By Thinking Broadly, a History Ph.D. Heads to Stanford

May 15, 2023

A Class of 2023 graduate shares what helped him stand out for a postdoctoral fellowship at the Hoover Institution.

Cody Nager headshot
Cody Nager (Ph.D. ’23, History) will start as a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover History Lab in September. (Photo courtesy of Nager)

For students interested in securing postdoctoral fellowships, Cody Nager (Ph.D. ’23, History) offers this advice: “Conceive of your research topic and its potential relevance as broadly as possible.” He adds, “You’re qualified for a lot more than you think.”

That optimistic approach panned out well for Nager, who recently landed a postdoctoral research fellowship at Stanford University’s Hoover History Lab, part of the Hoover Institution.

Nager shared more about the fellowship, what helped him qualify for it, his ambitions, and his advice for current Ph.D. students.

The Graduate Center: What do you think helped you stand out as a candidate for the Hoover Institution?

Nager: While the present-day relevance of my research on early American migration and citizenship in Atlantic and global contexts contributed to my success, the factor that probably made me most stand out was my teaching experience. As part of my Graduate Center fellowship, I was an undergraduate instructor of record for two years at The City College of New York and a writing fellow at the CUNY School of Law. My teaching experience prepared me to tackle the challenges of the classroom and that made my application stand out.

GC: What will you be working on as a Hoover Institution Research Fellow?

Nager: I will be working on the initiative called Global Futures: History, Statecraft, Systems, which explores geopolitics and geoeconomics, institutions and technologies, citizenship, and leadership to understand the key drivers of historical continuity or change. I will help teach a Stanford University undergraduate course associated with Global Futures as well as pursue my own research within this framework. I will help organize and participate in conferences, workshops, and lectures for the Hoover Institution. I also hope to incorporate my research on migration and citizenship in the early American republic into an undergraduate course at Stanford. Finally, I will revise my dissertation, “Determined to Be American: Regulating Immigration and Citizenship in the Early American Republic, 1783–1815,” into a scholarly book.

Learn More About the Ph.D. Program in History

GC: What big questions are you trying to answer through your research?

Nager: My research focuses on how mobile interactions between the diverse people of America and the broader Atlantic World shaped structures of racial inequality, economic development, political rights, and national identity in the United States. By tracing the long history of American mobility, I hope to inform present debates on the subject with historical perspective, placing them into broader context and informing policy outcomes.

GC: What appeals to you most about studying early American history?

Nager: I have been interested in early American history since high school when I worked at the John Jay Homestead State Historic Site in Katonah, New York — the retirement home of the first chief justice. My students at The City College of New York, many who were immigrants or children of immigrants, raised compelling questions about nationhood and mobility and inspired my research on migration and citizenship. The most appealing part of early American history is the ongoing relevance of many of the debates of the nation’s formative period for the present-day. For example, the question of United States migration is an ongoing one, as each generation seeks to define who counts as the “right” migrant for the nation by building on precedence reinterpreted through new lenses.

GC: Is there anything you wish you’d known when you were just starting the Ph.D. program?

Nager: Writing a dissertation, especially in academic fields such as history, is often cast as an isolating endeavor. However, meeting and interacting with as many people as possible to build a strong network is critical. Reach out early and often to your dissertation committee members. I am thankful that my adviser, David Waldstreicher, and my other committee members, James Oakes and Ben Carp, were so generous with their time and advice on such a wide variety of topics. Exchanging ideas with other Graduate Center History department students and with the other fellows at the two residential fellowships that I had at the University of Pennsylvania McNeil Center for Early American Studies and The Library Company of Philadelphia made all the difference in my intellectual experience.

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