Statement of Purpose

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Statement of Purpose: Please describe your aptitude and motivation for graduate study in your area of specialization, including your preparation for this field of study, your academic plans or research interests in your chosen area of study, and your future career goals. Please be specific about why UC Berkeley would be a good intellectual fit for you. The writer of the statement below was admitted into UC Berkeley's History Department. With her permission, I reprint her essay parsed with my commentary about why it works as a winning essay. "Luscious fare is the jewel of inordinate desires,"1 cautions2 the author of The Gentlewoman's Companion (1673), one of many early modern conduct books I surveyed this past year for an honors thesis entitled "'Chaste, Silent, and Hungry': The Problem of Female Appetite in Early Modern England, 1550-1700."3 As indicated by the title, this project explores a provocative but as of yet scarcely studied facet of early modern gender constructions: female food desire.4 I use the word "desire" here rather deliberately, as early modern definitions of appetite extended well beyond the physiological drive to eat to encompass all those physical (and shameful) longings associated with the body. And, in a culture where women were by definition immoderate and sensual, female food appetite, I argue, constituted an unruly5 desire that demanded both social and moral discipline. In brief, my research concerns the patriarchal control of women's bodies in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England vis--vis a cultural idea about food desire and satiation as suggestive and immodest.6 In lieu of a formal introduction of my research interests and aspirations I offer a summary of my senior thesis, which earned me the 2003 Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research at the University of California, Davis.7 This first venture into serious historical scholarship has affirmed my passion for early modern culture and history; and it has given me the confidence to assert and contest my opinions regarding the status of women in early modern Europe and the current state of early modern historiography.8 Continuing along these avenues of research in graduate school, I would like to use my thesis as the basis for a future dissertation. Though I remain wary about committing myself prematurely to a specific topic of research, I am also eager to elaborate, modify, and complicate9 my original assertions about the nature of the "problem" of female appetite in early modern England. Indeed, many of the conclusions reached in the thesis, such as my claim that the cultural eroticization of feminine appetite in early modern England betrayed a deep-seated masculine mistrust of female sexuality and sexual power, serve as starting points10 for future research and study. On a more basic level, writing a thesis gave me the chance to become better acquainted with the essentials of historical research. Suspecting that normative discourses in early modern England participated aggressively in the monitoring of women's appetites, I navigated the sea of early English printed sources in pursuit of the slightest mention of food and diet. Those sources I encountered during my research, which ranged from the popular conduct book, The Education of a Christian Woman by Juan Luis Vives, to the anonymous sex manual, Aristotle's Masterpiece, challenged my basic understanding of history and the original premise of my thesis in ways not anticipated. From deciphering esoteric type-fonts to developing an awareness of the importance of time and funds, I experienced the mundane realities of research that inevitably stunt the historian's aspirations. Even more important was my gradual acceptance of the fact that early modern sources, no matter how we read them, do not always accommodate modern biases and expectations.11 Though I cannot predict the course this project might take in graduate school, I expect that it...
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