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Reestablishing "herstory": SOP for PhD in Women's and Gender History

violetlily 1 / 1  
Sep 23, 2011   #1
Hi everyone,

This is my SOP to apply for a PhD program in History, with a specialization in Women's and Gender History. I am an international student whose native language is not English, so I would be really grateful if you could tell me whether some of my sentences sound corky and/or unclear. Thanks so much!

As an undergraduate student in English and American studies (EAS) at the University of Nancy II, France, I became increasingly interested in the history of gender relations and its intersections with the concepts of race, class and sexuality. My interests gained greater clarity while completing my Master's in EAS through a one-year study abroad program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where I was particularly inspired by my first Women's studies class taught by Professor Y addressing Black Women's Activism. My exposure to this discipline acted as an epiphany and led me to later pursue a graduate training in Women's and Gender studies at the University of Paris VIII, France. Through the history PhD program offered by the University X I hope to develop as a Twentieth-century Cultural Historian of Modern Europe with a focus on France and its colonies, as well as a specialist in Transnational and Comparative Women's and Gender History.

From within the transdisciplinary approaches offered of my B.A. and Master's degree in English and American Studies from the University of Nancy II, France, I chose to specialize on the history of English-spoken countries (cf. list of history courses I attended) and soon applied the concepts of race, gender and sexuality to a postcolonial setting in my research. In my undergraduate project I questioned the origin of the romanticization of interracial intimacies between Tahitian women and British colonizers in contrast to the usual stigmatization of intercultural intercourse in other eighteenth-century Asian and African colonies. I suggested that the ambiguities of the politics of race in colonial Tahiti, reflected by the construction of Tahiti as an ideal site of exoticism and of the "vahine" as an aesthetic canon in Western imagination, positively reinforced interracial liaisons. This project received the best grade out of a class of sixty students; more importantly, it taught me about the diligence and precision required to conduct good research and compelled me to think critically.

My commitment to this multidimensional perspective of gender and race has not wavered since then. It instead urged me to consolidate my reflection on these concepts through a Master in Women's and Gender studies at the University of Paris VIII, France, which runs the most prolific research center in this discipline in my native country. This degree taught me about the historiography of feminist and gender theories and motivated me to incorporate these perspectives into my research; the intersectionality theory notably refined my understanding of the articulations of concepts including race, class, and sexual orientation in recreating social dynamics and women's experiences. My reflection was also particularly conditioned by the theoretical works of Michel Foucault, Gayle Rubin and Judith Butler that characterize sexuality as acquired, controlled, and political rather than natural, hormonal and impulsive. In my Master's project I applied Foucault's assessment that sexuality is a dense transfer point for power relations to interracial relationships in the context of American slavery. Through an interdisciplinary approach that encompasses history and literature, I analyzed the representations of interracial intimacies in abolitionist writing, and argued that the narration of intimate experiences in female slave narratives vs. other forms of abolitionist literature defied common gender and racial dynamics between slaveholders and slaves. It similarly challenged the crystallization of black women's experiences of perpetual oppression under slavery and enabled them to reclaim their subjectivity and agency. I was awarded with the highest honors for this Master thesis and was invited to present this work at a conference on American slavery in January 2012 in Paris.

I believe that the rigors of my graduate and undergraduate studies, my bilingualism in French and English as well as my extensive research experiences provide me with a strong foundation for doctoral-level work. In my efforts to define a prospective PhD thesis project, I recently refocused my interests on modern European women's and gender history in the context of the World Wars, and more specifically on the ways military policies have shaped gender roles and sexual relations. This interest was stimulated primarily by Professor X's seminars on the most recent research in Women's and Gender history, and on the history of feminism in Modern France, which exposed me to the development of feminist theory and its relationship to history in terms of critique of family, sexuality, and gender stratification. Inspired by the content of these classes, I originally drafted a thesis proposal that confronted the cultural and memorial dimensions of the social and intimate relations that developed between French wartime godmothers and soldiers during the Great War. I explored administrative archives from wartime godmothers' organizations as well as their personal correspondences with soldiers to evaluate how this popular epistolary practice challenged conceptions of femininity and gender roles. As these written communications engendered more and more physical relationships and created moral disorder, I analyzed the predominant role of the politics of sex in undermining wartime godmothers' representations, gradually resulting in the demise of these initially benevolent yet highly contested organizations.

While this project confirmed my inclination to further deepen my understanding of women's participation to wartime effort, its scope and sources available turned out too restrictive to cover a PhD thesis. Keeping my research interests in prospect, I now plan for my prospective dissertation to draw a comparative analysis of the legal, political and cultural dimensions of the Franco-American wartime marriages that spread between American GIs and female civilians in Metropolitan France vs. in French colonies during US occupation. Under the supervision of Professor M, I would like to investigate the roles of sexual and racial politics in choreographing intercultural intimacies, as those interfered with the United States' military and political aspirations. By exploring the legacy of biracial relationships when involving an African-American soldier and a French white woman, or a white American soldier and a woman from a French colony such as Algeria or New Caledonia, I would like to compare and contrast the diverging politics of race enforced by the USlegally regulated through segregationand Franceculturally integratedand the way they affected gender relations. The last part of my thesis would retrace French war brides' challenging acculturation to the US and the American attitude towards these atypical female immigrants; I would particularly be curious to gauge the influence of intercultural marriages on traditional family structures, gender roles, and sexuality in the United States. I am therefore hopeful that the collaboration of Pr. Roberts on this project, my previous research projects embedded in similar themes, as well as my thorough understanding of both American and French societies will represent an asset to produce a qualitative analysis of the French war bride phenomenon.

Since graduation I have continued my scholastic endeavors to strengthen my historical research skills by working on an article on French family mourning rituals post World War I. Under the supervision of professor Z from Yale University, I am carrying out archival research of correspondences and diaries to comprehend women's prevalent roles in the mourning process and rituals established to cope with the loss of a husband or a son at the front. This project will be considered for publication in the historical journal History and Memory next January. Professionally speaking, I am working for the historical review Dix-huitième siècle; my job responsibilities include (to be completed, I'm not sure yet)... Finally, I am pursuing my fervent dedication to teachingpreviously reflected through a one-year internship as a teaching assistant in a French immersion school in Minneapolisas an English as a second language teacher in a Parisian high school.

The many academic and professional experiences I have had helped me gain clarity and confidence in my future goals. Through a career as a university professor and researcher in the United States, I aspire to contribute to the diffusion of knowledge about women's history and gender relations through a comparative and transnational approach. My personal beliefs drive me to regard the reestablishment of "herstory" into our collective memory as a prerequisite for the advocacy of women's equal potentials and rights, by promoting the knowledge of forgotten women who played leading roles in past societies, and by encouraging awareness of socially constructed gender identities.

From all the programs I reviewed, the PhD program in Gender and Women's History at the University X best fits my training needs. The strong focus of the department's faculty on French history and comparative gender history aligns with my academic interests most directly. My research and teaching aspirations mirror the interdisciplinary and multicultural emphasis of the program and would be well supported by the expertise of Professor M. Her coursework offered on Gender and Race in Modern Europe, on Gender and War in the Twentieth Century, and her research pertaining to the politics of sex during the US occupation of France, would particularly dovetail with my own research. I would also actively take the opportunity to participate to the gender workshop for my own intellectual growth and breadth. Finally, the existence of multiple professional development workshops demonstrates University X's involvement in its students' professional success and reflects my aspiration to become an accomplished and well-rounded academic.
leahlisa 1 / 1  
Sep 24, 2011   #2
I'm very impressed with your English! I just refined some parts because they sounded too wordy. The impact of what you say can be lost when too many excess words are in your writing. Also a little rearranging so that your sentences flow better. Good luck!

led me to later pursue a graduate training

I hope to develop as into a Twentieth-century Cultural

I suggested that the ambiguities of the politics of race in colonial Tahiti, reflected by the construction of Tahiti as an ideal site of exoticism and of the "vahine" as an aesthetic canon in Western imagination, positively reinforced interracial liaisons.

I think you can break this sentence down into two separate ones, I got a little lost trying to figure out what was being said

University of Paris VIII, France, which runs the most prolific research center in this discipline in my native country.
University of Paris VIII, France, my native country, where the most prolific research center in this discipline is located.

My reflection was also particularly conditioned
Also, my reflection was particularly conditioned

its scope and the sources available unfortunately were too restrictive to cover a PhD thesis.
This paragraph feels very repetitive, a lot of sentences beginning with "I would like..." Perhaps use other ways to say that
"I wish to" "I desire to" etc.
Or instead of "I would particularly be curious" "It would be fascinating to gauge the.."

I am therefore hopeful that
Therefore, I am hopeful that

Since graduation I have continued my scholastic
Since I graduated OR Since my graduation

accomplished and well-rounded academic.
academic is a verb, you can say "well-rounded scholar"
OP violetlily 1 / 1  
Sep 25, 2011   #3
Thank you so much for your help, I will definitely take your advice into account!

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