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Oct 23, 2004 6:53 am

Notes on Higher Education ...

I hope you did not miss Hala Fattah's"The Politics of Mobility in Baghdad" yesterday at Cliopatria. (Thanks, by the way, to As'ad at Angry Arab and Brandon Watson at Siris for the links.) We're looking forward to hearing more from Hala in the near future about reform of higher education in Iraq.

When Eszter Hargittai posted at Crooked Timber about Duke's release of time to degree and rates of completion information in its doctoral programs, my colleague, Jonathan Dresner, took up the discussion at Cliopatria. At Positive Liberty, Johns Hopkins' graduate student, Jason Kuzniki, looked at the average of nine years it took Duke students to complete a doctorate in history and the graduate school's 64% completion rate and declared:"This, my friends, is obscene." His concluding point:

The academy is the last economic sector still based essentially on the rules of medieval guilds, where masters get labor out of journeymen, and journeymen get the promise of one day becoming a master. And the academy suffers precisely the same problems that its economic ancestor did: oversupply of labor, conventionalism, inflexibility with regard to market demand, and just plain insularity (Honestly, how many people read academic history books anyway?). One way or another, ending the guild system would end all of these problems.
The whole self-confidant rant is worth reading, but it gets even more interesting when David Bell, the director of Kuzniki's doctoral program, comments on the post. Unsurprisingly, they agree that arrangements for graduate students in history at Johns Hopkins are not so bad, after all, but that graduate students at a place like Ohio State"do indeed become indentured servants of the worst kind." Is anyone at Ohio State paying attention to this? The whole discussion reminded me of many discussions we used to have at Invisible Adjunct and that the Ohio States are much more characteristic of American higher education than the Johns Hopkins are.

Finally, I have to take note of this particular bit of idiocy cited over on the HNN mainpage. Some hapless reporter at the University of Alberta begins her breathless story:"The long-held belief that we are living in the 21st century is under fire, as new research suggests that traditional dates may be off by about 1000 years." Natalie, dear, we do not have universal concurrence in a calendar that calls this the 21st century. It's an arbitrary construct based on Christian, indeed Western Christian, assumptions, which are off by a matter of five or six years, but no millenium. Whatever conclusions the Russian scientists may reach, they won't modify those assumptions. It surprises me when someone is so unknowingly captive of such a view of history and thinks it is being challenged in ways that don't really challenge it at all.

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Jonathan Dresner - 10/24/2004

Agreed. I think someone would have noticed before now if the base chronology of the last two millenia were off by more than a few minutes.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/24/2004

Oh, I think that you are quite right, but so far as I could tell all of the redating would occur in the B.C. or B.C.E. period of the western calendar and, therefore, would not affect whether or not we regard this as the 21st century.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/24/2004

The chronology article is interesting. Clearly the reporter and editor of the article haven't a clue as to what is actually at stake. But beyond that are at least two interesting historiographical things going on: redating based on astronomical data (and I wonder just how precise you really want to assume these astrological drawings are?) and based on textual reanalysis (dynasties which appear fraudulent based on repetition of other dynasties' histories). Both of them seem to be about Egypt, but Egyptian chronology is quite important to our dating of north African history, so it may have wider implications.

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