Blogs > Cliopatria > Take-home Assignments

Mar 18, 2005 9:52 pm

Take-home Assignments

  1. Discuss intelligently: 2001-2002 Ph.D. recipients in History average time-to-degree rose to 9.3 years, which"now surpasses every other discipline." [Yes, I know the March issue of Perspectives is now on-line, but the February issue just arrived on the slow boat]
  2. Quick Quiz: Why do both Irish Americans and Jewish Americans eat corned beef? [answer here, but reader John Lederer has a contradicting source] [hat tip to Ralph Luker]
  3. Reading Comprehension:"When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have subjected another people to their rulers and to assume among the powers of the earth, the Right of Intervention which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the intervention." Read the rest.
  4. Brain Teaser:"Has anyone ever considered the consequences of not doing counterfactual history?" [That's all there is, but it's quite enough. Delayed Reaction is fast becoming one of my favorite new blogs.]
  5. Policy: If blogging on politics comes under federal election law, what doesn't?.
  6. Art Criticism: Describe recent developments in the toast mosaic genre, with special attention to the role of jam and other adhesives. [Thanks, Dad.]
Extra Credit - Propaganda Studies: Based on the Cynical Canadian's [my experience is that Canadians are often much more cynical about the US than about anything else] chronicle of the Horowitz-war criminal midterm discourse, can you identify any participants who are not engaging in propagandistic distortions? [another hat tip to Ralph]

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Jonathan Dresner - 3/19/2005

You're right that it's a flawed datum, but we have consistent series of time-to-degree for some time and for all fields, so it is a pretty useful comparative tool, I think. As with any quantitative measure, without some qualitiative data we're shooting in the dark. But at least it means that we should discount factors that would affect all or most fields roughly equally.

Sherman Jay Dorn - 3/18/2005

Evidentiary considerations: as someone with a masters in demography ("evil cliometrician," I hear from the peanut gallery), I note that the average length to degree for a cohort finishing dissertations has the same potential flaws as an indicator as the average age at death. There are plenty, generally having to do with selection biases (aka distributional effects): occasionally, some nitwit researcher claims that left-handed people must die sooner because the average age at death for those known to be left-handed is generally much younger than for those known to be right-handed. (Extra-credit question: why not?) As with crude death rates, one must look for standardization of this age-at-death/length-to-degree data in some way—the results of which I haven't seen anywhere.

The raw figure could be the result of students slowing down in graduate studies in the late 90s for a variety of reasons (which is the usual conclusion, leading to wringing of hands on the part of graduate directors) ... or a bunch of long-toothed grad students suddenly deciding to get on the market as soon as possible in 2000-01, before the job market got even worse in the recession. Without standardization, it's hard to say intelligently.

Oscar Chamberlain - 3/18/2005

When I walked in the room to defend my dissertation Iwas very tempted to say, "You know, I didn't have grey hair when I started this."

That's a bit unfair, I started work on my PH.D. when I was 38. But it does take one hell of a long time. Part of the problem is using the dissertation to show the master of a field. In a world in which the amount historical writing is always growing, the task of mastery grows too. This is one reason it takes longer.

Changing that means disconnecting dissertations from that, or, to put it positively, to help the student distinguish between the minutia in past writing and the substantive.

The problem is, of course, that one never knows when that obscure article or dissertation is going to answer an important question. So we quest for it all, and such quests take time.

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