Where does the Commonwealth go?

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Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by Amiable Vitriol » Tue Aug 07, 2018 6:10 pm

Right now, it seems there isn't much of a consensus as to where Commonwealth (mainly UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada) content belongs in geographic distributions. As we move forward in quizbowl consistency across sets, I believe it would be worthwhile to decide on at least some widely accepted categories. Below, some preliminary options:

In World
This is perhaps the most common location for Commonwealth questions, as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada are not technically part of the United States or Europe. In a literary context, however, this line of reasoning seems strange. Do scholars truly engage with Margaret Atwood differently than her British contemporaries because she's from Canada? Historically, this makes more sense (there's not the same question of translation vs. no translation from English), but it is still imprecise. The question of whether world literature/history should constitute the nations most detached from European influence remains.

In British
From a literary standpoint, this is reasonable, because Commonwealth literature is typically literature written in English but not from the U.S. The equivalent in history distributions would be in European, which doesn't totally *feel* right for someplace across the globe like New Zealand.

In a Separate Category
This might be the most technically correct option, but it certainly throws a dent into the plans of anyone who prefers to use whole number distributions. It's also a bit high maintenance. If Commonwealth deserves its own subdistribution, does Classical/Ancient content do, too? How many eras and places should we subdistribute?

In Other
This takes questions away from common links/cross category questions, but it's similar to what most sets do for Classical/Ancient.

As you can see, no option is perfect. Some questions for the community at large: Is world history/literature inherently a category for people of color? For people who don't speak and write in English? How does our placement of Commonwealth authors differ depending on the difficulty we're writing for?
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by 1.82 » Tue Aug 07, 2018 6:23 pm

I think we have to consider history and literature separately here. There's a good reason to regard British literature as separate from European literature; because it's in our language, it's much more accessible to us than the literature of the European mainland, and is correspondingly much better read. By contrast, while British history might be more familiar than French or German history, the gap is significantly smaller. I'm far from a literature expert, so I'll talk about history.

It's very straightforward to put the British Isles in with European history, and I haven't seen anyone lately propose anything else. I think that Canada fits best with American history, given Canada's longstanding historical link to its southern neighbor. Canadian history intersects with American history far more than with that of any other country. Australia and New Zealand are a little more difficult, but given that they were white settler colonies I think it makes at least as much sense to place them with America as it would to place them anywhere else.

However, lumping other countries in with America gives America the short shrift if American history only gets 1/1 of the distribution, which I think is too low in any case. If Europe gets 2/2 (a figure that I analogously find to be too high), then I think that anything borderline has to go with Europe in order to fill the massive need for European material and the paucity of space in other subcategories.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by RexSueciae » Wed Aug 08, 2018 12:32 am

When writing for high school events (particularly back when 1/1 World Lit was still a thing -- for obvious reasons, few if any question sets continue the practice in the present day), I used to lump any literature not from the US / UK / Europe into "World" because it was a struggle to get answerlines that were gettable at that level.

It might be possible to differentiate better if writing for college regular and above, but there's still a lot of fiddly bits like how to classify writers like Chinua Achebe, noted Commonwealth resident who wrote in English. Should he be considered "World" or "British"? What about certain South African authors, like Nadine Gordimer? Is she "World" or "British"? On a spectrum from Thomas Hardy to Aimé Césaire both of those examples seem to fall closer to the former than the latter. I would be in favor of an experimental lit tournament with a distribution based on language rather than geography or literary form.

Personally, I have often looked at a question I've written and thought "ehhh close enough" before shoving it into a category that needs another answerline.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by An Economic Ignoramus » Wed Aug 08, 2018 6:04 am

For me (speaking predominantly from a history writer's perspective) it's heavily dependent on what aspect of history is involved. If a tossup focuses on an event that, roughly speaking, aligns with things that were happening in Europe or could've happened in Europe at the time (arbitrarily choosing New Zealand, this would include Rogernomics, the women's suffrage movement, and ANZAC). However, I'd classify answerlines such as the Foreshore and Seabed Controversy, the ubiquitous Maori, or the musket and flagstaff wars as world, given that engagement (and warfare) with indigenous peoples as part of colonialism or grappling with the legacies thereof aren't really things that were or are happening in Europe. For South Africa, to use an example from WAO II, I categorized a question on Jan Smuts focusing on largely non- racialized aspects of South African politics and his involvement in the post- world war I peace process as Commonwealth, but would have classified a tossup on the Zulu or Mandela as world. I know this is a somewhat ambiguous definition with a lot of gray areas, but it's the distinction I fundamentally use in my writing.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Wed Aug 08, 2018 11:33 am

This is a very good question and important point to resolve in the history distribution.

Since I worked on Cane Ridge Revival, I've used that tournament's history distribution for each tournament I have worked on. That distribution is as follows:

1/1 US History
1/1 Continental European History (i.e. not Britain or Ireland)
1/1 Grab Bag of (British Isles + Commonwealth, Historiography, Archaeology, Greco-Roman Classics + Ancient Near East, International/Misc History) with the two questions in each packet drawing from different areas among these four. Typically, the former and latter categories get the lion's share.
1/1 World History (anything not covered above)

I think this distribution is a fair compromise between what topics a typical U.S. quizbowl audience might be expected to be somewhat familiar with and spanning the vast amounts of global history that is available for questions. It also allows for some flexibility, with the Historiography, Archaeology, and International/Misc slots able to be focused on whatever areas of the globe the editor wants to highlight more. Personally, I usually keep US historiography within the US history distribution because I prefer to keep US History to 1/1 and like to use the "grab bag" to highlight other areas of the globe, as in WAO and ACF Regionals 2018.

For literature, I'm a fan of Auroni's genre-based distribution and intend to use that in tournaments I edit going forward, thus obviating the question of classifying Margaret Atwood as anything except a superb writer and leaving that question to what works you choose to clue.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by Cheynem » Wed Aug 08, 2018 11:40 am

Would you advocate such a distribution for a high school tournament's history distribution as well?
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by ErikC » Wed Aug 08, 2018 12:55 pm

I think it would be a mistake to just say "hey, Canadian lit is a lot like British lit, let's put it there". I'm no expert, but Canadian literature is heavily influenced by the American tradition as well. For other Commonwealth/Anglosphere countries I'd say their own category for history and being placed in British lit works. But Canada's history and literary culture is way too entangled with America's to make sense in the British or World category. The alternative - putting Canadian literature in American literature - seems unappealing to many people, so I don't see a good solution to this.

Many historical trends that happen in the U.S. also happened in Canada - and many of these interacted with each other. The best example is the War of 1812 - it's an important war for both countries, but questions often focus exclusively on the American side of things when this was probably the most important conflict in Canadian history. The Acadian deportation is also an important event in the history of Louisiana, the Auto Pact and other trade deals are important to both, and so on. The great question on residential schools at CO could have been even better with clues from Canada's barbaric past with the subject as well. I get Naveed's concern over the 1/1 American history getting somewhat diluted by including Canadian history within it (though I disagree that 1/1 is too little and 2/2 for Europe is too high in comparison). Sets with 1.25/1.25 or more American history should consider integrating Canadian and American history in the extra 0.25.

There's also the other angle of Aboriginal/settler history being quite different. I see why Jakob would separate questions about the Maori into World history, but I think that because Aboriginal/native populations of each Commonwealth country are history important to their development I'm not sure I can really see a distinction working well. I could be wrong, but questions on the Navajo already go into American history - I don't see why the Huron or the Maori should be different.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Aug 08, 2018 3:16 pm

I've always treated Commonwealth countries as part of "World" for the traditional American / European / World split in a 4/4 History distribution, including Canada. That seems to me to be the most literal interpretation of what those words mean. I am also inclined to think of these subdistributions as geographic rather than cultural: so if, hypothetically, the Mali Empire had successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean and set up a short-lived colony in what is today Florida, which was later abandoned and had no continuity into the Spanish or American periods of Florida, I would probably still put a tossup on that colony into the American history subdistro nonetheless. Likewise, I'd always group questions about Native American tribes with American history, and for me the Maori always go with New Zealanders of English descent. Unless there's something really unusual going on in what the clues are about.

I guess my bigger question is: do subdistributions matter? As long as the questions are gettable, balanced across time and space, engaging, and perhaps even fresh, will anyone notice or complain that some New Zealand tossup was part of World when it should have been part of European, or whatever else?

I guess one way to think about it is, if I'm writing more history questions about the Commonwealth, what am I consequently writing fewer questions about? If you frame it that way, perhaps you should strategically group the Commonwealth nations into whatever subdistribution you personally think is overrepresented in modern quizbowl. If you think there's too many Europe questions, put New Zealand in Europe. If you think we ask about America too much, put Canada in America.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Wed Aug 08, 2018 3:56 pm

Cheynem wrote:Would you advocate such a distribution for a high school tournament's history distribution as well?
I'd probably add more US or world history for a high school tournament in place of some of the topics that don't get as much coverage at the high school level, like archaeology and historiography. Sticking 0.25/0.25 of either of those areas into the grab bag makes sense to me. European history is pretty heavily mined, and while there's definitely new stuff you can ask I feel like it's better to alter the distribution and bring more areas of the world into the fold - I think more high schoolers take world than European history classes anyway.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by Milhouse » Wed Aug 08, 2018 4:02 pm

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:I think more high schoolers take world than European history classes anyway.
This is probably true: in 2017 nearly 300,000 students took the AP World History exam, while only about 105,000 took AP European History, according to data from the College Board. (For comparison, 505,000 took AP American History)
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by Cheynem » Wed Aug 08, 2018 4:51 pm

At least for me, I learned a lot of *old* world history in high school (like all the old Chinese dynasties, even some African empires), and not much recent (most of my "recent" history knowledge actually came from classes like Spanish). I don't know if this is representative or not.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Wed Aug 08, 2018 5:07 pm

Cheynem wrote:At least for me, I learned a lot of *old* world history in high school (like all the old Chinese dynasties, even some African empires), and not much recent (most of my "recent" history knowledge actually came from classes like Spanish). I don't know if this is representative or not.
This was broadly my experience in high school as well.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by everdiso » Wed Aug 08, 2018 6:00 pm

My preferred geographical history distribution includes 1/1 Continental Europe and 1/1 Anglosphere. This would fit Canada, Australia and New Zealand neatly into the Anglosphere category, along with both Canada's neighbour and former colonial master.
American history only gets 1/1 of the distribution, which I think is too low in any case
I honestly have no idea how takes like this persist when quizbowl is moving away from Western-centrism in its arts and literature distributions. History knowledge is less dependant on sharing language and culture than literature is, yet one country still gets as much coverage in the distribution as Africa, Asia and Latin America combined, and some people apparently think the solution is to give it even more. Quizbowl is long overdue to cut down on its Western history, and I hope that the analogous push in the arts could give this a start.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Wed Aug 08, 2018 6:31 pm

everdiso wrote:My preferred geographical history distribution includes 1/1 Continental Europe and 1/1 Anglosphere. This would fit Canada, Australia and New Zealand neatly into the Anglosphere category, along with both Canada's neighbour and former colonial master.
American history only gets 1/1 of the distribution, which I think is too low in any case
I honestly have no idea how takes like this persist when quizbowl is moving away from Western-centrism in its arts and literature distributions. History knowledge is less dependant on sharing language and culture than literature is, yet one country still gets as much coverage in the distribution as Africa, Asia and Latin America combined, and some people apparently think the solution is to give it even more. Quizbowl is long overdue to cut down on its Western history, and I hope that the analogous push in the arts could give this a start.
This is a game played largely by people from the U.S. and there's a crap ton of interesting, askable U.S. history. A lot of people would like to hear more of it. I personally think 1/1 is fine, and is about right considering the current audience. Were the game to become more international, more adjustments would need to be made.

Putting that aside, the fact is that, by virtue of the particular culture that we've grown up in, topics like Hungarian history are simply more accessible than Burmese history, regardless of the fact that Burma and Hungary have both been relatively unified regions going back about twelve centuries or so and Burma has an awful lot more people than Hungary does. Moreover, because of the massive worldwide influence of cultures of European origin, I would expect Hungarian history to be more "accessible" than Burmese history in most regions of the world outside of South and Southeast Asia. This is not a statement as to the relative value of knowing about Hungary or Burma, nor some implication that Hungary somehow represents some intangible aspect of world heritage in a way that Burma doesn't - it's simply a statement of what people know, in what proportions.

Also, I'm not sure what you're referring to with regards to literature. If anything, the amount of world literature has either gone down or remained constant in recent years - it wasn't uncommon to get four or five Japanese lit tossups per tournament around a decade ago. Contemporary Anglophone writers are not the same thing as "nonwestern" writers.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by Cheynem » Wed Aug 08, 2018 6:36 pm

Also, there have been some truly excellent American history questions in recent years that get at under-examined and under-represented topics, as well as topics that relate to global and international issues as well. I've been very delighted at the types of American history questions I've seen at recent ACF Nationals and Chicago Opens, questions that move beyond "do you know these facts about the presidents" or "battle bowl" (not that those things aren't important too). Since almost all of the high schools and colleges in the U.S. require American history, I think 1/1 is absolutely essential in all HS and college tournaments (barring some hard, experimental sets) and at lower levels more than that may be acceptable.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by otsasonr » Wed Aug 08, 2018 7:40 pm

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote: This is a game played largely by people from the U.S. and there's a crap ton of interesting, askable U.S. history. The fact is that, by virtue of the particular culture that we've grown up in, topics like Hungarian history are simply more accessible than Burmese history, regardless of the fact that Burma and Hungary have both been relatively unified regions going back about twelve centuries or so and Burma has an awful lot more people than Hungary does. Moreover, because of the massive worldwide influence of cultures of European origin, I would expect Hungarian history to be more "accessible" than Burmese history in most regions of the world outside of South and Southeast Asia. This is not a statement as to the relative value of knowing about Hungary or Burma, nor some implication that Hungary somehow represents some intangible aspect of world heritage in a way that Burma doesn't - it's simply a statement of what people know, in what proportions.
I concede that this argument holds well for the MS and HS games, where students are much more constrained in their education. But I question the relevance of this argument when we are considering the university game. For MS and HS, we have to accept that the players are much more limited in their ability to direct their education, and since the game is overwhelmingly played by Americans attending American schools, which naturally favour teaching American history, those players naturally know more about that subject than others. But I think using this standard with university players, who, while perhaps required to take some American history if they are in a history program, are for the most part free to direct their education as they please, is unreasonable. And as the difficulty of the game steps up at the university level, I see absolutely no compelling reason to say that we should build our distribution around "what people know, in what proportions", because the things people know are chosen by them. If you challenge the community of quizbowl history players by consistently giving them a distribution with a greatly expanded role for world history, and consistently ask questions of similar quality to those that we have seen in the American history distribution, I have no doubt that they will adapt to playing the game on those terms. I say this with great certainty, because I have seen Canadian quizbowl history players naturally adapt to the great scarcity of Canadian history and the foison of American history. More importantly, most of the history players that I know decide to study whatever it is that they find interesting, which is not merely determined by the "culture that [they] have grown up in," but by what has caught their attention and fascination over the years. There is a "crap ton of interesting, askable" history from everywhere in the world, as long as we understand that "askable" means what it is reasonable for people to know, not what it is that the players of the game, at this point in time, already know.

This game, at its core, is about valuing the kind of knowledge that is important. And while we sometimes have to sacrifice certain kinds of knowledge for fundamental playability reasons, none of those concerns disqualify us from asking about more world history. To maintain that American and European history is "simply more accessible" than the histories of other places, and so deserves an outsized chunk of the distribution, is to implicitly claim that the effort players would have to expend to gain that knowledge is not worth it, which devalues that knowledge relative to knowledge of Western history. I find it strange that a game which so cherishes the idea of knowledge for its own sake consistently seems so resistant to allowing its distribution to move away from what its players are comfortable with.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by Cheynem » Wed Aug 08, 2018 8:08 pm

You're correct that people have more freedom to choose what they want to learn and study in college. For example, I mostly chose to focus on my non-U.S. studies on Latin American and Pacific Rim countries (indeed, I took no European or African courses in college). This does not remove the fact though that what was required for all students was U.S. history--no non-American country's history was mandated in the same way.

I understand your concerns. My doctorate is in American Studies, which has continually tried to redefine a focus to move beyond the national to increasingly go international and transnational while still retaining a core focus on "America." I believe good American history questions not only draw upon what the majority of players know (through class or through their daily lives) but also can connect to international and transnational themes as well.

I do not believe that except at lower levels American history needs to be more than 1/1, but I strongly oppose any attempt at consistently lowering 1/1 American history at any level (not counting side events or experimental sets).

EDIT: I should clarify when I'm talking about the requirements, I mean for "history majors." I also think there's something to the fact that at many colleges, the types of history one can take is constrained by what courses are available. At Morris for all four years I taught there, if you wanted to take African history, you were out of luck--there were no courses. You could take Asian history, but the courses were very heavily focused on China and Japan and pretty much survey courses. On the other hand, if you wanted to study Latin America, you had some of the most specific, detailed courses around. I think at a number of schools, this is the case, but U.S. history is going to remain relatively constant.
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Re: Where does the Commonwealth go?

Post by Taper or die. Can you do any less? » Wed Aug 08, 2018 9:31 pm

This is going (further) off-topic, but I'll ditto that I think 1/1 is the right amount of AmHist. I don't think it needs more (but could see an argument), and definitely don't think it should fall to any less.

I like the genre-based distributing of literature, but do think that the amount of American content should not fall lower than 1/1. I think this can be diversified by getting a little liberal with your definition of "American". For this purpose, I'm okay with considering Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Lahiri's The Interpreter of Maladies, and Chimamanda's Americanah as """American""" works, even though only Maladies was published by an American citizen (I believe Chimamanda adopted American dual citizenship sometime after the publication of Americanah)*.
everdiso wrote:...Quizbowl is moving away from Western-centrism in its arts and literature distributions...Quizbowl is long overdue to cut down on its Western history, and I hope that the analogous push in the arts could give this a start.
This...hasn't happened?
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