I've got a ridiculous amount of material to cover by late January when I hope to take my comprehensive exams. The thought of figuring out the historiography and the narratives for my three fields is a daunting task - so daunting that I'd been having nightmares about comps. To deal with that stress, I finally sat down to figure out how to approach the task.
The first part was just figuring out what I needed to read. I'm still working on that for my Military and Naval History field, but the other fields are ready, and I've posted the lists. While I figure out the Military History field, I'm pressing on with studying. The first part of this was to find and download academic book reviews for as many of the books on the list as I could find. I tried to get three or four quality book reviews for each book, focusing on longer reviews like those found in Reviews in American History because a one-page review doesn't really have enough analysis to suit my purposes.
Once I had all the reviews, I started reading. My method for each book is to read the reviews, focusing on themes and historiography, highlighting the pertinent details. Then I use the grad student reading method: read the introduction and conclusion of the book first, check out the sources used, and then work on the stuff in the middle. I give myself around four hours per book, which is really not enough time to closely read the entire thing much of the time. While reading, I take notes for each book on a legal pad, again focusing on argument and historiography. Those notes end up as the content of the blog entry associated with that book. The idea is that by trying to come up with coherent entries, I process the material yet again.
This doesn't help with the narrative aspects, of course. For that, I've downloaded podcasts of lectures through iTunesU. Since I've been doing little other than sit on my butt reading and writing since I came back to Florida, I'll be listening to the lectures while riding the exercise bike at the apartment complex gym starting Tuesday. I'm hoping that the refresher will help me make sense of all the other stuff I'm reading. I'll also be skimming some general textbooks on each subject and creating chronologies later on in the process so I can create a solid framework.
The final part of the preparation involves individual questions provided by some of the faculty. I'll be creating outlines of the questions and discussing them with the committee members to ensure I'm on the right track. The thing is that they all expect something different. My Modern United States faculty members both focus on the narrative - they want examinees to show that they could teach a survey course in the field. One question from them asks you to trace the failure of the liberal consensus in the late-1960s and early 1970s. One of the Modern European faculty is primarily interested in historiography. One of the Military History faculty wants examinees to develop an upper level course in the field, complete with readings and defend the choices, while the other wants you to discuss whether there is an "American Way of War" (he loathes Russel Weigley's thesis on that subject).
I really can't wait to get this over with so I can start working on my dissertation and graduate already.