Civil War Questions

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Civil War Questions

Post by Captain Sinico »

I'd like to discuss the role of questions on the U.S. Civil War in today's college (and maybe the very top of the high school) game. Even the most cursory glance at the record shows that the Civil War was grossly overrepresented in the past (and in some of the present) forms of the game. However, it's not uncommon in this day and age for entire high-quality college tournaments to go by without a single Civil War question - for example, neither I nor my teammates I can recall a single one from MO (I have further examples, as well.)
I think having no Civil War questions is unduly reactionary and is a fault of the same kind, if not quite of the same extent, as having a shit-ton of Civil War questions. The right level seems clearly to lie somewhere between these extremes. To be concrete, I'd like to see on the order of 4-6 questions per tournament.
Of course, I don't necessarily mean this as an imperative to ask about the same old battles from the same descriptions. I think those should come up to some extent, however, I assert that there's an entire rich cannon of history of all kinds from that critical era of American history. I see all of it as under-asked currently.
I assert that these questions deserve to come up for several reasons. I believe that this is an area about which many people have a good deal of knowledge and interest. I also believe (as could be inferred from above) that it is an era rife with very important (in any sense) events, people, etc. So, the Civil War seems to me to meet every criterion for what ought to come up to me. What do you think?

MaS
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by DumbJaques »

Actually I agree with Mike's general point about this - I would also love to see more non-battle civil war era questions in general, but I understand people know less about those things. I know it's splitting hairs, but I think that number (4-6/tournament) is probably too high. If you run 12 packets, you should have (in theory) 12/12 American history. Making 25% of American history questions about the Civil War era, as important as it is, is definitely too high. I'd say keeping it at 4 (or 2/2, whatever) is reasonable, but you know, unless it's an entirely house-written affair, I think getting into these kind of things is basically impossible for editors. Sure, if I'm editing a tournament and notice that there's 0/0 or 0/1 civil war, I might quickly add another question. But when stuff is submitted, there's just so much else that everyone is scrambling to do. I tend to think the purpose of this thread is better served in a "hey, when you write history for your packets, stop neglecting the civil war period so much" than any kind of call for editors to watch it.

Also stop writing tossups on the peninsular campaign.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by theMoMA »

I just want to make it clear that there was no policy regarding Civil War history at Minnesota Open. If it was underrepresented, it was because we didn't get submissions in that area, and didn't notice the imbalance.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by cchiego »

I'm admittedly biased as a Civil War buff, but I entirely agree with Sorice's points above.

The Civil War questions that are written tend to be somewhat dull and a few even have some notable factual errors caused by people who don't know much about the Civil War. I still see too many "Shiloh" questions and for some reason Chattanooga's become a popular answer in easier sets. At MO, there was a bonus that had both "Peninsular Campaign" and "Shenandoah Valley Campaign" which are two of the most prominent campaigns in the entire war and I didn't see much else. Another TU mentioned the Silbey raid on New Mexico though, so that was pleasantly surprising, but still a single rare instance. Sorice's mark of 4-6 questions per tournament sounds fine to me, but I'd also point out it's entirely possible to tie in Civil War clues into questions about other areas like politicians, states, etc. For instance, a TU on New Orleans could easily tie in Benjamin Butler's antics there during the Civil War while you can probably tie anything relating to Southern history to the Civil War somehow.

Some possible areas where quizbowl can take the Civil War the future:
-Guerilla raiders like Bloody Bill Anderson, Quantrill, Shelby, Mosby, etc.
-Civil War events West of the Mississippi (I sent in a bonus on this for ZOT Bowl but it was deemed too difficult) other than Pea Ridge like the Red River Campaign, Price's Raid, Prairie Grove, Helena, General Order Number 11, Stand Watie, Honey Springs, etc.
-Areas in the South that actively resisted the confederacy, such as Winston County Alabama, western NC, eastern TN, etc. This is a place where much Civil War scholarship has gone lately but might be too obscure for anything but nationals level.
-Generals who don't get much love but deserve more attention/have good anecdotes about them, like Winfield Scott Hancock, George H. Thomas, Thomas Hindman, Ewell, AP Hill, etc.
-Some specific events in general like "The Mud March," "Sheridan's Ride," "The Great Locomotive Chase," or "Morgan's Raid."
-The Confederacy itself is replete with plenty of interesting TUs- I think there was one awhile ago on the "Confederate Cabinet" that, while a bit vague, was still interesting. Maybe even a "Confederate States of America" TU would be appropriate at ACF Fall level?

Anyway, these are just random ideas. I'll gladly write a Civil War theme packet or two or three if there's anyone who'd want to play on it to introduce people to some of these more overlooked aspects. And if anyone ever needs Civil War TUs for any tournament, let me know and I will provide.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by DumbJaques »

I just want to make it clear that there was no policy regarding Civil War history at Minnesota Open. If it was underrepresented, it was because we didn't get submissions in that area, and didn't notice the imbalance.
Yeah, that's basically my point. Andrew and co. had a million things on their plate to make MO as awesome as it was - I don't know how a TD could really manage to keep an awareness of that kind of stuff (I think it'd be hard enough in a completely house-written set). There will be a no tossups on the peninsular campaign policy at TIT, though.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Matt Weiner »

As always, I think finding new and interesting facts about Antietam or the Copperheads will better serve the interests of quizbowl at large than will asking about really hard stuff that only Civil War specialists know.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

My experience is that southerners write a lot of civil war questions. As Chris Chiego, George Stevens, etc. end up writing a larger and larger percentage of quizbowl's history questions, I expect that the number of civil war questions overall will increase.

I think expanding the Asian History canon is a more pressing issue than the lack of US Civil War questions in quizbowl history.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Captain Sinico »

Thanks for everyone's insights thus far. I'd like to respond.
Whig's Boson wrote:I think expanding the Asian History canon is a more pressing issue than the lack of US Civil War questions in quizbowl history.
I literally could not possibly disagree more. I think Asia, especially dynastic China and feudal Japan, are drastically overrepresented in both depth and breadth of cannon and frequency of appearance in the current state of the game (for the record, my own personal interest and knowledge are strongly with those topics.)

I also want to say I don't intend this to be directed to editors or writers alone, but to everyone. I'm not asserting there's an explicit anti-Civil War policy; I'm rather saying that there should be an explicit pro-Civil War policy - that one, as an editor, shouldn't consider a tournament finished until one has got a few Civil War questions in there. We can debate the exact number, of course, but I was under the impression that there were generally more like 3-4 American history questions per round rather than 2, as Chris asserts, so that 6 is much less than 25% of the American history.
I am saying, on the other hand, that, for whatever reasons (I have my own ideas what there are, but it's not actually important what they are,) the Civil War era doesn't seem to come up as much as it ought anymore. I say that expansion in both breadth and depth are in order, with the latter, of course, being more beneficial generally since it benefits better-known and thus more generally useful answers.

MaS
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Auks Ran Ova »

Captain Scipio wrote:
Whig's Boson wrote:I think expanding the Asian History canon is a more pressing issue than the lack of US Civil War questions in quizbowl history.
I literally could not possibly disagree more. I think Asia, especially dynastic China and feudal Japan, are drastically overrepresented in both depth and breadth of cannon and frequency of appearance in the current state of the game (for the record, my own personal interest and knowledge are strongly with those topics.)
I think a breadthwise expansion of Asian history is more desirable than writing tossups about Mitsunari Ishida or whatever. A little expansion outside of dynastic China and feudal Japan into places like Cambodia and Vietnam and older polities located therein could prove interesting.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Auroni »

I agree with Rob here... when can I see a Trung sisters tossup or one on King Harsha?
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Captain Sinico »

When the circuit knows those things well, i.e. probably never, unless you want to settle for very hard questions at very, very hard tournaments.
I also want to disagree with a literal reading of what Rob said somewhat - I think that, even all things considered, the Asian history cannon is too broad by far. I'll elaborate:
I'm not sure, but I think what Rob might have meant is that, independent of what's in the cannon now, there are nearby topics that should come up more. I'll say more directly that I strongly agree with that sentiment. However, I further assert that the Asian cannon is too broad by a good margin now so that, to expand to those worthy topics, we ought to contract some other stuff and, in fact, on balance we ought to contract a lot more stuff than we're adding, so that the cannon is, on net, narrowed. That is to say, I've accounted for a number of worthy, currently dormant topics (which I assert exist) in my assertion that the Asian cannon is too broad. You may, of course, disagree.

MaS

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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by ClemsonQB »

Whig's Boson wrote:As Chris Chiego, George Stevens, etc. end up writing a larger and larger percentage of quizbowl's history questions, I expect that the number of civil war questions overall will increase.
I don't know how accurate that is; sure I was born in SC and have lived there all my life, but sectionalism plays no part in my writing, or at least no more than the average history writer.

Also, I would like to see the Asian history canon expanded, but I'd also like to see Latin American, African, European, American and just about anything else enlarged.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by alkrav112 »

Captain Scipio wrote: the Asian cannon
blew up this thread.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by cchiego »

Matt Weiner wrote:As always, I think finding new and interesting facts about Antietam or the Copperheads will better serve the interests of quizbowl at large than will asking about really hard stuff that only Civil War specialists know.
I think that works well for ACF Fall and other more accessible tournaments, but at higher-level tournaments like MO there shouldn't be bonuses where an extremely cursory knowledge of Civil War history (Peninsular Campaign, Shenandoah Campaign) gets you 20 points. And if we have tossups on awesome but still rather obscure events like the Cod Wars, I see no reason why we can't have a few new and interesting Civil War answers in the upper-level canon.
Whig's Boson wrote:As Chris Chiego, George Stevens, etc. end up writing a larger and larger percentage of quizbowl's history questions, I expect that the number of civil war questions overall will increase.
I've only submitted one Civil War question before since I try to stick to writing on things I don't know about, but like I said I'll gladly write Civil War questions for any level tournament, anytime if people need extras.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Wall of Ham »

To go along with the Asian history talk, I think that having 3/3 European, Canadian, and Australian history while having only 1/1 World History in the ACF Distribution is a bit lopsided, especially since the 3/3 tends to be mostly european history anyway. African, Latin American, Middle East and Far East history all fall under the 1/1 World History creating only a limited amount of questions in those areas. Perhaps a 1/0 or 0/1 or 1/1 "anything goes" category can be created in the history subdistribution, similar to that in Literature or Science?
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Matt Weiner »

My general plan when assembling final packets is to always use the 1/1 US and 1/1 World, along with 2/2 of the Euro, to create the 4/4 that goes into the 20/20 packet proper. I think a guaranteed world history tossup and world history bonus in every single round is quite sufficient when compared to every other tournament, allowing for 36 world history topics to be asked in an 18-packet set.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Scipio »

I was somehow under the impression that the distribution leaned more heavily towards US than Europe; is 2/2 the standard now?

Just curious.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Captain Sinico »

Yeah; I agree with Seth here. I usually go with 2-3 Euro and 3-4 US (or 2-3 and 2-3 with some inter-locational questions.) I also agree with Barry; I think world history generally is underrepresented and that, in some ways, accentuates to me the overrepresentation of Asia.

MaS
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Matt Weiner »

The ACF guidelines request 1/1 US, 3/3 European (which includes Canada and Australia), and 1/1 World (that which is not the US, Europe, Canada, or Australia), and, as stated, 1/1, 2/2, and 1/1 of each will normally be used in the regulation portion of the packet. Other tournaments have their own rules; many independent packet-submission events just ask for 5/5 history without getting more specific. I'm not sure what NAQT's breakdown is, but eyeballing it from my experience with their packets, they probably have a higher American history percentage and a lower world history percentage than the 25% given to each in a 20/20 ACF packet.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by No Rules Westbrook »

I'm once again going to state my view that an editor shouldn't be concerned with making sure every sub-category gets covered. I don't have a problem with Sorice's point if, like Chris says, it's a general call to writers out there not to unduly neglect the Civil War era - just like we can say you shouldn't unduly neglect any area of legitimate study. But, I don't think it's an editor's job to make sure sub-categories are amply represented. If some topic is underrepresented at one tourney, maybe it will be overrepresented at another, big deal - if that causes a problem for you as a player, then you should enlarge your body of knowledge so that you're not so dependent on hitting your one or two specialty topics at an event.

Now, on to what people should write about - here's the problem: for the most part, writing history requires writing on things or people or events or places that have definite/unique/identifiable names. You can blabber all you want about what is hot or cold in academic scholarship - all that talk strikes me as masturbatory and pointless, if there isn't some of way of turning it into a feasible pyramidal tossup on some thing-with-a-name (or bonus parts on things with names). Some things just don't work well - you're not going to be able to write a deep tossup on the "Laird rams." It's tough to find that doable combination of a non-transparent answer with several buzzable clues distinguishing between differing amounts of knowledge. It seems like these threads always feature people yelling "Hey, this topic should come up - I really like it!" or "This topic is SO important, guys!" - well, that's just dandy, but you have to find something you can actually write a tossup on.

I will say that the Civil War era is nice, in that it does have a lot of personages and events askable at different levels. It's kind of like literature - there's always another battle, there's always another commander, another raid, etc. - you can just keep going to the "next thing" if it's not too hard for the given tourney.

And, that's what I do when I write - I don't really pay any attention to the time period or place or whatever - I just try to think of new and exciting things to write on. When I find one that seems reasonable, I do it. If a particular time (like the Civil War era) has been neglected - it only stands to reason that I should be more likely to think of something from that time period than from other time periods. Often, my thought process when I choose to write on something is: "I haven't heard this come up in a while" or "I haven't ever heard this important thing come up." I think that's the best way to go about writing - though, of course, if it's a lower-level event, you're probably not going to be able to find anything all that new and exciting - you'll just have to bite the bullet and bust your ass finding more clues for that dusty old Copperheads tossup.

But, here's the advice I'd give people - don't fixate on writing about one particular topic for its own sake. Rather, if you think of something that seems important and feasible and hasn't come up in a while, it's an ideal candidate for something to write on. There are plenty of sub-topics in history which have some fertile ground ready for the plowing, but it's not always as easy to find that ground as you'd think.

As for Asian history, everyone knows it's a pain in the ass. It's really hard to get away from Chinese dynasties and the like. Unless you're at the end of your rope and editing a low-level event, stop writing that Battle of Sekigahara tossup which basically dares everyone in the room to buzz with the obvious answer - sure, it could be Hakata Bay, but I bet it isn't!
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Scipio »

Wow, is it really 3/3? Interesting. I don't remember it always being like that.

No complaints; just, again, curious.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Captain Sinico »

No Rules Westbrook wrote:I'm once again going to state my view that an editor shouldn't be concerned with making sure every sub-category gets covered. I don't have a problem with Sorice's point if, like Chris says, it's a general call to writers out there not to unduly neglect the Civil War era - just like we can say you shouldn't unduly neglect any area of legitimate study. But, I don't think it's an editor's job to make sure sub-categories are amply represented.
I disagree here, too. Clearly you wouldn't agree with the rational consequences of this thesis (e.g. that an editor shouldn't be concerned if, for example, all their American history questions are on Civil War battles...) You're attempting to avoid this difficulty by saying that "sub-categories" are below notice, but you clearly can't mean the common-sense definition of that term or you have to be okay with the absurd situation above, and, even if you are, you have to know that most people will rightly not be and that you're therefore advocating editors abrogating their duty to others as an editor.
So, I ask you then, where's the line between category (which we all acknowledge must be carefully balanced) and sub-category (which you're implicitly deeming below notice?) To me, there can be no line: unless an editor careful delineates exactly what they want to come up and only allows variance within that, their tournament is on the slippery slope that leads to serious imbalance of that kind that nobody would agree with.

MaS
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Awehrman »

I have not attended many recent tournaments, but I think I can speak to this issue in a different way. As I have said before on this board, military history is becoming more and more difficult to find in academia. When it's found, it is usually presented as the "new" military history which values social and cultural analysis of war over military strategy or biography. As I see it, the specific sub-field that has taken the biggest hit from this historiographical development is the history of the US Civil War, precisely because much of the scholarship (especially popular scholarship) dealing with it has tended to be overly interested in the tactics and personalities of its leaders. For instance at Northwestern, we do not have a single faculty member who studies the Civil War, and we have no courses on the Civil War. We're not alone in that respect. We have historians of African-American history, both pre and post emanciption and those who study social and cultural aspects of nineteenth-century history more broadly. The Civil War itself is a bit of a cold subject at the moment. In survey classes it often gets caught in the crease of a two-semester course leaving it under studied. It will no doubt rise again, but I think this might explain to a degree why fewer current students are interested in writing questions on it at the moment.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by grapesmoker »

No Rules Westbrook wrote: sure, it could be Hakata Bay, but I bet it isn't!
Actually, it's Noryang Point.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Captain Sinico »

I fail to see how that fact that current work isn't being done at a high level at all occults the fact that a lot of work has already been done, for one, and that people still know a lot about this topic because it's vigorously taught at lower levels, for two. In short, even unquestioningly accepting what you say for the sake of argument, I don't think it makes any argument against this coming up: the topic remains important and well-known.

MaS
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by DumbJaques »

I think expanding the Asian History canon is a more pressing issue than the lack of US Civil War questions in quizbowl history.
I actually wanted to say what I'm about to say a year ago after Cardinal Classic when Bruce said "I suppose in retrospect Lincoln might have had greater accomplishments than appointing Gideon Welles Secretary of the Navy," but here it goes:

BRUCE4LYFE.

I understand the desire to prevent threadjacking, but I think it's a legitimate implication of this discussion. I'm sure I'll regret it come the next quizbowl basketball game. As I said, tournament editors are just plain not likely to have time to devote to making sure there are 4/4 civil war questions or whatever, so the only way I think this thread could really enact the change Mike (and to a lesser degree, myself as well) would be looking for is if it gets a few people to start writing more civil war questions in their submissions. So, I'll also speak to those people.
I agree with Rob here... when can I see a Trung sisters tossup or one on King Harsha?
Eric Mukherjee and I from time to time discuss the present state of Asian history in quizbowl, and in fact the underrepresentation of Vietnamese history was one of the subjects of a recent conversation. I mean, the answer to this question should probably be "never," and we can all talk about the things we'd like to introduce as third parts at hard tournaments this year, that's not really the issue.

I guess I'd like to hear more from Mike about what exactly he means be Asian history being overrepresented in depth and breadth - that is, I don't quite get the specifics of it, so I'm not sure if I agree or disagree. As someone who studies Asian history, I think feudal Japan is kind of amusingly overrepresented, something that believe it or not I credit in a not insignificant part to video games creating situations where players have often heard these names before. Post 1800 Japanese history is really underrepresented in terms of breadth, but then, finding a good way to ask about it in quizbowl is difficult and leads to abortions like the Japanese fascists questions or bonuses that have random third parts like "name this 20th century prime minister," and even having taken two classes on that period I find myself struggling to come up with answers for Katsura, Saionji, or Yoshida when they come up for the first time in quizbowl. Attempts to bridge the gap, like my own tossup on the siege of port Arthur at Feuerbach that essentially tried to use mostly social history clues, often end up with confusing answer lines that make the clues semi-unbuzzable for the approximately 2-5 people who even know them.

I actually have a lot more to say about this, and maybe when this wraps up I'll start an Asian history thread or something else that will be such a productive use of all of our time (lets do it Eric). My point in posting here is that I think there's a commonality between some of Mike's complaints about Asian history and his call for remedy about civil war questions. If I'm following stuff correctly, a lot of people are just sick of the tossups on the peninsular campaign, the battle of shiloh, playing confederate military figure bingo, etc. Writing new things about these answers is a solution, but at this point it's tremendously difficult - I think, much more difficult than writing better tossups on past answers in Asian history. The other option is to write questions on new civil war era things, which I'd wager is pretty much the same as writing new Asian history questions (Lin Zexu, anyone), although the percentages for people having heard of the answers is probably a little higher.

In any event it's not really desirable, and I feel like if there's an explicit or implicit resolution to create a civil war quota, it's going to lead to one of those two situations annoying people. Of course, this is all heavily dependent on another point of contention - what percentage of the history distribution should be made up by American history. I didn't know people were under the impression/in favor of it being more than 1/1; it seems to me that with 4/4 history, you really ought to have at least 1/1 world (the world is a big place), and assuredly more than 1/1 Europe ("Europe" covering much of ancient history, all European history, and a lot of the Mediterranean stuff that might go either way). What we call European history in a qb sense absolutely dwarfs American history, both in terms of the available canon topics and in a broader historical sense. I definitely think that, as we play quizbowl in America, American history (and literature) should get its 1/1, but pushing it to 2/2 would make it equal to the world and "European" distributions combined. Even at 1/2 or 2/1 it seems high within that subdistribution.

I'm certainly interested to debate this last point, but if we are talking about 1/1 american history per packet and, say, a 15 packet set, how much Civil War would Mike like to see in that case? Is the debate about American history's distribution a more significant issue for anyone? Can we please come up with a shorthand term referring to "one bonus or one tossup in a distribution," because I'm tired of having to write "0/1 or 1/0" and want those collective 28 seconds of my life back?
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by DumbJaques »

I fail to see how that fact that current work isn't being done at a high level at all occults the fact that a lot of work has already been done, for one, and that people still know a lot about this topic because it's vigorously taught at lower levels, for two. In short, even unquestioningly accepting what you say for the sake of argument, I don't think it makes any argument against this coming up: the topic remains important and well-known.
I'm not sure, but I thought what Andy was saying is that the chain goes
1) In the field of history, there's a general movement against military history scholarship that occurred over the past few decades/is continuing to go on
2) As a result of that, the bulk of civil war scholarship (which, by mass, is heavily concerned with military stuff) is emphasized less.
3) There are fewer classes available now on the civil war at many universities (this is also true at Maryland, where our one civil war class specifically states that it will not talk about battles).
4) The pool of question writers are exposed less to that period of history in class.

So, if the point is that stuff beyond the high school civil war education isn't really taught that much now, I think it's reasonable to posit that such a thing plays a roll (along with lots of other stuff) in the frequency of civil war quizbowl questions. I don't think this provides an argument against writing such questions. As Mike notes, people generally receive a lot of instruction on the period in high school, and indeed I'd bet civil war battle tossups are some of the best-converted among new players. But it might help explain why you're getting fewer tossups on things of secondary importance in the civil war era - if there's not much of this going on in any classes, it contributes to the difficulty of finding a non-tired answer choice that is still interesting and accessible to a decent portion of a field. Although, I'd assume most people know about the civil war era from reading done outside of a class setting anyway, so that might be a moot point.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Awehrman »

Of course there has been lots of work done on the subject. I think I've heard it argued that there are more books written on the US Civil War than all other books on US History combined. It will always be among the most popular topics of history buffs. I'm just saying that the current coolness of the subject in college curricula and history departments might be playing a role in its perceived unpopularity in packets. Also, I'm not sure where you are getting that it is "vigorously taught" at lower levels. It is certainly covered in all levels of American history, but I wouldn't say it is any more vigorous than any other major subject in American history. I'd say that the causes and the results of the war are covered far more extensively than the war itself. That said, I am not at all suggesting that it not be written about. I'm always for more American history regardless of the specific subject. I'm just commenting on why you may be seeing less Civil War history in submitted packets.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Theory Of The Leisure Flask »

Knowledge and interest in the Civil War is not limited to southerners. One of my old teammates at Swat had very thorough knowledge of (and interest in) the war, but was from New York and in fact actively hated the South. I personally have no opinion regarding the Civil War questions (I suck at all history), though the 3/3 emphasis on Europe does seem a bit high IMO.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

I reiterate my opposition to basing quizbowl history on what is taught by college history departments.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Sima Guang Hater »

grapesmoker wrote:
No Rules Westbrook wrote: sure, it could be Hakata Bay, but I bet it isn't!

Actually, it's Noryang Point.
But why not? I don't want to fall into the trap Ryan suggested and simply yell about how these things are important, but I would wager that said battles had as much influence on global geopolitics or whatever as Pride's Purge or the Whiskey Rebellion or what-have-you. One of the things I tried to do with EFT was introduce these things in a low-level way; clues at easier and widely-played tournaments like EFT will invariably make their way into 3rd parts of bonuses and middle clues in tossups, according to the ladder theory of quizbowl. There's no reason we can't simply begin with tossups on things like "Thailand" or "Vietnam" and then branch out.

As an example, consider the Satsuma Rebellion. In 2006, I distinctly remember a question on the Meiji restoration that lead in with it. Then, the rebellion itself was a tossup at ACF nationals 2007, and at Chicago Open 2008, there was a tossup on its leader. In between all of these, it certainly came up as a clue or bonus part at regular difficulty tournaments (I think at TIT2008, though I might be mistaken). The FICHTE tossup on Ayyuthaya may have created a similar trend (as it came up in an MO bonus, and its not something I remember hearing about with any frequency prior to that). If its leads to tossups on Thaksin the Great so be it. There are areas of history that don't get much play in quizbowl (or video games/popular media, as Chris pointed out), especially in non-China non-Japan Asian countries and some areas of Africa and South America, but are things worth learning about simply because they exist, are interesting, and have guided the course of human events. I would call for a push away from questions about things that can be learned from Dynasty Warriors and historical RPGs (as I wave goodbye to at least 50% of my ppg), like Southeast Asia, Oceania, elements of Indian history that don't get much play, etc. And since we have a controlled mechanism for introducing these things to the canon without making tournaments too difficult, I see no reason why we shouldn't.

Another sidenote: I disagree with Chris' and Mike's stance on dynasty questions, but I agree that they aren't often written very well. Dynasties are a great way to introduce important political, military, and social information in a vector that is palatable to all classes of players; the problem is that they often devolve into emperor lists, dates, and clues about the goddamn Grand Canal.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Wall of Ham »

In terms of the sub-subdistribution in World History, I'd argue that Asian history is overrepresented. Most tournaments do okay in terms of dividing world history into its African/Latin American/Middle East/Subcontinent/Far East components, but whenever there is an imbalance in this area, it tends to skew in the Far East history direction. Of course, there is a lot of information in all these histories that can be used for canon expansion. I also think that the Chinese-Japanese-Indian history question ratio should be equal (1 to 1 to 1), but lately I've noticed a lot more Chinese and Japanese history than Indian history questions.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Auroni »

DumbJaques wrote:
I think expanding the Asian History canon is a more pressing issue than the lack of US Civil War questions in quizbowl history.
(Lin Zexu, anyone)
YES


to be serious, yeah, I do think that a lot of the same civil war things get tossed up (and the same feudal japanese things,too), but the room for novelty is a bit limited since the new things would rightfully belong at really really hard tournaments.

(I'm going to talk about asian history for a second, due to my unfamiliarity with deeper Civil War stuff)

At the same time, we could go for the small amount of fringe things that people do know (like the Hongwu or Yongle emperors, or Qianlong) and try to eke one or two SE Asian tossups that aren't "angkor", "srivijaya", etc. I find that Indian history remains largely untapped as a wellspring for questions
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by No Rules Westbrook »

In response to Mike - there has to be some demarcation between "category" and "sub-category." Your argument has a slippery slope too - editors can't be concerned with exceedingly minor distributional things, like whether a tournament has enough questions on the Eisenhower administration. We can argue about where the demarcation should be, but it has to be somewhere.

For purposes of practicality, I think the "categories" should be the things that are specified in most tournament announcments which set out a distribution for an event. For history, categories might include "American history"/"world history"/"european history"/"ancient history." For RMP, the categories are probably just "religion"/"myth"/"philosophy". For social science, I can see the categories being "economics"/"anthropology"/"psychology"/"sociology"/"linguistics" or something like that.

Now, I can see an editor deciding to use a good Civil War-era question instead of another good submitted question because he realizes that the Civil War-era has been under-represented in the tourney to that point. I can see an editor not using a certain question because there's been a lot of similar questions already submitted. And, when an editor does write questions, I think he should make a reasonable effort to pick sub-categories which haven't appeared much in the submissions - to create a feeling of balance. But, I don't think that an editor has an "affirmative duty" to worry about things like whether there are enough Civil War questions. I think we should just accept that variance is a part of the game.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by theMoMA »

3/3 European History seems like too much. I've always been a fan of having 4/4 of each of the big three categories strictly portioned out, and 1/1 being "choice." This leaves the kind of leeway that I think is necessary in these categories. The occasional packet will have 2/1 or 1/2 American or World history, and I think that's fine.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by No Rules Westbrook »

I agree with Andrew about having some reasonable leeway built in. Usually - I go 1/1 American, 2/2 European (including ancient), and 1/1 World - but there can be some shift to go with a little more American or World sometimes. I can see world history being favored a little more at hard tournaments, since the canon is kind of small at low levels.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by cvdwightw »

I think what Mike's saying is that the Civil War is an important part of US History and it has been showing up far less than it should. Now, maybe that's due to inherent variation, but the fact that it's been happening for a while indicates that there's probably some systemic bias against people writing Civil War questions (because it's too easy, because it only shows up in terrible tossups at UTC tournaments, because no one studies it anymore, whatever the assumed reason) and that could easily be corrected. Like, I haven't heard questions on Knut Hamsun or Ole Rolvaag in a regular tournament in a while, not that I'd get them, and maybe I'm going to the wrong tournaments, but those are two less-notable authors in a fairly large "European non-British" pool, so it makes sense that there's quite a bit of variation as to whether they come up. "The Civil War" is five important years of American history chock full of things with names and so should be coming up at a much higher frequency.

By the way, Chris, I don't have the submitted packet in front of me, but I'm pretty sure that Pea Ridge was the easy part of your bonus. I'd wager more novices could pull Jesse James than Pea Ridge. Also, there were no Chinese dynasty questions in ZOT Bowl (as people keep referring to it) because I don't think a good Chinese dynasty question can be written, and I wasn't going to waste time trying to make them good (plus, only like 1 tossup and 1 bonus on Chinese dynasties got submitted).

I agree that there are all sorts of fun and interesting things that don't show up enough, but the obvious thing to do is to write on those things so that they do show up. The hard parts of open/Nationals bonuses and post-Nationals tournaments are the place to do these things.

I too would advocate for a loosening of the history restrictions. 1/1 American, 1/1 World, 2/2 European (max 1 question ancient), 1/1 Your Choice (Canadian, Australian, or more of the three above).
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Captain Sinico »

I'd like to respond to several things. First of all,
No Rules Westbrook wrote:...I don't think that an editor has an "affirmative duty" to worry about things like whether there are enough Civil War questions. I think we should just accept that variance is a part of the game.
Okay. So how, then, do we avoid the situation in which every American history question is on the Civil War (or every myth bonus is Norse or every music tossup is on a Beethoven symphony?) Your argument as it stands would say "Just suck it up: it's okay with me and should be with you, too." But that doesn't hold water: imbalance of that kind is not okay with the players for whom the tournaments are edited. The editor's duty is to them, so "affirmatively" balancing is trivially part of it.
Also,
No Rules Westbrook wrote:Your argument has a slippery slope too - editors can't be concerned with exceedingly minor distributional things, like whether a tournament has enough questions on the Eisenhower administration. We can argue about where the demarcation should be, but it has to be somewhere.
This is incorrect: my argument does not admit such a slippery slope; your charge that it does leads me to believe you haven't understood it, so I'll try again. My argument is precisely that we have to fix in advance the things we think are important as editors. This is necessary to avoid both the issue you're concerned with (immaterial/impractical requirements) and also the issue of imbalance through underrepresentation (what I was initially concerned with.)
Conversely, as I read it, your argument is that it is not necessary to fix those things because there are some natural, obvious "categories" that must be balanced and anything finer than those ("sub-categories") is beyond the pale because that's just the way it is. However, this is a poor argument: for one, my experience dictates that there are no such natural categories; for two, you have established no compelling reason why we should not have finer requirements than these categories even if they did exist (you have essentially made the quizbowl topic balance Thrasymachus argument: players get what they get and they can go to the wall if they don't like it;) and, for three, it still admits the precise problem above, i.e. there's no reason the categories won't be such that what we all acknowledge to be travesties will occur.

In response to Chris, I disagree with your contention:
DumbJacques wrote:...tournament editors are just plain not likely to have time to devote to making sure there are 4/4 civil war questions or whatever...
On the contrary: editors will, in fact, make sure there are questions touching certain areas that they feel are important. Saying "this isn't going to happen" is wrong-headed: it's not only possible, but it also already happens routinely for many other areas. I'm just saying that either people don't think there ought to be Civil War questions (which is fine if they do: I disagree strongly,) or this is an area where this isn't happening now and I think it ought to.
Further, you're also making a normative observation where a positive one is called for. The fact, for example, that editors won't have time to eliminate every factual error doesn't mean we don't require packets to be factually correct. The precise purpose here is to set up a proscriptive goal that people can aim at.
In response to Chris' question,
DumbJacques wrote:1/1 american history per packet and, say, a 15 packet set, how much Civil War would Mike like to see in that case?
I'd say, with 30 American history questions, I'd like to see probably 3-5 Civil War questions (note that that both gives the upper and lower bounds, it's not a range for the lower bound.)

Finally, regarding Asian history, I think the following list speaks volumes in favor of what I was saying:
jpn wrote:Trung sisters
jpn wrote:King Harsha
No Rules Westbrook wrote:Hakata Bay
grapesmoker wrote:Noryang Point
DumbJacques wrote:Katsura
DumbJacques wrote:Saionji
DumbJacques wrote:Yoshida
DumbJacques wrote:Lin Zexu
This is the list of proposed novel Asian history answers from this American Civil War thread (both serious and semi-jesting.) My considered judgment is that every single answer in that list is too difficult for anything but a very hard part of a bonus (certainly too hard for a tossup) at anything easier than nationals and probably always will be - players just aren't going to know this stuff (and please note that I'm not saying I don't know it and even less that I'm uninterested in it personally.) Certainly some of you will think I'm wrong about some of these answers, but I doubt anyone will deny the thrust of this argument. This is precisely what I mean when I say the cannon is too broad.
On the other hand, Eric's point that we can ask tossups, even at very low levels, on "Vietnam" or "Thailand" (or even "India") using the vast untapped resources of these lands' histories is very apropos. (Incidentally, Eric, I'm not in the camp that hates Chinese dynasty questions, for the record.)
To sum that up, If you want to circle-jerk about what you're going to write about at the next post-nationals-difficulty Asian history tournament, that's fine with me. I wish you'd do it elsewhere, though, as answers of this difficulty are not of interest to quizbowl generally and untapped Asian history answers have little to do with the purpose of this thread.

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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by cchiego »

cvdwightw wrote:By the way, Chris, I don't have the submitted packet in front of me, but I'm pretty sure that Pea Ridge was the easy part of your bonus.
Here's what I wrote, and I think it's pretty illustrative of what I mean by integrating Civil War clues without other bits of knowledge (note I wrote this under the "Your Choice" part of the distribution:

Answer the following questions about the most overlooked topic in quizbowl, the Trans-Mississippi Theatre of the U.S. Civil War:
[10] This 1864 campaign along a namesake river in Louisiana by Gen. Banks attempted to capture Shreveport but turned into a disaster when Gen. Taylor’s outnumbered forces suddenly counterattacked and the Union fleet was nearly trapped by rapidly falling water levels.
Answer: Red River Campaign
[10] Confederate raider William Quantrill brutally sacked this Kansas abolitionist hotspot, nearly bagging Senator Jim Lane and killing over 160 men in the summer of 1863. It later became a university town.
Answer: Lawrence
[10] Perhaps the decisive battle in the Trans-Missippi theatre came when Union General Samuel Curtis defeated Confederate General Earl Van Dorn at this March 1862 battle at the namesake northern Arkansas location, thus thwarting Confederate ambitions to reconquer Missouri.
Answer: Pea Ridge (Accept: Elkhorn Tavern).

I think Pea Ridge is actually the hardest part because if you know anything about Louisiana geography you know about the Red River and if you know anything about Kansas university towns you know Lawrence, but I add the Civil War context as well as some interesting clues. Ideally this is the way to introduce people to Civil War knowledge that might be outside most of the canon.

I did appreciate that you redid the bonus to mention Bloody Bill Anderson, but Centralia's also a pretty hard answer as well.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by No Rules Westbrook »

Well, I don't want to pursue this pedantic argument with Mike over what qualify as categories and sub-categories, it's not that important. But, it is kind of silly to make an argument based upon a scenario that has no earthly chance of happening - i.e. that every submitted tossup will be on one particular topic, leaving the moderator no choice but to use only tossups on that topic.

That said, the point Mike makes about Asian history is pretty unfair. I don't think anyone proposes any of those listed things as possible answers for anything but an uber-hard event (except maybe Hakata Bay) - all of those ideas were brought up in jest. I'm sure many of us could come up with better proposed answers for new/exciting Asian history stuff if we wanted to. Don't get me wrong, I'm on your side generally - I think the Civil War era is a good place to explore new material. And, I agree that looking to what university classes teach is a fool's errand when it comes to history - and other subjects too, pretty much, but we're talking history here.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

To Chris - I don't think Red River is any kind of easy part to people who don't know what Louisiana rivers run where, since there is obviously also the Sabine that's famous and the Mississippi, that I think are more well known. In general though, I don't think that bonus has very defined easy, medium, and hard parts, since they all kind of seem interchangable depending on who you ask (like, I would pull Lawrence because I used to live in Kansas and had a lot of state history education, and Pea Ridge because I had some ancestor who fought there, but those aren't the kinds of reasons many people answer bonuses, and it is likely that to someone who's been around Louisiana that the Red River thing is figure-outable but potentially not the others). Anyway, enough criticism.
I agree that the civil war probably deserves some more love than its getting, and perhaps with this thread now some people will be prompted to write some more, but it seems to me if we are going to set a target amount of Civil War questions per tournament, that we need to set targets for various other important events as well (like the Cold War, the American Revolution and colonial period, etc.) and I'm not sure doing that is totally a worthwhile venture as opposed to making sure a tournament's questions are well edited and aren't generally too clumped in one or two particular subdistributions. Once that is taken care of, I think then it would be perfectly fine to try and set some goals for specific sub-distros. I fully admit, I haven't edited a college tournament and will probably have better insight on this once I try my hand at it.
I'm genuinely curious, Mike, what other sub-categories you think we should put more defined goals for (if any) within history or elsewhere?
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Captain Sinico »

Okay, but you're wrong about it having no chance of happening. The whole point of this was that the Civil War used to come up way too much (like, 1 question a round.) Thus, that's not only realistic, but actually happened!
Also, even if it hadn't happened many, many times in the past, you have to acknowledge that it's definitely possible that tournaments not actively balanced will have some gross imbalance. Precisely how probable it is is beside the point, but I think it's more probable than you realize. Anyway, the fact that it's possible is a very strong argument for at least considering the balance of your tournament and trying to actively balance it if you find it unacceptable and one against just playing the percentages, hoping that it's already balanced.

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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Captain Sinico »

Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote:...I'm not sure doing that is totally a worthwhile venture as opposed to making sure a tournament's questions are well edited and aren't generally too clumped in one or two particular subdistributions. Once that is taken care of, I think then it would be perfectly fine to try and set some goals for specific sub-distros.
You're verging on posing an irrelevant alternative there. That said, I agree with the gist of your point: of course having good questions is the most important thing in general. Having balance is also important, but somewhat less important. However, I don't think those ends are mutually exclusive whatsoever.
Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote:I'm genuinely curious, Mike, what other sub-categories you think we should put more defined goals for (if any) within history or elsewhere?
That's a very good question, but which I mean I'm honestly not sure. I think history's good, by and large; my biggest beefs are the two I've raised in this thread (i.e. Asia, especially feudal Japan and dynastic China, is overemphasized in breadth, depth, and frequency; the Civil War is conversely underemphasized in the same ways.) What do you think?

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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Mike Bentley »

Some random thoughts on things discussed in this thread:

3/3 European History out of 5/5 Total History submitted seems like a lot to me. I like to have the 4/4 history fall along the lines of 1/1 American, 1/1 European, 1/1 World and 1/1 Ancient/Choice.

In regards to the argument about the Civil War not being studied at high levels (and other favorite quizbowl history topics like monarchs and battles), I agree partially but I don't think there's a solution to remedy this discrepancy. Sure, occasionally you'll see a good social history (which I'll define as being all anti-dead white men and battles history) tossup, and more likely a good social history bonus, but these are still in the minority of all social history questions. For example, pretty much all of the social history in Bruce's tournament was bad. They were either transparent, filled with difficulty cliffs or on pretty ridiculous answers. The tournament probably would have been better off without these questions.

I've taken several classes that could be counted as social history and very few topics from these courses could be converted into good quizbowl tossups. A class on Latin American social history from 1500-1750 had me reading mainly about the roles of women and Indians during this time period. In the 4-5 books I read for the class, I don't think I could produce more than a handful of acceptable tossups on the subjects they covered. For instance, do people really want to hear a tossup on "convents", one of the most important institutions in Peru during this time period? Or the Pulque Revolution in 1650(?) in Mexico? These things lack good names, distinguishing clues, and are hard to study for. Instead, I'd be more likely to write tossups on the aspects of the class that are more removed from social history because they make better questions, such as a question on Tupac Amaru.

The two classes I've taken on African American history that focused heavily on social issues also don't lend very well to social history tossups. While I could pretty easily write tossups on people mentioned in these classes, like Malcolm X, Bayard Rustin, etc., it's a lot harder to capture stuff like the Great Migration or the housing struggles faced by African Americans throughout the 20th century. I'm sure if I worked for it I could write a tossup on Chicago that talked a lot about the Great Migration or Lyndon Johnson which talked about his housing reform, but that's pretty much the limit of the easy examples I can think of.

In summary, while not every social history question is by definition bad, they're a lot harder to come up with ideas for and much harder to execute. Because it's harder for people to study for these questions, they tend to have difficulty cliffs, and because they're hard to write they're often transparent.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Important Bird Area »

No Rules Westbrook wrote:looking to what university classes teach is a fool's errand when it comes to history
Not sure what Ryan actually meant here, but I disagree with the quoted statement.

University classes (in history or anything else) are an excellent source of new and interesting topics. If you're looking to expand the canon for that third bonus part or Chicago Open tossup, then, yes, looking around and seeing "this text is regularly taught in undergraduate classes on the social history of whatever" is useful because it lets you know that someone, somewhere, is probably able to convert it.

The argument fails, of course, when used in reverse, in the form "Well-known subject X, such as Civil War battle tactics, is rarely taught in college classes, therefore we should ask less of it in quizbowl."

Also: anyone who thinks social history and battlefield history are mutually exclusive has obviously never taken my class.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by grapesmoker »

I usually agree with Mike, but not this time. That is, I obviously don't disagree with his points about the necessity for balance, but like Ryan, I question the wisdom of breaking the sub-distributions down even further. I don't see the need to to specify that a given tournament should have some number of Civil War questions or whatever; that seems pointlessly nitpicky to me. As for the argument about "natural" categories, I don't see the point. We have a certain distribution that we enforce in packets; whatever the justification for that distribution, it is widely accepted, so for all intents and purposes, the primary divisions of the packet are the most important categories. The sub-categories are likewise explicitly specified, and they encompass a broad range of possible answers; subdividing those sub-categories even further isn't going to yield any benefit that I can see.

Also, Mike seems to be implying that overrepresentation is an equivalent problem to underrepresentation, but I don't think that's necessarily the case. Obviously, no one would be happy with a set in which the American history distribution was all Civil War. But that's not the same as not having the Civil War represented in a set, since the set of possible answers in the category of American history is so large that one could very plausibly construct a diverse tournament which represented most areas of American history and yet did not represent the Civil War. And that's ok, because not having an explicit requirement that this or that specific thing be represented in a set leaves editors with the flexibility to insert interesting material as they see fit, so long as some reasonable measures to diversify the answer space are taken.

I don't think that there's any explicit reaction against Civil War questions that's going on. It's just that people are interested in some other things right now, and maybe they should write more about the Civil War, but I don't see any duty on the part of editors to ensure a Civil War question in every set. Of course, each editor is free to impose his or her own agenda on a tournament.
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Re: Civil War Questions

Post by Scipio »

Also: anyone who thinks social history and battlefield history are mutually exclusive has obviously never taken my class.
Nor mine.
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