Continuing to rethink the distribution

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Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by vinteuil » Sat Dec 17, 2016 11:05 pm

A lot of what I want to discuss in this post (and hopefully for people to discuss in the thread!) is a continuation or amplification of things that have been said before. In particular, I think it's a real shame that this thread died down, and I think 2 years is more than enough time to justify a reboot. [This post is too long, so I've bolded my two biggest points (near the end) and added a summary.]

Ike made a post in Auroni's visual-arts-tips thread that I think warrants some separate discussion. I have in mind this extract:
Ike wrote:You're not getting the full story of art unless you read some scholarship and context on it. Rewarding that kind of knowledge is in my opinion a worthwhile endeavor in QB. I say this because when I started learning about painting for QB I thought the PRB was the shit for making beautiful paintings and that Alma-Tadema was actually a good artist. As it turns out, I was wrong, and if you're embarking on your adventure to learn painting for the first time I think it's more enriching (for your own edification and for the questions you are producing) to try to learn the "story of art" instead of "beautiful art" or even "art.
I think I mostly agree with Ike, but I worry that this extract lends itself to being misread in a particular way. On the one hand, I agree with Ike that quizbowl has a somewhat strong and (to me) vaguely "non-academic" focus on "merely" pretty and gimmicky paintings that aren't necessarily all that "interesting" from a certain aesthetic point of view (the Alma-Tademas, Thomas Coles, and John Martins of the world); I also agree with Ike's implied conclusion that we should replace some of these questions with more deeply focused questions on "important" figures who may have less obvious appeal.

On the other hand, I don't think people should (mis)read Ike's post as saying that "art history means studying 'great painters'"; this is a hopelessly outdated view that would also, in its traditional (and, to be honest, more logically coherent) form exclude Rococo art, Academic Art, Pop art, and a whole lot of Impressionism. (If you don't like me lumping Thomas Cole in with Alma-Tadema, then maybe that says something!) Nowadays, some of the best art-historical work is done on popular painters whose work is not necessarily "great," since that popularity often means that they were in some ways more representative of their time and place than the "greats" were. In other words, art history isn't just an internalist account of the development of "great art," but also a study of how art is history—and that doesn't (shouldn't; can't) just include "great" art.

Here's another way to paraphrase my proposed misreading (what I'm arguing against): "there is such a thing as an academic-trash dichotomy for the (visual) arts, and we should only write questions about stuff on the academic side." My counterargument was more or less: "academics don't let that dichotomy dictate what they study anymore, so why should you?" (And they have good reason not to, since arguing like that means you also have to believe that your value system is the only valid one, which ends up putting you in pretty fascist territory.) But this leaves us with a problem, since we now have no way to exclude art objects that we probably don't want to ask about—we don't want to be writing our photography questions on celebrity Instagram accounts.

The best solution I've come across is John Lawrence's:
high/academic culture is...formed of the collection of works that are still considered culturally relevant even though they are not written in the artistic vernacular of the genre as it currently exists. Another way of saying this is academic genres are those that are culturally enduring but either were never popular to begin with or were popular in a now dead mode and have survived the death of the rest of their genre.
"Never popular[/vernacular] to begin with" (in the extremely broad senses of "popular" and "vernacular") is why we can write tossups on topics from recent "literary" fiction and "artistic" film and photography: not just because they're fantastic, but because what makes them fantastic also sets them apart from more mainstream/vernacular/popular culture, so we can more safely bet that their cultural and aesthetic importance will last. (We lose this bet, too, sometimes, but I think it's worth it.) I wish that we could extend this to tossups on French horns in '60s pop, but I recognize that there are a lot of reasonable people who think otherwise.

But that leaves us with "popular in a now dead mode and have survived the death of the rest of their genre," and a problem of balance. This, I think, is the original purpose of Ike's post: he thinks that the art he finds to be of lasting aesthetic value should dominate the quizbowl distribution (without excluding old popular art that's historically informative). As I said above, I more or less agree: we need to have much more "great art" than "not-great art" in the art distribution. The real problem (what I argued above) is that we clearly need both, and it's difficult to determine a good ratio.

I think we can get at a solution by recognizing that we're not really dealing with one kind of art. Here's a trichotomy (with plenty of overlap): 1) once-popular art that is now mainly known as an object of aesthetic appreciation; 2) once-popular art that is less popular than it once was, but still mainly known "as popular art"; 3) once-popular art that is mainly known now as a cultural-historical artifact.

I think that 1) was primarily what John had in mind, and it's a big part of the arts (and literature) distribution. So far so good.

I think that 2) is Ike's main target, and I agree with him that we could use less of it. For me, Alma-Tadema questions are sort of like questions on A Christmas Carol, or Lovecraft or Asimov or someone. That is, I think they have a place (and Ike clearly agrees, since he put genre fiction into ACF Nationals last year!), but not a huge one. (This category gets pretty close to Greenbergian Kitsch, and I indeed think that we could use fewer questions on Ilya Repin and some Surrealists "as art." But I'm all for questions on Repin and nation-building or Orientalism or what-have-you; that just seems to get closer to "cultural history" to me, and I'd rather see judicious Repin clues in the history distribution instead. See the discussion of type 3) below.)

Of course, it's not at all easy to draw a line between 1) and 2)—we seem to all agree that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is art and Lovecraft is trash, and that Benny Goodman is art but Frank Sinatra is trash. As a solution, I really think we should formally take a slice out of the "trash/other" distribution and give it over to "borderline literature, arts, and history"/"high trash." (Plenty of people, including John and Matt Bollinger have advocated this in past.) This also has the benefit of letting us write on both "important" borderline trash topics (Bob Dylan) without crowding out "art" (Bach). Similarly, this gives us space to ask about haute couture, cuisine, and other arts not deemed "art" enough for quizbowl at the moment.

Finally, I think that 3) is hopelessly under-represented in quizbowl, and we could use a whole lot more of it. But not (necessarily) in the arts distribution. (The remainder of this post is more about the history distribution than the arts distribution.)

During a conversation pre-CO, I remember Chris Ray saying that European history has been hopelessly over-mined in quizbowl, especially relative to other areas of history; I agreed with him at the time, having in mind all of those brutal clues on the 7th-most important general in the Wars of Castro or who married the 3rd daughter of Philip the Amorous or whatever.

In other words, Chris and I (and probably a lot of other people) agree that European political and military history has more or less "been done" in quizbowl, and we need to get out while we still can. But that leaves open notable major areas of historical study like intellectual history, social history, historiography, and, of course—cultural history! I think that upping the dosage of type-3) art and literature as cultural history would help save the European history distribution, without just replacing history questions with art and literature. (In other words, this won't necessarily end up being a question about an artist or artwork, but instead a cultural or material trend that it represents; this is sort of what I was doing with my Alma Mahler tossup in MYSTERIUM.)

I recognize that it's difficult to write tossups "on" social history (statistics and trends don't often make great clues), but the other realms of history could easily be expanded to help save Europe. I think quizbowl could use more historiography (the kind of stuff actual history majors learn!), and a lot of the historiography that's best-known and most-studied is of Europe. There's a lot of intellectual history that ends up in the philosophy distribution that might be better as "European history of ideas." And, while we're at it, why not expand history of science (as history, not science)? I absolutely agree with a comment Kevin Koai once made in practice: it's curious that we don't write more history questions on important scientific ideas that were influential in their time, even if they're discredited now.

I recognize that people are already doing all of this, and I love it every time it happens. (In particular, when we write on recent history, we're not afraid of using clues about Eurovision contest winners, fashion designers, etc.) I'm saying we should make a concerted effort to do this more. And I'm not saying that these changes wouldn't be a good idea in other areas of history—I think American history could really use this too—but the problems with the "old way" seems most acute in Europe.

To summarize: I think the "art/trash" distinction is only useful for determining the category in which we ask about things. I think we should set aside a big chunk of the trash/other/general knowledge distribution for topics that lie reasonably close to the border (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ilya Repin; J.R.R. Tolkien and Hamilton; chess and cooking). And I think that we should drastically increase our efforts to reshape the history distribution in favor of "history of ____" and cultural and intellectual history.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Cheynem » Sat Dec 17, 2016 11:32 pm

Not knowing anything about art, I would say that my rejoinder to your final point is that you basically list a lot of pretty highbrow-yet-still-really-trash things that we should ask about (coincidentally, I don't like any of them!). I'm sure you didn't mean to make your list comprehensive, but you can see how this opens the door--why Hamilton and not, say, Annie Get Your Gun or The Wiz, other than the fact that Hamilton is more popular among intellectuals? Why chess and cooking and not professional wrestling or crossword puzzles? I certainly don't mind throwing in lots of borderline things in the distribution, and I don't mind a "General Knowledge" and "Trash" categories, but I don't think we need to get that hung up on defining what goes where.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by vinteuil » Sat Dec 17, 2016 11:45 pm

Cheynem wrote:Not knowing anything about art, I would say that my rejoinder to your final point is that you basically list a lot of pretty highbrow-yet-still-really-trash things that we should ask about (coincidentally, I don't like any of them!). I'm sure you didn't mean to make your list comprehensive, but you can see how this opens the door--why Hamilton and not, say, Annie Get Your Gun or The Wiz, other than the fact that Hamilton is more popular among intellectuals? Why chess and cooking and not professional wrestling or crossword puzzles? I certainly don't mind throwing in lots of borderline things in the distribution, and I don't mind a "General Knowledge" and "Trash" categories, but I don't think we need to get that hung up on defining what goes where.
This is totally fair. My best response from the "how do we know what's what?" angle is that we seem to know how to do something similar with films already. As for "why do we need to make this distinction?": I just want to make sure that there still is a slot in the distro for the people I'm relegating to the status of "trash art," and including "art trash" seemed like the best way to do that.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by vinteuil » Sat Dec 17, 2016 11:48 pm

Will Alston has reminded me that archaeology belongs in my list of "things we need more of in the history distribution."
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Auroni » Sat Dec 17, 2016 11:52 pm

I'm opposed to this distributional change, because it doesn't seem to acknowledge that distribution space is a finite resource, and that to set a space aside for something, some space has to be taken away from something else. The practical effect of carving into the "other" category with what has, for the majority of quizbowl's lifetime, just been "more art, literature, and history" will have the effect of marginalizing those academic topics that slip through the cracks of the standard distribution, at a time when those questions are just beginning to see play.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by vinteuil » Sun Dec 18, 2016 12:18 am

Auroni, what subjects do you have in mind?
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by RexSueciae » Sun Dec 18, 2016 12:36 am

I remember when a number of people (including myself) had the bright idea that world literature was an important thing that people ought to ask about more in high school quizbowl, regardless of difficulty, how well they'd play, or how well the community at large would take this development.

Can someone quickly explain to me how this distributional proposal is different from that, and why we can't just ask use good judgment and/or "misc. academic" categories to see our favorite things come up in quizbowl?
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Ike » Sun Dec 18, 2016 8:26 am

Uh, wow, that was long!

Okay, so when I made the post about the "story of art" I don't mean in the Gombrichan sense necessarily. I'm reminded of the Christ's Entry into Brussels question that Eric wrote for Pennance years ago (sorry to keep bringing this up Eric, but it's illustrative.) I'm pretty sure it was written by just looking at the reproduction of the painting on Wikipedia without consulting contextual information. This led to a tossup filled with a huge amount gameplay-breaking errors. The issue that motivated my post isn't anything that can be simply fixed by "reverse clue lookup," but rather how some players from the 2009 era and earlier learned art through quizbowl: look at paintings, write questions about it. I obviously think this is a deeply flawed methodology for producing good art questions and that you're robbing yourself if your only exposure to art is through this.* In particular, none of my post is about the "great masters" theory or the high / low distinction between art.

I have thoughts about the high-low distinction between topics, which I will try summarize in a single paragraph and only look at from a practical, and not theoretical, point of view. In short, I think that the high-low distinction is something that editors need to keep in mind, but we don't need to make an explicit other space for it, partly for the space-concern reason Auroni suggests. All quizbowl categories, to some extent, have a high-low distinction whether we make it explicit or not. Using some examples: for literature, it might be as explicit as high : low : Emily Dickinson : Horatio Hornblower or something a little more gray, such as Emily Dickinson : Ayn Rand. For mathematics it might be calculus : magic squares. For SS the "low" part of the distribution might include Joseph Campbell. Every now and then some specialist will come up to me and say "Ayn Rand" belongs in academic other, or "magic squares" belongs in the other, or "Joseph Campbell" doesn't belong in SS, he belongs in other, and my response to such purism is that the purism is untenable For one, I think the other should be used for many areas of human endeavor that are still unexplored in QB. Not even counting the demarcation problem of what's high and low, editors should, in my opinion, keep the "low" stuff in the normal distribution and keep subdistribtions and packet feng shui when they slot such questions in. I'm particularly reminded of Mike Sorice's story about how some NAQT packet they played at ICT one year had tossups on the Magnus Effect, salinity, and some other "fringe science." I think one of those questions every 4-5 rounds is acceptable; lumping two of them into the same packet all tournament is obviously not.

Oh also, as for asking about genre literature at ACF Nationals, I will give a brief defense of it. In my mind, people engage with genre literature in an intellectual fashion that is okay to ask about in QB. But you have to do so in a way that doesn't just reward knowledge that is gleaned from "trash." One of the reasons why I think questions on Tolkien fare horribly is that they aren't written from the perspective of anyone doing serious academic scholarship on Tolkien. And even if they were written from such a perspective, empirically, it just reduces down to who has the bigger obsession with the Tolkien legendarium, which is not what you want to reward at a tournament like ACF Nationals. All the questions that I asked about were designed to test the knowledge of the history of literature or literature itself, and not just trash. To use an example, one bonus part that I asked for was the author Christopher Priest, who wrote the novel that inspired the movie The Prestige. I was okay doing this because he's a serious author people discuss AND because people are unlikely to know of him through "trash" clues, by which I mean, the knowledge acquired from being a movie buff is very unlikely (though very possible)** to help you answer the bonus part -- you kind of have to know that Priest has written several good / great science fiction books before being able to recall his name easily in five seconds. Jacob, hopefully this example is somewhat informative, when you decide to clue stuff about fashion weeks in your history questions, the main thing is to keep in mind how are people likely to know it?

*This may seem rather obvious to folks like Jacob and Stephen, who went to Ivy League universities and have access to so many of the art world's greatest minds. But to me back in 2010, this was nowhere near obvious. I ended up taking a class for fun on Renaissance Art, and it slowly dawned upon me.

**In any case, such a person would likely not be on the top teams of ACF Nats.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by The Abydos Helicopter » Sun Dec 18, 2016 9:36 am

vinteuil wrote:Will Alston has reminded me that archaeology belongs in my list of "things we need more of in the history distribution."
This is very true. Also not all archaeology covers pre-historic subjects - mix in archaeological clues with historical.
I also believe, from Regular difficulty upwards, I feel there should be (even more of) a focus on ensuring the history covers as wide a temporal range as possible within the "periods" we think about - Early Modern so often seems to mean 18th century, 20th Century covers 1939-1989 in much greater depth than the first few decades, Greek history other than the 5th century BC did actually happen and have consequences, and Roman history contained more than the period from Cicero to Nero etcetc.
I believe this will help move the game from sometimes seeking out, e.g. the deeply obscure 12th most important battle of the War of X succession for difficulty to the exclusion of other topics.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by ErikC » Sun Dec 18, 2016 4:00 pm

AOL Email Address Haver wrote: This is very true. Also not all archaeology covers pre-historic subjects - mix in archaeological clues with historical.
I also believe, from Regular difficulty upwards, I feel there should be (even more of) a focus on ensuring the history covers as wide a temporal range as possible within the "periods" we think about - Early Modern so often seems to mean 18th century, 20th Century covers 1939-1989 in much greater depth than the first few decades, Greek history other than the 5th century BC did actually happen and have consequences, and Roman history contained more than the period from Cicero to Nero etcetc.
I believe this will help move the game from sometimes seeking out, e.g. the deeply obscure 12th most important battle of the War of X succession for difficulty to the exclusion of other topics.


I think this is because certain historical time periods get more exposure in earlier parts of school so more people are familiar with those areas when they begin quizbowl, so periods and areas like medieval Central Asia, post-Alexander Greece, pre-modern North Africa, and Southeast Asia in general get neglected by people who are interested in history in general. These areas are usually what I do well in tournaments with decent competition because the answer lines are usually more straight forward (Kiev and Manchus vs. the New Model army and the Ridolfi plot) and less obscure, but it is "deeper" because the history people learn is often fairly biased towards certain areas over others. Even when writing "World" history, to much of it is only about Mesoamerica or Japan. I think this is pretty easy to fix, however, by just encouraging people to write more about other areas of history, as these things really aren't that hard to learn.

Archaeology clues can also give more spaces for harder clues for very easy answer lines. There are enough civilizations that archaeology studies that talking about the ruins of Roman villas would be that obvious. Some tossups just about archaeologists have been fairly transparent in the past in my experience.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Sun Dec 18, 2016 4:21 pm

ErikC wrote:I think this is because certain historical time periods get more exposure in earlier parts of school so more people are familiar with those areas when they begin quizbowl, so periods and areas like medieval Central Asia, post-Alexander Greece, pre-modern North Africa, and Southeast Asia in general get neglected by people who are interested in history in general.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IagRZBvLtw

More seriously, with regards to the European history comments, I do think that European political history has been mined pretty thoroughly in quizbowl (as perhaps indicated by its power rate being consistently higher than American or World history across tournaments) but not exhaustively so - I don't find it too hard personally to come up with fresh clues in that category by digging around in various books that I have (or even on Wikipedia). That said, I am in favor of reducing Continental European history to 1/1 of the distribution and reducing the amount of British and Classical history as well, using the freed space to ask about archaeology, historiography, and "looser/less traditional" history topics (i.e. the Solzhenitsyn tossup at SHEIKH, Jacob's Alma Mahler question, etc.)
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by ErikC » Sun Dec 18, 2016 6:11 pm

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote: More seriously, with regards to the European history comments, I do think that European political history has been mined pretty thoroughly in quizbowl (as perhaps indicated by its power rate being consistently higher than American or World history across tournaments) but not exhaustively so - I don't find it too hard personally to come up with fresh clues in that category by digging around in various books that I have (or even on Wikipedia). That said, I am in favor of reducing Continental European history to 1/1 of the distribution and reducing the amount of British and Classical history as well, using the freed space to ask about archaeology, historiography, and "looser/less traditional" history topics (i.e. the Solzhenitsyn tossup at SHEIKH, Jacob's Alma Mahler question, etc.)
Fresh clues are one thing, but fresh answerlines another thing. One of my favourite aspects of ACF Nationals is some of the neat answerlines (i.e. the Frank Sinatra journalism tossup at 2014). EFT and Terrapin had some similarly fresh answerlines at a lower difficulty, and it would be nice if we could use the distribution to encourage more interesting questions that draw from other areas neglected by the paint by numbers feel some pack submission tournaments inevitably have in some quantity.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Emperor Pupienus » Mon Dec 19, 2016 12:01 am

vinteuil wrote:And I think that we should drastically increase our efforts to reshape the history distribution in favor of "history of ____" and cultural and intellectual history.
I disagree with the idea that the only way to save the history distribution is to remake it into “history of [insert x here]” rather than “History.” I do think that this is a useful distinction to make, and I’m glad to see that you’ve actually already done this, Jacob. I’ll define “History” (with a capital H) as the study of events, people, and ideas that have had tangible effects on human life. This necessarily focuses on important political figures, military conquests, social movements, economic trends, and the ideologies motivating all of the above. Meanwhile, I take “history of x” loosely to mean the study of ideas/people/events which were once relevant in field x and are no longer utilized by the current practitioners of field x. So, a way to tell them apart is to consider whether person/concept x has had impacts on human life far beyond its impacts on the field in which it resides.

I think that the history distribution in quizbowl should favor rewarding “History” over “history of x” where possible. “History” is a much better analog to what people who learn history either academically or recreationally. Throughout human history, understanding of history has almost always focused on what I defined as “History.” Despite the recent branching out of history, it still focuses on society, politics, and economics at both the high school and college level, and I think that this is reflected in the “popular history” books that most of the public tends to read. Perhaps I am too much of a “purist” as Ike would say. Yet, scientists do not want historical scientist tossups in their distribution. Art/music players do not want tossups like “Alma Mahler” in their distribution. So, why should the history distribution be stuck with taking in these orphaned areas? Surely people are more likely to come across topics like Robert Boyle or Alma Mahler through science and art/music anyways, rather than through reading about history.

For reference, here is the Alma Mahler tossup:
Mysterium Packet 10 wrote:16. This person’s “trophies” were described in the first section of The Play of the Eyes by Elias Canetti. The apologetic note to Arnold Schoenberg at the end of Mann’s Doktor Faustus was made necessary by the “meddling” of this person. This daughter of the doctor Emil Schindler largely edited her pathological anti¬-Semitism out of her diaries for the memoir And the Bridge is Love. Her daughter Manon was the “angel” dedicatee of Berg’s Violin Concerto. This woman, whose first kiss was Gustav (*) Klimt, inspired The Bride of the Wind and a sex doll made for Oskar Kokoschka. She did not attend the funeral of her last husband, who wrote The Song of Bernadette. For 10 points, name this woman who married Walter Gropius, Franz Werfel, and Gustav Mahler.
ANSWER: Alma Mahler [or Alma Gropius; or Alma Werfel; or Alma Maria Schindler]
It seems exceedingly unlikely to me that this question rewards people who read about history—whether in a recreational or academic context. If you are interested in the lives of various musicians and artists, then you will know things about Alma Mahler. But I would argue that her life has not had much significance beyond the world of art and music; people who just learn about history are unlikely to encounter her.

Nevertheless, perhaps European history has been tapped to deep that it can no longer support 2/2 in the same way. I am definitely willing to be convinced of this, and indeed it seems likely to me that there are good reasons for requiring less European history in the distribution. However, I think that the proper response is not to fill the gap with varied “histories of x.” Instead, I think that the history distribution will survive quite fine with 1/1 US, 1/1 Euro (including British and Classical history), 1/1 World, and 1/1 Other, where other includes any of the previous areas, transregional historical topics, and the more “social scientist” and historiographical approaches to history. For example, I think that something like Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities or Polanyi’s Great Transformation fit better in the history distribution than Boyle or Mahler. These texts are certainly much more relevant to what modern historians do in the academy; history does claim to be a social science, after all. Further, the topics (nationalism and the Industrial Revolution in Britain respectively) are things people interested in reading about history are quite likely to encounter organically. The "other" area would also be a good fit for archaeology, which I do think belongs in the history distribution and can be expanded (and I don’t even like archaeology!). Another thing that could be brought into the history distribution more organically, in my opinion, would be religious history, because people like Martin Luther and John Calvin have had effects on the course of history far beyond their theological influence. This clearly has already happened, to some degree, but religious history seems like an area that can be explored more. Further, we have seen a tremendous increase in the past few years of exploration of “History” in more creative ways. Tapping into topics like colonization, economic history, —especially of goods— and historiography have kept the history category fresh. People like Jordan Brownstein, Will Alston, Chris Ray, and others have done this remarkably well. Unfortunately, the examples that come to my mind immediately are in sets that are not clear. Regardless, I think that the past two years suggest that we will continue to ask about history in new and interesting ways, and this can be furthered by the expansion of “other history,” while still focusing on “History.”

I’m somewhat accepting of things like Solzhenitsyn or Copernicus/Galileo coming up because they are directly relevant to “Historical” topics—Soviet gulags and Roman Catholic persecutions. But, I think that it is both more desirable and eminently practical to focus on rewarding knowledge of “History” over knowledge of “histories of x.” I reject the idea that we are in the midst of a crisis that can only be solved by cannibalizing material from the arts and sciences. Instead, we should be to take away 1/1 from Euro history and give it to an expansive "other history" category to explore history across regions, bring in historically important religious figures, and fold in thinkers currently classified as “Social Science” whose contributions are most relevant to the field of history.

Edit: Grammar.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Mon Dec 19, 2016 12:37 am

I'll fully admit that this the following is mostly rank speculation on my part, but I think there are far fewer people who are writing their history questions from documentaries or history books than there are people writing literature questions from knowledge of the books they're writing about. This leads naturally to a heavier reliance on Wikipedia for clues, and the things that will easily stand out on Wikipedia are Named Things (particularly Named Things with unique-sounding names) and cute anecdotes.

So, as with many things in quizbowl, this is a solution. There are lots of cool non-Wikipedia history websites as well if you're more digitally inclined: ancient.eu is wonderful, as is Encyclopedia Iranica.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by vinteuil » Mon Dec 19, 2016 1:40 am

I'm certainly not opposed to Jason's proposed 1/1 "other" history, and I would welcome a tournament with a distribution like that.

But I think that Jason puts forth a crazy-narrow definition of history is. We all know already what history is: the study of what happened in the past. The kinds of things that happen now also happened in the past: this is why Jason recognizes that there are "religion" topics that clearly fit in better as history. (And I totally agree that we should ask more about them!)

But this is true in every field: the mathematicians that Anthony Grafton* studies (who mathematics people may have heard of but know relatively little about); influential-in-their-time intellectuals like Bergson (it's much easier to write a good and relevant history of ideas tossup on Bergson than a philosophy tossup); artworks like English popular ballads of the 17th century (mined for what they say about the political and social climate, but not exactly commonly encountered in music and literature contexts) or all the French popular literature that Robert Darnton writes about.

At the extreme end of current irrelevancy, we don't even notice when these clues are used: the clue about La Muette de Portici in 1830 Belgium, the Eurovision clue about the Carnation Revolution, etc.

Maybe the key to what I'm saying is the following:
jasonzhou wrote:Scientists do not want historical scientist tossups in their distribution. Art/music players do not want tossups like “Alma Mahler” in their distribution...Surely people are more likely to come across topics like Robert Boyle or Alma Mahler through science and art/music anyways, rather than through reading about history.
I'm pretty sure that the exact reason why scientists don't want Boyle tossups in the chem distribution is precisely because you're far more likely to learn deep things about him as history of ideas or science than in a science class. Did anyone get my VICO tossup on (notably gigantically influential books) Newton's Opticks and Goethe's Theory of Colors early from stuff they learned in science class?

Here's the point: what happened in the past is history. The "history of ___" shaped the texture of the lives the people we ask about lived; it often explains why the events we ask about happened the way they did; it provides context for economic trends. By all means, feel free not to write questions exclusively on topics from the "history of ___," but please consider using more of them as clues. I think that this is an untapped vein of (current and potential) knowledge that could reshape the history distribution for the better.

*I'll freely admit that it's scholars like Grafton (easily one of the most widely-respected and renowned living European historians), Tim Blanning, Georges Duby, Carlo Ginzburg, etc. that I have in mind when I consider "what European history is."
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Dec 19, 2016 2:17 am

As an ancient being who has seen generations of quizbowl players come and go I ask this: is "some veteran players have heard questions about this thing lots of times and are sick of it" ignoring the fact that at any one time there are new people entering the college quizbowl world to whom whatever is being complained about is not old hat? Should we change the distribution over the boredom of people who are on their way out of quizbowl?
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by 1992 in spaceflight » Mon Dec 19, 2016 2:46 am

vinteuil wrote:I'm certainly not opposed to Jason's proposed 1/1 "other" history, and I would welcome a tournament with a distribution like that.
So, let's have an invitational tournament next year use this history distribution so that we can see how it works out. As I've told people more than once, "be the change you wish to see."
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by vinteuil » Mon Dec 19, 2016 2:09 pm

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:As an ancient being who has seen generations of quizbowl players come and go I ask this: is "some veteran players have heard questions about this thing lots of times and are sick of it" ignoring the fact that at any one time there are new people entering the college quizbowl world to whom whatever is being complained about is not old hat? Should we change the distribution over the boredom of people who are on their way out of quizbowl?
This ignores the fact that, as topics continue to be asked about, we continue to search for more obscure clues on them, so that quizbowl can gradually acquire a hopelessly lopsided view of what is important (or even well-known) in history.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Mike Bentley » Mon Dec 19, 2016 2:44 pm

vinteuil wrote:
Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:As an ancient being who has seen generations of quizbowl players come and go I ask this: is "some veteran players have heard questions about this thing lots of times and are sick of it" ignoring the fact that at any one time there are new people entering the college quizbowl world to whom whatever is being complained about is not old hat? Should we change the distribution over the boredom of people who are on their way out of quizbowl?
This ignores the fact that, as topics continue to be asked about, we continue to search for more obscure clues on them, so that quizbowl can gradually acquire a hopelessly lopsided view of what is important (or even well-known) in history.
Is this actually happening in European history? I've certainly not felt that I'm reaching for the bottom of the barrel in clues here, and I haven't gotten the sense that the field is completely killing these questions, but I have a much more limited view into the current circuit.

As someone who likes writing and playing "history / biography of X" questions I wouldn't mind a few more of these, but I also think that they already fit in in decent numbers in the other distribution.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Æthelred the Unready Steady Cook » Tue Dec 20, 2016 8:23 am

I agree with a lot of things written here but I really don't think expanding the cannon and moving beyond political and military focused history should be seen as a last resort, it should really be seen as central to writing a balanced set at the collegiate level. Looking at OOT 2017 which we are writing at the moment there is loads of stuff which hasn't come up before which there is to ask about and I think that there is a near endless pool of answerlines to be exploited. Go write questions on the German Honey industry :bees: . I do think there is a place for tossing up Hannibal Hamlin or the battle of Cowpens, but the approach to history needs to be broader to justify 4/4. You justify 4/4 for one subject by showing that it is a broad category which incorporates just about everything.

I personally think that far to much of what is written about in quizbowl is determined by looking at some sort of mystical "history player" or "science player" and thinking about whether they would be offended by this content being the history or the science if they lose a game or 0.2 PPG. GRRR they tossed up an 18th century scientist and you lost a game because of it. Get over yourself. Know more things.

When people write or edit tournaments I think there needs to be much more openness to crossing strict boundaries, especially as this can be compensated by balancing elsewhere and feng shui across the packet so that when you tossup Elizabeth I as a writer you balance the history, etc. This makes quizbowl make more sense. Science is really crucial to looking at the early history of Australia or to the technological developments and global economic re-balancing of the 1970s. These things include science and they should use science clues and science answerlines. Ultimately, I think history writers should be at the front of attempts to be less protective of buzzes, and when this happens a lot more deuterocanonical answerlines appear and people can see how broad history can be. I know history players don't want to lose out on history to Alma Mahler tossups, but if people write history more inclusively I think it can set a precedent for science writers, lit writers and all the other subject writers to include historical clues in their tossups. This expansion will make more lines appear almost instantly. This will also help with the gender balance of people who come up in quizbowl because everyone is bored to death of Elizabeth of Russia.

I do think a separate thread where people just gripe/suggest things that don't come up enough would be really good to help people writing tournaments or tossups to re-balance quizbowl and to loosen up about what they think history is. I am a history major and I've looked at Finnish paintings, Breton folkstories, Victorian novels, Tamil films, Vietnamese pin-up girls, Anglo-saxon coins, Turkish coastlines, German nutritional data, Japanese tableware and countless other things to help me "do history." If better minds than mine can make fulfilling academic careers out of expanding history beyond the scope of modern day Macaulayism then I think quizbowl history writers can write 7 lines on a broader range of things that happened in the past.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Dec 20, 2016 11:17 am

vinteuil wrote:
Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:As an ancient being who has seen generations of quizbowl players come and go I ask this: is "some veteran players have heard questions about this thing lots of times and are sick of it" ignoring the fact that at any one time there are new people entering the college quizbowl world to whom whatever is being complained about is not old hat? Should we change the distribution over the boredom of people who are on their way out of quizbowl?
This ignores the fact that, as topics continue to be asked about, we continue to search for more obscure clues on them, so that quizbowl can gradually acquire a hopelessly lopsided view of what is important (or even well-known) in history.
Do these clues survive discontinuities in the player base and editor base? Back in my day there were certainly obscure clues that were introduced to quizbowl, became trendy, and eventually became stock - I would be surprised to see them still in questions today.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Tue Dec 20, 2016 12:07 pm

I think our mode of writing European history questions is largely sustainable, honestly. When I run out of ideas, I tend to go back to the two College History Bowls, or Chris Ray's sundry productions, for inspiration. Fill out part of the distro with your classic wars, political leaders, countries and laws; expand common answers into related answers ("assassination of X" instead of "X", "event" tossups like Nuremberg Rallies instead of country tossups, political causes, common links); look into historiography to find an interesting argument you can weave into an accessible tossup; etc. We could perhaps change the weight of European history within history, or of specific regions within European history, in ways that would improve the playing experience. But I don't think we really need to shunt more "cultural history" into history, because those categories imo fit better in social science/arts/other.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Cheynem » Tue Dec 20, 2016 1:00 pm

There is a LOT of unmined European history; the trouble is we tend to dredge up the same topics over and over.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Tue Dec 20, 2016 1:03 pm

I agree with most of the points Matt has made. I think we could use some trimming of Euro/Britain/Classics to 1.66/1.66 or 1.5/1.5 to make room for more archaeology, historiography, and perhaps some more transnational topics, but I don't think there's anything too wrong with how questions are written now. As Mike says, it's more a question of looking for new topics and approaches more aggressively.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Cheynem » Tue Dec 20, 2016 1:13 pm

My concern with introducing more historiography and even archaeology to some extent is that at especially at lower levels, it's very hard to write those questions and make them accessible. This would be fun stuff to kick around at hard opens or maaaybe at Nats, but really that's about it.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Tue Dec 20, 2016 1:25 pm

Cheynem wrote:My concern with introducing more historiography and even archaeology to some extent is that at especially at lower levels, it's very hard to write those questions and make them accessible. This would be fun stuff to kick around at hard opens or maaaybe at Nats, but really that's about it.
Absolutely - at lower levels, it's just very hard to do this stuff, similar to social science and philosophy. Different levels of play can use different distributions, and that's totally cool.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by The Stately Rhododendron » Tue Dec 20, 2016 3:39 pm

Announcing this now: during my senior year, I will produce one or two or three packets of a set I will call ANQ (Actor-Network Questions). Everything will be an assemblage. Instead of a distribution we will have disjunctures and differences.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by ErikC » Tue Dec 20, 2016 5:17 pm

I have to say, I don't think that history is a part of the distribution that is going stale to me. It's more the very repetitive nature of mythology questions that bothers me. Tournaments with 1/1 mythology (read: too much) often have significant overlap in answerlines. Compare this to philosophy, which has so many individual thinkers and concepts to ask about that only a small portion of possible answerlines are used in any one tournament.

Now, I'm not advocating for more than 1/1 philosophy (unless some of it is in other thought, maybe) because I think that is the right amount. What I think is really missing from Quiz Bowl is reliable questions on geography and the environment. There is a wide variety of things studied in school that quiz bowl currently neglects to include the standard tossups on Finnish mythology. The little representation environmental fields of study gets is the occasional ecology tossup and a few clues in a geography tossup (which themselves are rarer than should be). However, there is more to these fields than just ecology which I should probably elaborate on in a new thread.

We are trending towards more questions on human geography and away from just naming rivers and mountains, but we aren't including anything some people learn in environmental studies, resource management, and other fields in the wider environmental sphere of academia that is growing every year. At the University of Waterloo we have an entire Faculty of Environment (and of Math). My program is in this faculty, and because of this I have been exposed to areas of study quiz bowl completely ignores. I think there is room to reduce space for stale categories like mythology for other things like environmental and geographical topics, and I think it would engage more people who are first introduced to the game.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Amizda Calyx » Tue Dec 20, 2016 5:51 pm

Æthelred the Unready Steady Cook wrote:GRRR they tossed up an 18th century scientist and you lost a game because of it. Get over yourself. Know more things.
Just to quickly clarify what I think most science players' objections would be to a history of science question replacing a pure science question: most science classes, at least in bio, do not go over historical trivia in any real detail. They may touch on it briefly, but a dedicated (non-survey or intro) science course is absolutely not going to cover anything deep about The Skeptical Chymist or De Motu Cordis or Paracelsus. It almost certainly won't even mention those things/people. The exceptions are "classical" modern experiments or "important" scientists, which are often discussed in intro classes to demonstrate a currently-used technique or discovery/approach. "Pure" science questions on those things should also be testing players' knowledge of the science behind the technique/discovery rather than historical curiosities about it (like books published by a scientist or societal reactions to whatever). Even though they had enormous influence on the progress of science, knowing anything about Harvey or other really old anatomists has no significant effect on how science is practiced or taught now other than helping with name-matching eponymous structures.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Jem Casey » Tue Dec 20, 2016 8:15 pm

While trapped in the airport without wifi earlier today, I wrote the following brain dump; the conversation has moved a bit since then, but I'll just put it up unedited. This post will be concerned with the European history distributional changes discussed so far, and not Jacob’s suggestion for the “other” category, which is a good idea that I’d like to see tested in the near future.

I find the type of cultural history/"history of x” questions that Jacob is suggesting quite exciting. However, I have concerns over whether changing the European history distribution to include this material is theoretically sound, practical, or necessary.

Almost all writing in the humanities crosses quizbowl distributional boundaries; for instance, you might learn about the history of the July Revolution by reading Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History, or about Madame Recamier by reading Hobsbawm’s The Age of Revolution. Because of this, the implicit question in deciding whether a topic x can go in quizbowl category y is not “could a player have learned about x while studying y?” but “are players most likely to have learned about x while studying y?” Certainly we do not always answer this question correctly, which is why most tournaments feature a few history questions that are more likely to reward video game knowledge, or novel-reading, than the study of history. But if we ask this question about most “history of x” topics, e.g. Alma Mahler, the answer is probably an unambiguous “no”;* however important for the cultural history of Vienna she was, a much greater percentage of the people answering that question will have learned about her through their interest in music or art, not cultural history. This does not mean we should have no Alma Mahler-type questions in the history distro; a few per tournament is uncontroversially fine and fun. But I don’t think we can start putting a significant number of these questions in the European history distribution without reconsidering the strict subject boundaries that the distribution, and indeed the concept of a “distribution,” is based on. If we begin to include anything that a player could have learned about while studying European history in our 2/2 European history, (i.e. treat prospective clues with the first question) it seems inconsistent to not apply the same standard to other areas of the distribution. A quizbowl distribution in which interdisciplinary "mixed academic" questions are the norm--something I think Daoud is envisioning in his post--might be a desirable future for the game, but it is not something we can create by making small modifications to the current distribution; it is a project of utopian scale, and I think we’re mainly discussing piecemeal distribution engineering here.

It may be that this is a purely theoretical concern, and that blurring distributional lines in European history, and nowhere else, isn't problematic at all. It may also be that there are more cultural history/"history of x" topics that can pass the "are players most likely to have learned..." test than I'm allowing. But, even if this is true, I have practical concerns about a distribution that requires players to produce questions of this type. In the hands of a writer like Jacob, who is deeply engaged with and knowledgeable about the history of ideas, such a distribution might be, as I've said, truly exciting. But many quizbowl writers, myself included, lack some of the context to know what cultural topics more rightly belong to history than to music, painting, fashion, etc. Faced with the responsibility of writing cultural history, we may rely too heavily on a single source (e.g. think that a movie is primarily of historical interest since it's mentioned in Postwar, when it's much more famous as art film) or recourse to writing on pet topics that have little academic significance. Now, if Jacob (or any other writer eager for more cultural history) was editing a tournament and decided to mandate X number of cultural history questions, it may well be a successful experiment. But my concern is that, if a norm of giving cultural history X questions per tournament were to develop out of this thread, it would be difficult for most writers and editors to pull it off correctly.

Of course, the case could be made that the European history distribution is in crisis; that, although theoretical or practical concerns may arise from shifting towards cultural history/history of x, the distro is in unique need of improvement, and unique reforms must be tried. But it’s not clear to me that situation is as dire as has been suggested. I was surprised by the parodies of bad European history writing given so far:
vinteuil wrote:...the 7th-most important general in the Wars of Castro or who married the 3rd daughter of Philip the Amorous...
AOL Email Address Haver wrote:...deeply obscure 12th most important battle of the War of X succession…
These satires are surely puckish, but how contemporary are the mores in question? Are bad clues of this sort actually common anymore? Certainly, these clues are the ne plus ultra of some old schools of quizbowl history writing, in which tossups effectively amounted to lists of battles and treaties. But during my time in the game, fewer and fewer tournaments have been written in this style (some of my more regetable tossups for SUBMIT may have been among the last). Scrolling through EFT’s and Terrapin’s European history questions, for instance, I see a few questions whose clues are “old hat,” (i.e. worth asking about, but overdone in quizbowl) and a few whose early clues are too obscure or trivial thanks to overmining of their topic; but the majority focus on political, social, and cultural material that is relatively or completely fresh, gettable from real-life study of important history topics, and unambiguously “historical” by quizbowl standards (like Jason, I’d love to provide examples, but can’t because the sets aren’t clear). If there’s a hopeless crisis here, I’ll admit that I don’t see it.

This is not to say that 2/2 of European history isn’t too much, or that we shouldn’t be giving social and cultural history even more attention to keep things fresh and "real." Here are a few suggestions for keeping the distribution sustainable:

1) Writers should take it upon themselves to engage with the historical literature, and use it to generate question/clue ideas. Looking at this random list of good history books,* I notice that the majority do in fact focus on "history" as defined in quizbowl; I also know that the ones I've perused or read contain many more clues to be mined. There's clearly a lot to draw on here.
2) More experiments with distributions in regular-season tournaments. As has been said, the only way we’ll know what can work is by trying it. I’m not certain that 1/1 of historiography, history-relevant social science, archaeology, etc is sustainable, given the small answer-space for these topics at most levels of difficulty, but I'd be happy to be proven wrong. 1/1 Continental European, .5/.5 British/Classical, and .5/.5 "other"/more world stuff might be interesting and manageable. And again, if a tournament's writers think they can pull off a certain cultural history distribution, I'd be excited to play the results!
3) Regardless of distribution change, writers should first use bonuses to push the history canon into new territories (in particular, cultural history/”history of x"). In my opinion, bonuses are the most gentle way of nudging niche or unconventional topics towards canonicity. Many players who’d be bewildered by a “history of ideas” tossup on Bergson (by the way, Jacob, could you write this question and post it? I'd love to see what you have in mind) in the history distribution might think “huh, that was cool," or not notice at all, if presented with a similar bonus on Bergsonism in belle epoque French culture, especially if several of the parts were related directly to more conventional history. Also, one of the most common ways that clues become stale is through overuse in bonuses, so every bonus redirected from a standard topic to a fresh theme helps to slow down the arms race.

One final, unrelated thing:
Æthelred the Unready Steady Cook wrote:I do think a separate thread where people just gripe/suggest things that don't come up enough would be really good to help people writing tournaments or tossups to re-balance quizbowl and to loosen up about what they think history is.
A thread like that would be fascinating to read, but should not be made. I don't really have the moral standing to discuss quizbowl insiderism at the moment, but I will say that using the forums to offer or generate question ideas is a bad idea, and will just end up giving people points for being on the forums. The best way to push the canon towards your favorite topics is to just write questions on them, as I assume you're doing for OOT.

*history of science may be an exception to this; it isn't covered in science courses, but is fascinating and relevant from a historical perspective.
*note that I am not A Historian and do not know how many of these books are of actual relevance to history as it is currently practiced in academic settings.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Æthelred the Unready Steady Cook » Tue Dec 20, 2016 8:37 pm

To clarify: I think most tossups on these historical figures who did science should be history. There is a lot of history and not much science so bleeding a little is fair enough.

I really object however to people defending what comes up in quizbowl on the basis of being limited by what comes up in a classroom. If historians did this then there would be probably 1/1 battles per tournament and half the tournament would be sources or historiography. Science players have it hard but I don't think they should be entirely immune from any attempt to broaden knowledge used. I can't think of too many science tossups facilitated by history clues tbh but I do tend to think that thinkers from before the year 1900 can get turned into history on a whim, where Einstein or Dirac are still seen as part of the scientific distro even if supplanted.

In general I don't think quizbowl is badly balanced, but I do think that the standard of knowledge on show at the collegiate level allows for some rebalancing to improve the coverage.

One final thought: The emphasis on fine art rather than music or visual art means that non-western art is occasionally overlooked, and that the music in particular could get broader. Just because it isn't in a concert hall or a gallery doesn't mean it isn't art.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by vinteuil » Tue Dec 20, 2016 10:17 pm

Jordan brings up a great point about pragmatics. With that in mind, I'm absolutely open to weakening my second point to "more tournaments should experiment with history subdistributions like ___." And I'll still defend the introduction of more history of science, but I never thought that should be a mandated part of the distribution, so all I can do is tell people to write more of it.

But there's certainly no pragmatic problem with my first suggestion, which I still think is a good way to deal with the problem of all the trash being stupid and then your literature player groans because the lit tossup is on something pretty marginal. (Not saying this happens all the time.)
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Emperor Pupienus » Tue Dec 20, 2016 11:12 pm

vinteuil wrote:But I think that Jason puts forth a crazy-narrow definition of history is. We all know already what history is: the study of what happened in the past.
...
I'll freely admit that it's scholars like Grafton (easily one of the most widely-respected and renowned living European historians), Tim Blanning, Georges Duby, Carlo Ginzburg, etc. that I have in mind when I consider "what European history is."
I will cop to having a somewhat narrow definition of history. Both in my academic and for-pleasure history reading, I tend towards traditional topics. Regardless, this statement seems like a slippery slope to me. Yes, history is technically anything that has "happened in the past," but that doesn't mean that we should ask about literally anything in the history distribution. The historians who you mention certainly sound important and interesting (and I know nothing about them), so I see why you want to expand the history distribution in their direction, to include this sort of stuff. But, I don’t see that as a reason to ask willy-nilly about the lives of people whose importance to history is questionable! Do people really think that questions like Alma Mahler are better placed in the history distribution than elsewhere?? I can believe that there is a lot of cool material in the history of ideas that can come up in history, but I think we should always be conscious of what type of knowledge we are rewarding. I guess one way for people to do this for a borderline topic (if they are not as familiar with the history of ideas) is to look to see if there are important historical works/historians who study that person/scientist/x.
Æthelred the Unready Steady Cook wrote:GRRR they tossed up an 18th century scientist and you lost a game because of it. Get over yourself. Know more things.
Yes, heaven forbid people complain when their knowledge is not rewarded well! Maybe we should just move the 4/4 science to create 8/8 literature, and if any scientists complain, well, they should just read more books! The point of having a 4/4 science distribution or 4/4 history distribution is to reward knowledge in that area. As such, they should focus on topics important to the field. If there are Finnish paintings or Vietnamese pin-up girls (whatever that means) important to history, then weave them into a question that is on a historical subject and rewards knowledge of history! If your question does not reward knowledge about the topic it is allegedly about, then expect justified complaints!
Jem Casey wrote: Because of this, the implicit question in deciding whether a topic x can go in quizbowl category y is not “could a player have learned about x while studying y?” but “are players most likely to have learned about x while studying y?” Certainly we do not always answer this question correctly, which is why most tournaments feature a few history questions that are more likely to reward video game knowledge, or novel-reading, than the study of history. But if we ask this question about most “history of x” topics, e.g. Alma Mahler, the answer is probably an unambiguous “no”;* however important for the cultural history of Vienna she was, a much greater percentage of the people answering that question will have learned about her through their interest in music or art, not cultural history. This does not mean we should have no Alma Mahler-type questions in the history distro; a few per tournament is uncontroversially fine and fun.
I think this is a great post, Jordan. In particular, when writing history questions (or questions in any category in general) we have to consider whether we are actually rewarding knowledge people are likely to gain through historical sources (or the analog in other categories). I was trying to get to something like this when I proposed considering whether person/concept x has had impacts on human life far beyond its impacts on the field in which it resides, but I like your idea of rewarding the subject of engagement. If people more likely to learn about the question topic from learning about history than from learning other subjects, then it is pretty reasonable game.
Jem Casey wrote:I’m not certain that 1/1 of historiography, history-relevant social science, archaeology, etc is sustainable, given the small answer-space for these topics at most levels of difficulty, but I'd be happy to be proven wrong.
Sorry, my earlier post was unclear. In the "other" 1/1 I proposed, all three of US, Euro, and World are included. So, the writer would not be mandated to write 1/1 on historiography/historical ss/archaeology but could do that if they are capable of generating a decent, difficulty appropriate topic. Otherwise, the writer could write just another regular history question on any topic. An added benefit this sort of change would have is that it would increase the size of the world distribution, which I think most people agree is smaller than it should be. The downside to this "other" 1/1 is that the amounts of Euro, US, and World history would vary greatly between tournaments because it would depend on the whims of the writers.
vinteuil wrote:And I'll still defend the introduction of more history of science, but I never thought that should be a mandated part of the distribution, so all I can do is tell people to write more of it.
Yeah, this is probably reasonable. I just don't find history of science interesting and thus dislike it in the history distribution, but there are reasonable reasons for it to be placed there.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by touchpack » Tue Dec 20, 2016 11:21 pm

The last time someone proposed a mandatory science history distribution (0.5/0.5, as part of science), people wrote a bunch of shitty and unenjoyable questions. I do think there is a place for SOME science history-type stuff in science questions when the lessons learned are relevant to modern science. (for example, questions on black bodies frequently use clues about antiquated equations like the Rayleigh-Jeans that were nevertheless important to developing our modern-day understanding of quantum theory) Sometimes, you can even write a science question that draws rather heavily from stuff that is chiefly of historical importance. (see the ACF Nationals 2016 tossup on vitamin B12) Perhaps there is also a place for questions that are firmly on the history side of the line rather than the science side in either the history or "other" distributions--I don't know, because I have never seen it done well in a collegiate tournament. (I do remember a recent NASAT that had some interesting science history questions, but I don't remember the specifics) I think that further exploration into the unmined depths of science history is mostly going to yield content much closer to history than science, and would suggest that someone try incorporating a small (less than 0.5/0.5, please!) amount of science content in the history or other academic subdistro of a housewrite and see how it goes.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by vinteuil » Wed Dec 21, 2016 12:43 am

Instead of pontificating in the abstract any more, let me try to show what I mean through a more detailed example.

In the past five years, Alexander von Humboldt was the subject of two major popular biographies (The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf and Nature’s Interpreter by Donald McRory), widely reviewed and selling pretty well. (Side-disclosure: I wrote that Alma Mahler question after reading reviews of Malevolent Muse, a popular biography of her that was first published in translation last year.) I don't think I've heard a question on him, although he does come up as a clue in scattered contexts. [EDIT: He's come up as a hard part a few times, and I suspect he's a known quantity to a bunch of quizbowlers.]

Now, if you know some geography or earth science, you've come across Humboldt, maybe even a thumbnail biography. (Dude had a crazy life; check out his Wikipedia page.) You also might have come across him (and his brother Wilhelm) in the context of the history of linguistics or even philosophy (and some educational theory). Certainly, if you read cultural history about Europe in the 1820s-40s, you have a great shot of running across Humboldt's Kosmos. Or you know his brother for founding the University of Berlin.

Despite the influence in earth science and linguistics, you're not likely to learn much about either Humboldt from "science" or "social science" reading. Instead, you'd learn about them from reading their biographies, or books about people that read their works (hint: a shit-ton of people). This, to me, makes them definitively "history" in Jordan's sense despite the fact that they were never deeply involved in "changing the course of events" in Jason's sense (except at the university level).

[EDIT: Looks like I'm wrong about this for Wilhelm Humboldt, who got tossed up as linguistics at ACF Nats 2013.]

Humboldt is definitely a more slam-dunk case than Alma Mahler (and absolutely than Bergson, although stay tuned for an Einstein–Bergson question or a Proust–Bergson question or something maybe), and maybe there aren't a gigantic number of people like him. And it's possible that they're mostly scientists and intellectuals (or Goethe posing as a botanist or whatever).

Nonetheless, I don't like the fact that there's this sort of underclass of topics that people really do know about and that really are important, and that really seem to me to "belong to history," but can't be asked about in quizbowl because they "aren't really history."

Now, a good first comeback is: "We do already have questions like this, in the Academic/Other category!" Fair enough, but that's not usually how that category's used. Maybe that could be fixed by expanding Academic other with a specific mandate not just to write more questions on cultural criticism or whatever; but then we need to take away from somewhere, and I don't really see history players enjoying having 3.5/3.5 history. (And I think social science is more of a priority.)

The other, better comeback, is Jordan's, which is something along the lines of "you can't just tell people to know what's important and write cool and interesting questions in topics that quizbowl doesn't cover well." Jordan is completely right, and I'll concede any attempt to prescribe a slot specifically for these kinds of history topics. Instead, I'll just encourage people to think more broadly about people like Humboldt. Maybe read some book reviews and see what kinds of nonfiction that that kind of person is interested in writing, reading, and reviewing (hint: a big chunk of it is in this vein).
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by ProfessorIanDuncan » Wed Dec 21, 2016 2:20 am

I can only think of a couple reasons a distribution exists in quizbowl

1. People know what's going to be asked about
2. The games stay fair and there is less packet-to-packet variance

If there are a bunch of other reasons that I'm missing, I'm happy to abandon the forthcoming argument

I'm sure this has been discussed years ago when quizbowl was finding its place in the world, but why is it mandatory to have a per game distribution? I think NAQT's tournament wide distribution works fine (I haven't heard consistent complaints about it). It seems ridiculous to try and carve up the per packet distribution to include topics that people believe merit inclusion in a tournament. It's much easier to include categories like science history/environmental studies/pin up girls in small pieces within a tournament, than it is to have them take up a mandatory part of a per-game distribution. So why not have a couple of tournaments which use this model and see how it goes? I would trust the editors of the set not to include a disproportionately large amount of science questions in one packet and then history in the next, so I don't think that the packet-to-packet variance of a tournament written this way would be largely impacted. It seems that the best way to include more [insert sub-category here] without making some other category suffer at its expense is with this type of tournament. In addition, I suspect (to the extent that this is a real issue) the use of "stale clues" would decrease as a result of a more fine-tuned distribution within the tournament as a whole.

Apologies if this takes the thread too far from its original purpose.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Æthelred the Unready Steady Cook » Wed Dec 21, 2016 8:44 am

A few responses:

1.) The Alma Mahler question which has informed much of this discussion is slightly misleading because she isn't a particularly historically significant figure, interesting though she is, while many of the science figures are, IMO. There should be tossups on Alma Mahler, but perhaps they are better done as other academic or as art tossups with more art clues.

2.) I don't think that we should have a per packet distro for cultural or science history. I do think there should be fewer questions on battles and more historical ftossups on topics that aren't political or governmental. Bonuses is the easisest way to do this and people should think about including more questions on historiography, thinkers, evidence and materials or objects. The main shift is in people's attitudes.

3.
Yes, heaven forbid people complain when their knowledge is not rewarded well! Maybe we should just move the 4/4 science to create 8/8 literature, and if any scientists complain, well, they should just read more books! The point of having a 4/4 science distribution or 4/4 history distribution is to reward knowledge in that area. As such, they should focus on topics important to the field. If there are Finnish paintings or Vietnamese pin-up girls (whatever that means) important to history, then weave them into a question that is on a historical subject and rewards knowledge of history! If your question does not reward knowledge about the topic it is allegedly about, then expect justified complaints!


I basically agree that people are free to complain if they think the questions have a slant. I think that if these things are woven into history then can be really interesting and informative. The Finnish Pavilion at the Paris world fair, or the international reputation of Tra Giang are really important. The biggest philosophical difference between us, as I see it is about writing questions on history from a writer's perspective and writing history as viewed from the player's perspective. As I see it, if it is history its fair game. The question is what is history.

Ultimately, the best solution is including broader clues and writing on a broader range of things which are historically important. I think that people who study history should help show other people what is worthwhile in this field but ultimately it has to be inclusive because history is something a lot of non-historians buzz on.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Jem Casey » Wed Dec 21, 2016 11:20 am

vinteuil wrote: Nonetheless, I don't like the fact that there's this sort of underclass of topics that people really do know about and that really are important, and that really seem to me to "belong to history," but can't be asked about in quizbowl because they "aren't really history."
This is a really important point, and Humboldt is a perfect example of the underclass you're talking about. When choosing answerlines, writers usually look at the canon of quizbowl category y, pick some topic x that they think is famous, interesting, and important, and write on that; alternatively, though, they can pick their own brain for a topic x that they know independently to be famous, interesting, and important, choose the quizbowl category y that people are most likely to know topic x from, and write about it as such. I suspect that the latter method is much less common, but would result in parts of the underclass, like Humboldt, becoming canonical if used more frequently. Now, using only this method of answerline-selection would not be practical, especially at lower difficulty levels; but if writers get anything out of the European history portion of this thread, I would hope it's that this method works too, and that being open-minded about canon boundaries, while still maintaining the integrity of the distribution, is good.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Mike Bentley » Wed Dec 21, 2016 11:37 am

vinteuil wrote:In the past five years, Alexander von Humboldt was the subject of two major popular biographies (The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf and Nature’s Interpreter by Donald McRory), widely reviewed and selling pretty well. (Side-disclosure: I wrote that Alma Mahler question after reading reviews of Malevolent Muse, a popular biography of her that was first published in translation last year.) I don't think I've heard a question on him, although he does come up as a clue in scattered contexts. [EDIT: He's come up as a hard part a few times, and I suspect he's a known quantity to a bunch of quizbowlers.]
I wrote a tossup on Humboldt for Culture of Improvement, a tournament which I feel has several questions in the "science history" mold if people want to get a flavor of at least some of what that can look like.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Cheynem » Wed Dec 21, 2016 12:01 pm

I will just say that I don't think any of this is particularly difficult or necessarily earth-shattering. I think of the history question writers I enjoy (Chris Ray, Mike Bentley when he's being whimsical, Matt Weiner) and they already do these things people are calling for; I mean, as Matt Bollinger pointed out, take a peep at the College History Bowl sets--they're just lousy with social history and the type of stuff in the same vein as Humboldt.

I consider myself one of the less classroom-y history writers in quizbowl (Cory Haala noted this in a series of increasingly profane text messages he sent me during Chicago Open), and I rarely use anything other than a couple textbooks and the Internet to produce questions. I don't inherently disagree with what anyone is saying here, but I also think that the better writers (yes, I called myself a better writer) are really already doing these things.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Jem Casey » Wed Dec 21, 2016 12:34 pm

Cheynem wrote:I will just say that I don't think any of this is particularly difficult or necessarily earth-shattering. I think of the history question writers I enjoy (Chris Ray, Mike Bentley when he's being whimsical, Matt Weiner) and they already do these things people are calling for; I mean, as Matt Bollinger pointed out, take a peep at the College History Bowl sets--they're just lousy with social history and the type of stuff in the same vein as Humboldt.

I consider myself one of the less classroom-y history writers in quizbowl (Cory Haala noted this in a series of increasingly profane text messages he sent me during Chicago Open), and I rarely use anything other than a couple textbooks and the Internet to produce questions. I don't inherently disagree with what anyone is saying here, but I also think that the better writers (yes, I called myself a better writer) are really already doing these things.
As I said above, I agree that the best history writers are doing a very good job already, but that doesn't mean that general strategies for thinking about the history distribution and what to put in it aren't worth discussing on a board where the majority of readers are not among those writers. And for better or worse, history questions on "stuff in the same vein as Humboldt" (assuming by this we mean history of science/history of culturally significant stuff that doesn't have a quizbowl category of its own) don't seem common at all outside of subject tournaments, even in sets with expert editors.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Cheynem » Wed Dec 21, 2016 12:42 pm

I agree that talking about the strategies is fine and very much a good thing. I get wary when I see things like "well, let's change up the distributions," because to me, the issue is not not so much mandating change but rather changing up how we write the questions in the first place. If people are producing various subpar Euro history questions on battles and whatnot, I think a changed distro would result in lots of subpar questions on history of science/cultural history things.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Wed Dec 21, 2016 1:06 pm

One thing I don't like about the tone of this thread is its dismissive attitude towards military history. Military history is an important field studied by a number of people, and one which happens to have a lot of associated history buffs as well. I think what makes a battle worth asking about is one of the following:

1) Uniqueness of historical or other circumstances. Kadesh, for example, is the first major recorded chariot battle, and one of the first big recorded battles in history. Tsushima marked a major victory for an Asian power over a European one, and was the first major naval battle where radio communication played an important role. A lot of battles don't really pass this test even when they have a bunch of hypothetically uniquely identifying clues - a lot of the battles of the Pacific War come to mind, for example, since they can easily sound like "a bunch of planes and ships, with American and Japanese names." An exception would be Midway, where a U.S. fleet that was outnumbered in carriers managed to decisively defeat the Japanese in part thanks to code-breaking and ambushes.
2) Use as a case study/"lesson to be learned" by future commanders. Good examples include Cannae (double envelopments are OP), Carrhae (horse archers are bad times for slow, heavy infantry), Rossbach (defeating two separate armies through rapid movement), Second Tannenberg (make sure your radios work and your plans are coordinated), Nagashino (massed muskets plus defenses and spears are pretty damn good against cavalry), and Ulm (forcing an entire army to surrender through maneuvering alone is good value). In each of these cases, a number of really salient, unique features made each an example par excellence for future commanders to study.
3) Geopolitical importance. Generally, I think these are better incorporated into questions on people or wars, or the consequences thereof - especially if they don't have a lot of salient details that make the battles themselves fall into categories 1) or 2)

Random named operations and third-tier battles make for "bad military history" because they don't really tell you a whole lot, and should only really be done in the context of 3) - if they're clearly actually important, which is a subjective judgment.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Fri Dec 23, 2016 11:54 pm

I wrote a history tossup on Humboldt for CO History 2012. I'm game if anybody wants to write one of their five history tossups on a science history topic for their Nats submission.

It's true that we don't often ask about French social historians more than superficially, but on the other hand they are cheese eating surrender monkeys.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by vinteuil » Sat Dec 24, 2016 2:38 am

Sorry, Mike and Matt!! And Mike Cheyne is absolutely right when he says that the great history writers (do I miss Matt Jackson or what) already do this.
I hope the general point stands (there's stuff like this that we don't ask about much, and that's a shame).

Jordan hit the nail on the head again: I thought that this thread might be a way to get these ideas "out in the open" so already-really-good history writers (like Jason) might think about doing more of this kind of stuff.

Even for experienced writers, it's usually helpful to have a concept like "history of ___" ready to hand when thinking of topics. One of the many reasons John Lawrence literature is so great is because he's so damn careful with various kinds of subdistributions, and I guess I'm advocating a similar, if not necessarily as systematic, approach.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by gyre and gimble » Sat Dec 24, 2016 12:57 pm

It seems like this thread is more or less dying down, but I want to firmly reject the notion that European History has "been done."
vinteuil wrote:During a conversation pre-CO, I remember Chris Ray saying that European history has been hopelessly over-mined in quizbowl, especially relative to other areas of history; I agreed with him at the time, having in mind all of those brutal clues on the 7th-most important general in the Wars of Castro or who married the 3rd daughter of Philip the Amorous or whatever.
To me this feels like inventing a problem where one doesn't exist. Do people really use these clues unless they're actually memorable or important, or in other words, likely to be within the knowledge base of the players?

I don't claim to be one of the "great history writers," but I do spend a lot of time making sure to choose fresh topics where I can. Here are the European history tossup topics from "stanford housewrite":

Elizabeth II, Russian America, Thomas Müntzer, Bactria, Antioch, Cold War-era Bulgaria, House of Aviz, Synod of Dort, Palmyra, land as a resource in Ireland, Kingdom of Naples, Leo XIII, Operation Wrath of God, circuses, Castle Sant'Angelo, Nicias, Marcus Junius Brutus, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Montreal in the mid-1900s, Henri Pirenne, Russian Civil War, New Zealand in the 1980s, Battle of Towton, Brittany, Hippodrome of Constantinople, Great Turkish War, Franz Joseph I, Führer headquarters, Churchill family, and Swedish domestic history in the 1800s.

I have bolded topics that might plausibly have "been done" and italicized topics that have come up plenty of times before, but not enough to "be done." There are 3 bolded answers and 6 italicized ones, leaving 21 others. Of these 21, probably circuses, Henri Pirenne, and maybe the Hippodrome fall into social history / history of x / historiography as I understand Jacob to be using those terms in the first post. So 18 out of 30 tossups are what I would call "fresh topics." I think that's a pretty high proportion, probably even excessive for players who want what Ike called "meat and potatoes" in the "stanford housewrite" discussion thread. And let me ask, were Aviz, the Russian Civil War, and Franz Joseph powered in every room at the Maryland site?

My point is, if you're one of those writers who are experienced enough to be thinking about whether the European history canon has been depleted, you just need to make a greater effort to find interesting things to write about, rather than throwing in the towel and deciding that history needs a distributional change.* Sure, 18/30 is, in retrospect, an absurd goal. But you don't need that many to make a tournament's European history feel fresh. And there does need to be a little bit of pure social history and historiography sprinkled in**. In the end, though, just write on things that are interesting and important, and the set will be fine.

* I'll admit that my empirical argument is only directly applicable to Regular-plus/Nats-minus difficulty and above, but for lower difficulties, is it really a problem that Chris Ray is powering over half of the military history tossups in a tournament? Or can we just accept that a small class of players have more or less mastered that difficulty level, and we shouldn't make distributional changes so that small handful can be challenged a tiny bit more?
** Social history and historiography are, in my mind, inherently less accessible to most quizbowl players. If they have a greater place in quizbowl than the status quo (and I think they do), they should be eased in rather than mandating 0.5/0.5 or 0.25/0.25 or whatever.
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by Milhouse » Sat Dec 24, 2016 1:54 pm

My apologies that this is exactly the wrong place to ask this, but Stephen's post reminded me that "stanford housewrite" has not yet been posted to the archives (and its thread has been archived so I couldn't ask there). Does anyone have the capacity to do that?
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by vinteuil » Sat Dec 24, 2016 2:22 pm

Stephen, I don't think you're necessarily wrong: there is probably "enough" fresh European political history to keep us going for a while at least. Perhaps I should have made it clearer that I think "refreshing the European history distribution" is only a side benefit of including more of other types of history.

If I had to distill my meta-argument, it would be: the quizbowl distribution is a statement about what we as a community think is worth knowing and learning about. (It's also a statement about what we already know about, but it's not like those two are independent.) I've tried to argue that it's worth knowing (more) about a lot of topics that don't get asked about much, even though they would seem to be covered by "history"; I initially proposed a distributional slot to remedy this, but I'll concede that just telling people to do more is probably the only workable for solution for now.

We have to remember the whole reason social, economic, and cultural history have come practically to displace political history in academia: scholars saw a whole bunch of things that were worth learning about that weren't studied in any detail, and it turns out that those things are best studied in less "traditional" (as if non-political European history is anything but traditional by now!) ways. (Think of the books that get you the most quizbowl history points—the Bury/Meiggs kind of Greek history etc. How many women are mentioned? Or even individuals that weren't in the very upper classes?)

While it's absolutely correct that not every worthwhile topic makes for good quizbowl (nobody's writing Braudel bonuses from his tables of olive oil shipments), I do think that there are enough of these topics (good writers already ask about enough of them to prove this) to warrant thinking harder about writing more on them.

[EDIT: Obviously, this meta-argument isn't new. It's the reason we now advocate "interesting" geography questions, for instance.]
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by gyre and gimble » Sat Dec 24, 2016 3:50 pm

Xochicuicatl Cuecuechtli wrote:My apologies that this is exactly the wrong place to ask this, but Stephen's post reminded me that "stanford housewrite" has not yet been posted to the archives (and its thread has been archived so I couldn't ask there). Does anyone have the capacity to do that?
Eric, I just sent the set to Jeffrey Hill for uploading. My bad for taking so long to do that.
vinteuil wrote:Stephen, I don't think you're necessarily wrong: there is probably "enough" fresh European political history to keep us going for a while at least. Perhaps I should have made it clearer that I think "refreshing the European history distribution" is only a side benefit of including more of other types of history,
I guess I agree with you that the history canon can expand, and I'm not categorically opposed to having more "social, economic, and cultural history" as well as historiography. But I think the ceiling for how much of this we can include is quite limited. The bottom line is, this stuff is for the most part not accessible to players, for two broad categories of reasons:

1. Players' sources of knowledge vary, which means that the only "guaranteed" way to make questions playable for the maximum number of players is to draw a majority of clues from material that is likely to come up in most of those sources. That common material is overwhelmingly likely to be what quizbowl has traditionally treated as history. This is a pragmatic argument: To reach the widest audience, we can't get too caught up in what people might study in class.

2. Historians are not always (and in my experience rarely) in agreement about the specifics of social, economic, and cultural trends. Even when in agreement about these trends generally, historians will draw from different pieces of evidence, construe the same pieces of evidence in different ways, and ultimately supply different nuances. I worry that if such clues or questions are presented to players, we would be testing to see whether a player has read or studied a specific historian, rather than testing for knowledge about the underlying historical material.

I'll use this to illustrate:
vinteuil wrote:Think of the books that get you the most quizbowl history points—the Bury/Meiggs kind of Greek history etc. How many women are mentioned? Or even individuals that weren't in the very upper classes?
We can all agree that women were important in Greek history. But that doesn't easily translate into quizbowl. When writing quizbowl questions about women in Greek history, we have to ask: 1) "How many women from Greek history are there who are important enough such that a wide audience of players who have studied or read about Greek history will have heard of them?" and 2) "When historians discuss a trend X in Greek history, do they consistently refer to woman A to help explain that trend, or does one historian discuss woman A, another woman B, and another woman C?"

If the answer to these questions is "very few" and "there are no go-to exemplary women A," respectively, then the best we can do as quizbowl writers is either reserve these clues for leadins, or write questions that pertain to women generally. The former already happens, and the latter can only be done rarely (imagine every tournament having a tossup on "women in the ___ Empire").

The same applies to lower-class Greeks. What I'm trying to say is, even if there are a whole bunch of unasked, important, and worthwhile topics in history, there aren't very many playable clues with which to ask them in a sustainable way at high volume.
Stephen Liu
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vinteuil
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Re: Continuing to rethink the distribution

Post by vinteuil » Sun Dec 25, 2016 2:34 pm

As I said, "it turns out that those things are best studied in less "traditional"...ways." I agree that we can't necessarily accomplish what I want by just asking about people from underrepresented groups. And I also completely agree that you can't just toss up a "trend" and hope for the best. Trends don't play well and are hard to clue; trends are contentious.

Let me get back in my wheelhouse a little bit. Let's say you wanted to learn about women in the Christian middle ages; after some light research, you'd likely find out that you should be reading stuff by Caroline Bynum. (Talk about an important and well-known historical approach/historian that quizbowl—I think—ignores!) Now, say you want to translate her work into quizbowl. You could write a Nats or CO bonus part on her, or do the same for a specific person, event, or text she talks about. You could write a question on "women" or "bodies" that doesn't play well. But there's a much easier solution: of writing on specific practices that she discusses (e.g. feasting and fasting).

Again, the point being that you can clue social/cultural/economic history without writing questions on it; and often it turns out that there are enough clues to make the question predominantly about those perspectives.

[EDIT: MJ has informed me that I forgot about a Bynum bonus he wrote for SCT 2016. I should really look things up before making wild assertions—but, again, I hope the point still stands.]
Jacob Reed
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"...distant bayings from...the musicological mafia"―Denis Stevens

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