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Volume 10, Number 2: November 30, 2003

Navigating the Electronic Academy:
Listserv Resources for Graduate Students in the Humanities and Social Sciences

by Joy A. Fritschle Mason
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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For the up and coming graduate student, entering the world of academia can be a daunting task. We must delve into bodies of literature largely unfamiliar and new to us. As our research ideas develop, we search for the "conversations" in which we want to participate. Many of us must face a classroom of students for the first time, often with little teaching experience to draw upon. In our personal and professional lives, we sometimes find ourselves inhabiting an awkward in-between state--unemployed yet significantly contributing to our career, and an apprentice transitioning from student to professional status. In general, we strive to develop professional networks, train to research and write at a scholarly level, and learn how to teach. As a future ex-graduate student, I offer what I have found to be among the most helpful (and affordable) ways of working to achieve these goals--automated mailing lists, commonly referred to as listservs. 1

Not just any mailing list will do, of course, although almost any of H-Net's e-mail lists will provide something pertinent for graduate students and faculty in the humanities and social sciences. In H-Net, we find perhaps the world's most extensive system of electronic topical communication on nearly all subjects where "history of" can usefully be appended. 2 Although the "H" in H-Net may be deceptive at first (short for "History"), H-Net's interdisciplinarity means that humanities and social sciences scholars of any ilk can find something useful, not just historians. Today, the H-Net kingdom includes over 150 discussion lists and their associated websites; a library of nearly 5,000 book and multimedia reviews; an Events and Announcements website; links to affiliated organizations and projects; and last, but definitely not least, a frequently updated Job Guide service that is a must-bookmark for job seekers in nearly all provinces of history, library and museum studies, communications, religious studies, women's studies, film, American studies, human geography, etc. 3

The power of H-Net lists stems from the ability to facilitate nearly real-time discussions of current problems and ideas within the context of history. For example, several mailing lists have been created of late that reflect contemporary events in the U.S. and Iraq: H-PEACE devoted to peace history and peace studies; H-MIDEAST-POLITICS which offers a forum for discussing "contemporary Middle Eastern political affairs and their international repercussions;" and H-MUSEUM's current focus on "Iraq -The cradle of civilization at risk." 4 Graduate students--as well as more seasoned instructors and researchers--can launch, lurk, or participate in electronic discussions that may inform classroom material or stimulate different avenues of research. A recent discussion on H-ENVIRONMENT debated similarities between the 19th and 21st century status symbols expressed through obesity and large Sport Utility Vehicles, respectively. 5 Such a provocative discussion could easily translate to a classroom debate on resource consumption in an environmental studies course. Since many of the list's discussants also provided historical points of reference and relevant citations, the graduate student or faculty member researching and designing a course for the first time is provided with an invaluable launching pad from which to build course material.

Naturally, the strength of H-Net also lies with the diversity of its list subscribers. In the mailing lists I read on a regular basis, posts come from seemingly the entire breadth of academia--first-year graduate students to emeritus faculty and community colleges to top-tier universities. List discussions also benefit greatly from contributions by independent scholars, working professionals, activists, and researchers outside the academy. The international extent of H-Net continues to grow beyond the U.S. and Canada, so we can expect a growing diversity of scholars to share their insights on present-day and historical inquiries. In sum, H-Net provides graduate students with a ready-made network for discussions and reviews on research and teaching topics, calls for papers and conference announcements, and job advertisements.

Nearly all of the H-Net lists appeal to a wide demographic and are capable of helping graduate students navigate their way into the academy. H-Net even has a list specifically devoted to graduate students, H-GRAD, "designed to provide graduate students with a safe, graduate student only forum for discussing a wide variety of issues related to graduate school in our chosen humanities-based professions." 6 Aside from H-Net, some listservs are designed for a graduate student audience and address a specific aspect of graduate student life, primarily teaching or research. Two lists worth singling out as excellent electronic resources and guides for graduate students are the All-But-Dissertation Survival Guide and Tomorrow's Professor Listserv. In combination, these lists encapsulate the duality of graduate student life, striving to research and write at a scholarly level while learning to teach and prepare for a career in the academy.

The All-But-Dissertation Survival Guide seeks to provide practical and moral support for nearly 10,000 graduate students designing, researching, and writing their dissertations in seventy countries across the globe. 7 Though the content is geared specifically to dissertators, students working on Master's theses might also benefit from this e-mail newsletter. Each newsletter begins with a note of encouragement from Ben Dean and a brief summary of the advice that follows. An essay by Ben Dean, clinical psychologist and founder of MentorCoach.com, or guest essayists and interviews with "productive scholars" (a.k.a. dissertation veterans) comprise the body of the newsletter. Along with practical guides for researching and writing, the Survival Guide addresses the emotional challenges and obstacles that can hold up the dissertation process, for example, trying to balance time between family and the dissertation, or dealing with the loss of a loved one during the dissertation process. The monthly newsletter includes information on fee-based e-coaching services for dissertators, but subscription to the list itself is free. 8

Richard Reis at the Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning manages the Tomorrow's Professor Listserv, jointly sponsored by the American Association for Higher Education, the National Teaching and Learning Forum, and the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning. Tomorrow's Professor Listserv "seeks to foster a diverse, world-wide teaching and learning ecology among its over 15,000 subscribers at over 500 institutions and organizations in over 100 countries around the world." 9 Devoted to "desk-top faculty development, one hundred times a year," the content of this bi-weekly listserv may include reviews of recent publications on higher education, ideas for incorporating new technologies into teaching and learning, critiques of traditional and non-traditional teaching techniques, or tips for classroom management and instruction. College instructors at all levels of experience can benefit from the list's content; however graduate students learning to teach for the first time may find the listserv especially useful. 10

Although not traditionally considered a listserv, another useful and convenient electronic resource for instructors includes the headlines e-mail delivery service provided by many major newspapers. As a geography instructor, I have found this extremely useful for keeping up with current events and perspectives in different regions. For example, I had the fortuitous opportunity to teach a geography of the U.S. and Canada course during the Fall 2000 semester, when both the U.S. and Canada held national elections within a few weeks of each other. With a quick scan of headlines delivered to my e-mail in-box before class, I was able to gauge local reactions to the elections everywhere from Nunavut to the litigious Florida. At the end of the semester when I no longer wanted to receive daily headlines from regional newspapers, I simply unsubscribed from the delivery service. Yahoo! provides quick links to newspapers worldwide, though some searching is required to discover newspapers of interest that deliver headlines and access to articles without charge. 11

Last, but certainly not least, are the lists connected to professional associations organized by discipline. I subscribe to two listservs run by sub-disciplinary specialty groups of the Association of American Geographers, specifically the Biogeography and Cultural & Political Ecology specialty groups.12 Though obviously more narrow in scope than many H-Net listservs, these discussion lists can be used effectively by graduate students to organize and participate in conference sessions, pose research problems or inquiries, and receive notifications of job openings in their particular field of specialization. Many national and regional professional organizations have associated discussion lists or electronic newsletters, for example, the groups and committees affiliated with the National Women's Studies Association 13 and the University of Wisconsin System Women's Studies Consortium e-bulletin. 14

If you are wondering at this point if my in-box is crowded with e-mails from the various listservs I subscribe to, then let me assure you it is not. Except for the bi-weekly Tomorrow's Professor Listserv and the All-But-Dissertation Survival Guide that usually comes out twice a month, all of my listserv subscriptions are set to digest-mode. For the uninitiated, this means that I normally receive one e-mail per day from a listserv in which all the posts for that day (if any) have been combined into a digest format. If pressed for time, I simply delete. Yet I almost always have time to peruse the two or three e-mails per day (on average) for any useful gems pertaining to my professional and personal academic experiences as a graduate student--usually over my morning coffee.

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Notes

1 Although ListservTM technically refers to an automated e-mailing list supported by L-Soft International, the term "listserv" is frequently applied to any automated mailing list and is even used to describe the distribution of electronic newsletters through e-mail subscription lists. I will continue this general usage when discussing "listservs." For technical definitions and more information, see: Webopedia.com, "Listserv," http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/L/Listserv.html, 31 May 2001.


2 H-Net's 150,000 subscribers can thank Richard Jensen and his students at the University of Illinois-Chicago for their forward-thinking inspiration to create a history network on the Internet--including Wendy Plotkin, who launched the first list, H-URBAN, in 1993. As H-Net's lists and subscribers continued to grow, H-Net gradually moved to the MATRIX Humanities Technology Center at Michigan State University due to Mark Kornbluh's successful efforts to gain institutional support for H-Net servers and staff (Peter Knupfer, "Re: request for info re: history of H-Net," private e-mail message to Joy Fritschle Mason, 19 May 2003.).

3 Peter Knupfer, "Re: request for info re: history of H-Net," private e-mail message to Joy Fritschle Mason, 19 May 2003.

4 H-Net, Humanities & Social Sciences Online, "H-Net, Humanities & Social Sciences Online,"
http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/, accessed May 12, 2003.

5 Discussion launched with post by Mark L. Hineline, "SUVs and late 19th C. obesity," in H-ENVIRONMENT http://www.h-net.org/~environ/, 21 May 2003, archived at http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=lx&list=h-environment&user=&pw=&month=0305.

6 H-Net, Humanities & Social Sciences OnLine, "H-Grad Discussion Network," http://www.h-net.org/~grad/, accessed 16 July 2003.

7 Ben J. Dean, "Ben's Note" in "Working with a Statistics Consultant," All-But-Dissertation Survival Guide, 10 July 2003, archived at http://www.ecoach.com/News/071003.htm.

8 Ben J. Dean, "Ecoach.com -- All-But-Dissertation Survival Guide," http://www.ecoach.com/index.htm, accessed 16 July 2003.

9 Richard Reis, "Tomorrow's ProfessorSM Listserv," Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning, http://ctl.stanford.edu/Tomprof/index.shtml, accessed 16 July 2003.

10 For a history of the Tomorrow's Professor Listserv, see Jennifer Jacobson, "An E-mail List for Tomorrow's Professor," The Chronicle of Higher Education, archived at http://chronicle.com/jobs/2002/10/2002103001c.htm, 30 October 2002.

11 Yahoo!, "Yahoo! Directory > News and Media > Newspapers > By Region," http://dir.yahoo.com/News_and_Media/Newspapers/By_Region/, accessed 16 July 2003.

12 Association of American Geographers, "Specialty Groups," http://www.aag.org/Info/groups.html, accessed 16 July 2003.

13 National Women's Studies Association, "Caucus, Task Force, Interest Groups," http://www.nwsa.org/caucus.htm, 26 December 2002.

14 University of Wisconsin Women's Studies Consortium, "Women's Studies Consortium e-Bulletin," http://www.uwsa.edu/acadaff/womens/ebulletin/index.htm, accessed 30 September 2003.





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