vatican over who held sway over the sick, the mad, the prostitutes, etc. You never know what will pique your interest.