Monett Reißig’s Experience of the Visiting Scholarship for Master’s Students at the German Historical Institute
Last year, I was lucky enough to participate in the German Historical Institute’s (GHI) visiting scholarship programme for master’s students. The students receive a monthly allowance of 1.200€ from the institute for this research residency, which was in my case aimed at master’s research projects that focused on the early modern period and related to Dr. Firges’ working group on “Practices of Power and Interpersonal Relationships at Dynastic Centres (1500–1800)”. As my tutor told me about the programme, in summer 2015, I already had received a positive answer for a one-year scholarship programme from the German Bundestag and the French National Assembly and was thus already on site in Paris for the interview. The interview at the GHI gave me the opportunity to discuss the contents and duration of the residency and I could thankfully arrange for it to start right after the end of my internship at the Assemblée Nationale.
Arriving and settling in at the GHI
My stay in Paris during the academic year 2015/16 very much fostered my integration in the activities of the institute and, in particular, within the working group for the early modern period. Thanks to the flexibility of its members – especially Mr. Firges and Mrs. Maritz as the two main linchpins – I was able to participate, nearly every week, in the lecture group on courtly society in the early modern era. This enabled me both to keep up with this theme during my excursus in sociology at SciencesPo Paris and to get to know and exchange with many young researchers of the same field. Mobility grants for a diversity of PhD students at the GHI as well as the lecture group and its versatile thematic and methodological focus points provided personal distraction.
During the residency programme, I got to know the members of the working group on courtly society very well, which made my integration within the institute as a whole a lot easier. The different events organized by the GHI – evening meals together, research colloquiums, the “jeudis”, etc – also helped me settle in.
Facilities and working environment
The German Historical Institute’s central location in the very heart of the Marais, in the third arrondissement, as well as the stunning architecture of its premises – the Hôtel Duret-de-Chevry – make for a stunning work environment. The GHI’s own library – which covers Western history – is open to scholarship holders pursuing their master’s degree from ten to six p.m. During my stay, I was also able to study in the salles de recherche of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF). In addition, these two libraries offer an exhaustive fundus of edited sources as well as an extensive catalogue of secondary literature in French, English and German.
Moreover, the GHI offers its employees and fellows a room for common lunches, which fosters a relaxed atmosphere and a fruitful exchange beyond historical periods. As I mentioned, my integration had been facilitated by weekly meetings within the lecture group. Other scholarship holders who worked in the BnF reported having difficulties integrating the institute. The monthly “Hausinformationen”, during which newcomers – researchers, PhD students and scholarship holders – present themselves and their research project, are also a great opportunity to practice networking. The activities of the institute’s different branches are also presented and this insight into the administrative and organisational issues and the functioning of a research institute proved very interesting.
The inclusion of my research project within the working group on courtly societies in the early modern period enabled me to successfully blend in the early modern era department. Alongside the lecture group, regular team meetings gave me the opportunity to discuss of progress and difficulties as well as to address formal and theoretical issues concerning my research project with the other members. This framework thus helped me to keep my research question and methodological focus in mind, as well as to broaden my sources in a targeted and adequate way but also to sufficiently narrow them. Indeed, Regine and Pascal suggested I include two original texts which I had overlooked. Thanks to the lecture group, I learnt from the PhD students’ and researchers’ own experience and could submit my own findings to their collective criticism, especially concerning important parameters of the early modern era, such as sociality, religiosity and mobility. This regular exchange of ideas also enabled me to locate my own perspectives and research questions within the realm of the research on early modern court practices and I could thus connect my own work with current and future research projects. I should also mention that the guidance I was given not only opened new perspectives but laid bare the limits of my work: what is the extent of my sources’ relevance for my research question? Which questions can I not answer without examining other epochal and regional focal points?
My stay at the GHI in Paris has been a very enriching experience, both personally and professionally. Besides from the valuable scientific guidance I received, I experienced the residency scholarship as a sort of simulation of a PhD. I learnt the amenities and challenges of scientific work, which include focusing exclusively on one’s research project, without for instance having to take up a side job to finance one’s studies. These positive experiences cemented and strengthened my once vague intention of pursuing a PhD. Apart from the analytical and methodological skills I acquired, I also learnt how to optimize my work methods to be more efficient when searching for relevant secondary literature and appropriate sources as well as when preparing and organizing a bigger work. This kind of experience does not only have a positive impact on the quality of one’s thesis – it can also hugely benefit the motivation of prospective researchers. The location and international orientation of the institute also contribute to the improvement of one’s language skills – as much for French as for English – which are essential for any researcher today.
The format of the residency scholarship offers a fantastic opportunity to gain some insight into the work of a historian outside of university structures, become familiar with the fields of activity of such research institutes and question one’s personal aptitude and desire to pursue such a career. Such programmes provide lasting support for younger researchers, as a concrete insight into the professional field of an academic could help reduce the estimated dropout rates of PhDs.
 According to a publication by the HiS, between 30 and 45 percent of PhD candidates drop out. See Steffen Jaksztat, Nora Preßler, Kolja Briedis (2012), Promotion im Fokus. Promotions- und Arbeitsbedingungen Promovierender im Vergleich, HIS: Forum Hochschule, 15/2012, S47f. URL: http://www.dzhw.eu/pdf/pub_fh/fh-201215.pdf (14.03.2017).