What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) history?

What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) history?

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:39 am

Hi folks!

First of all, thanks again for playing and I hope you enjoyed Regionals! I've been writing and editing history questions for some time, and I personally would consider this one of my best efforts yet for history (along with WAO and SHEIKH) thanks in no small part to a ton of excellent feedback from Auroni.

I think you all figured this out playing Regionals, but one of my goals with this tournament was to "push" the history category a bit. Perhaps this was not the wisest / a bit selfish, but I thought ACF Regionals would offer a pretty good platform for introducing some new types of question / pushing such question types a bit more aggressively for a wider audience, but in an accessible way. Previous tournaments that have done this have generally had a smaller audience.

I did this mostly through the "grab bag" history category - the distribution I've used for tournaments I've edited has usually included one of these. I owe this idea to Marshall Steinbaum, whose distribution for Cane Ridge Revival pioneered the idea of trimming Continental Euro to make room for more archaeology and historiography. Below can be found a description of what was in this category:

Main Discussion Thread wrote:In the "grab bag" history category there was 3/1 historiography (American Revolution, Incas, Germany, history from below / people's / Canada), 3/2 archaeology (Shi Huangdi's tomb, Turkey, ships, Balearic Islands / Sardinia / graves, Lascaux Caves / hunting (and gathering) / aurochs), 6/6 British/Commonwealth history, and 3/6 Ancient Near East/Classical History. I plopped in historiography and other sorts of clues throughout the distribution, so perhaps this contributed to impressions of its overabundance, but the "pure" historiography distribution was quite small. Most of the "pure" historio / archaeo questions were derived directly from submissions, and I was quite pleased with those particular submissions in general - though the Germany question was originally a submission on Leopold von Ranke, a very important figure who is nonetheless far beyond the pale for a Regionals tossup.


A list of questions / discussion points:

- What did people think of having more secondary content in general? I understand that this stuff is often less accessible than raw facts (you can't always go on Wikipedia and find out what the major studies of a particular conflict are) but there is a real audience of people who engage with popular histories, public intellectuals, biographies, etc.
- What did people think of archaeology as presented in this tournament? I tried to steer things away from questions asking about specific archaeologists, who would probably be a challenge to ask about (as quizbowl seems to mainly be familiar with Flinders Petrie, Heinrich Schliemann, and Leonard Woolley) and towards iconic sites and general, important concepts, which I thought people would be more likely to know and be engaged by. A special shoutout to Waterloo and JHU D for submitting those questions on ships and Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum - you brought a big smile to my face :grin:
- How did people think of this tournament's iteration of "using simple answers to explore new material?" One way I've enjoyed doing this is writing a tossup about a geographical feature and its importance in history or incidents relevant to it - Kenji did this with his excellent tossup on the Baltic Sea. I tried to do the same with my Senegal River question and it looks like it didn't play out so well as it seems that most gets on that question came after negs - I personally wonder how much of that is due to awareness of the existence of a Senegal River.
- What did people think about a reduced focused on Named Things / Hard People and the use of a lot of fairly simple answers as hard parts? A specific example might be the bonus part on gates which was originally submitted on the Xuanwu Gate Incident. I changed that because I find that these names often aren't nearly as reified in books (though I do think I've seen that term in a book before) and using a simpler answer would allow asking about more things than just that one event. Antoher example (this one an editor question) might be using an answer of "The Raj" to ask about the License Raj and also social/economic policies in British India.
- Did people feel particularly challenged by any of these approaches, and might this affect the perception of the set's difficulty?

I personally think the more "pure" historiography oriented tossups didn't play out that well - the American Revolution tossup (lightly edited from a Yale submission) didn't get a ton of buzzes on the early clues except on Mercy Otis Warren, who I swapped with the following clue in the iteration of the set played at the UK. I'll probably avoid having questions that dense in historiography

Finally, I'd like to apologize for two things:

1) The variance in the US history bonuseswhich I thought was excessive when I saw it play out. I took AP World and AP European history, but not AP US history, and so my US history knowledge is very much informed by random personal interests / things I've just happened to encounter in my life. Between that and not studying US history as much for quizbowl, it's my weakest history area. I've made it a personal goal this year to read and learn a lot more about US history, and hopefully my future efforts will be a bit more consistent. Nonetheless, I do hope that I delivered some fresh content - i.e. rather than write another tossup on Irish immigrants or the March on Washington, I decided to reach for Armenians and the Million Man March instead to fill some gaps in the submissions - and that these were perhaps more difficult, but nonetheless engaging, along with the raft of submissions I had the privilege of including in the tournament.

2) Junking so many people's world history tossup submissions. In the final analysis, a majority of the world history tossups were editor questions written from scratch. I did this because many of the submissions just didn't fit my vision of what I wanted to do with the tournament's world history: use a lot of simple answers that a wide audience could buzz on, with a few choice tougher ones, but hitting on most of the world fairly evenly (relative to the amount of history there is in each part) and exposing people to cool new topics in the process. To take one example, three of the submitted packets that got used in the end originally had questions on African dictators. I used just one of these (Idi Amin) because I wanted people to learn more about other African history topics. Meanwhile, there were no Japanese or Korean history tossups submitted in the packets we used, so I wrote one from scratch (shoguns) because "shadow shoguns" and "barbarian-subduing generalissimo" were far too cool not to ask about.
Last edited by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea on Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby Æthelred the Unready Steady Cook » Thu Feb 01, 2018 9:08 am

I liked most of the history in this tournament and I didn't think there was much to complain about. I didn't like the tossup on "beys" because I think that a lot of the clues ended up being contrived but I recognise that a lot of those things are hard to ask about so I praise the intent. I think the giveaway indicated that the title doesn't carry a lot of meaning however and I wonder if you would tossup margraves in the Euro-history in the same way.

I think the historiography was pretty good but I will say that it is probably one of those areas where the buzz points are going to be messy. I know, for example, that people who have done history degrees are very likely to know about von Ranke but people who haven't aren't. I understand that a lot of people who aren't academic historians but who buzz on history from general knowledge hate these questions for personal and philosophical reasons. I think the solution is to include different sorts of historiography clues, both as opening lines in common links and as tossups in themselves.

As I have stated before I think people who buzz on history should recognise that 4/4 is quite a lot and be willing to accept archaeology and historiography into this distro. I thought it did a good job of writing tossups which I didn't feel like I had heard before in most cases which is a good thing.

I am happy to go through and give a blow by blow of tossups if people want but I don't think it really needs to be done.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby The Abydos Helicopter » Thu Feb 01, 2018 11:24 am

Æthelred the Unready Steady Cook wrote:I liked most of the history in this tournament and I didn't think there was much to complain about. I didn't like the tossup on "beys" because I think that a lot of the clues ended up being contrived but I recognise that a lot of those things are hard to ask about so I praise the intent. I think the giveaway indicated that the title doesn't carry a lot of meaning however and I wonder if you would tossup margraves in the Euro-history in the same way.

I think the historiography was pretty good but I will say that it is probably one of those areas where the buzz points are going to be messy. I know, for example, that people who have done history degrees are very likely to know about von Ranke but people who haven't aren't. I understand that a lot of people who aren't academic historians but who buzz on history from general knowledge hate these questions for personal and philosophical reasons. I think the solution is to include different sorts of historiography clues, both as opening lines in common links and as tossups in themselves.

As I have stated before I think people who buzz on history should recognise that 4/4 is quite a lot and be willing to accept archaeology and historiography into this distro. I thought it did a good job of writing tossups which I didn't feel like I had heard before in most cases which is a good thing.

I am happy to go through and give a blow by blow of tossups if people want but I don't think it really needs to be done.


What Daoud said, for the most part. I am particularly a fan of "What did people think about a reduced focused on Named Things / Hard People and the use of a lot of fairly simple answers as hard parts?" as a way of writing questions, and would like to see more of these in the future.

Two minor quibbles that come to mind: Prora is probably more famous than it should be because it's a wonder in Civilisation 5; I would imagine that every single UK room buzzed right after Mary Rose - I guess there's a question to be asked about writing questions like this in the light of a healthy UK circuit, which I don't know the answer to?
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:20 pm

'
Æthelred the Unready Steady Cook wrote:I liked most of the history in this tournament and I didn't think there was much to complain about. I didn't like the tossup on "beys" because I think that a lot of the clues ended up being contrived but I recognise that a lot of those things are hard to ask about so I praise the intent. I think the giveaway indicated that the title doesn't carry a lot of meaning however and I wonder if you would tossup margraves in the Euro-history in the same way.


Thanks for giving me ideas about margraves :party: Frankly, the (admittedly not amazingly informed) impression I get is that the title didn't have a completely consistent meaning across the years. For this reason, I chose to aim the question mostly at the medieval era, where the idea of "bey" as a term for "chief" or "lord" seemed fairly consistent - though I did want to convey the idea that this echoed throughout the centuries.

As for Briticization, I'll admit that I aimed this at an American audience. If asked for a Briticization, I would happily have handed off some potentially offending content to tweak for difficulty and probably would have cut the US history to EFT level or so.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby The Abydos Helicopter » Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:29 pm

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:
As for Briticization, I'll admit that I aimed this at an American audience. If asked for a Briticization, I would happily have handed off some potentially offending content to tweak for difficulty and probably would have cut the US history to EFT level or so.


Sorry, I should have been clearer - I don't think Regs should be Briticized, especially as it's a qualification tournament. More whether, when writing a tossup on e.g. archaeological ships, one should avoid British content that is very easy here, and swap in something that is more equivalently difficult in both the US and UK? In other words, it's fine that there's an Attlee government or similar question each tournament that gets an early buzz over here, but if writing a common link or similar tossup, consider how it might play at all sites. I shouldn't have even called this a quibble in the first post, more a question that I'm pondering.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby ErikC » Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:46 pm

I also appreciated the focus on simple answer lines instead of Named Things and dictatorbowl. I prefer these questions over Named Things because they allow for much more diversity in why you would know a clue, and also shifts the focus away from Big Event history. Tossups on things like the shogun or banners encourage learning about more than just leaders and wars, and instead on historical societies. These answerlines will also generally have more information to clue than a Named Thing that came up a few years ago at the previous Regionals and probably has a limited amount of possible clues. Another benefit I would speculate about these kinds of questions give is that is easier for new players to be confident to buzz with simpler answerlines while testing for deeper knowledge than easier tournaments. This is preferable from harder questions about well-known people like Peter the Great because those questions don't encourage people to broaden their horizons.

(By the way, the ships question was in Waterloo's pack, not Carleton's).

More whether, when writing a tossup on e.g. archaeological ships, one should avoid British content that is very easy here, and swap in something that is more equivalently difficult in both the US and UK


I hadn't really thought of that when writing the question. The original question started with a Roman clue that probably was too similar to a question written for Mysterium recently that I had forgotten about.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:52 pm

ErikC wrote:
(By the way, the ships question was in Waterloo's pack, not Carleton's).

...

I hadn't really thought of that when writing the question. The original question started with a Roman clue that probably was too similar to a question written for Mysterium recently that I had forgotten about.


Fixed and acknowledged the first bit in my post!

As for 2 - yes, the Nemi ships have come up several times, so I didn't think they would make a particularly great leadin. Keeping in the ancient vein, I instead reached for a cool discovery that provided some insights into early Germanic societies.

I would have to partially disagree with the bit about "this is preferable to deep questions on well-known people." Auroni did intend for this tournament to actively try to introduce less experienced players to some tougher content that they might encounter at higher levels, so the use of simple answers to test a swathe of this harder knowledge did seem to fit this goal. However, I do think some of those "deep tossups on important names / people" are still useful, and would even suggest that I used a few myself (Idi Amin and Khmer Rouge come to mind).

My main goal when it comes to history is to present people with a wide variety of topics - some people love social history, some people love academic history, some people love institutions, some people love Great Men, some people love [learning about] wars, some people love named operations, and many people love some combination of these! Hopefully everyone who cares about history got something they liked in this tournament.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby An Economic Ignoramus » Thu Feb 01, 2018 6:01 pm

I was a big fan of the world and especially the US history in this tournament. Historically interesting and cool stuff that never seems to come up (the Armenian diaspora in politics, James Longstreet's post-civil war importance as a key supporter of unionist policies, Neoconservatism's genesis during the Cold War). A very minor issue is that two tossups largely used early clues based on certain regions' German diasporas (St. Louis, North Carolina), but that's historically significant enough of a thing that this might be excusable.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby ErikC » Thu Feb 01, 2018 6:25 pm

Another point I'd like to add is how I liked the question that clued the migration history of the US. The question on Armenian-Americans might have been a bit tough, but it's a good model in the future to explore new topics. Also, if more of these questions come about, they are less likely to draw players to come to quick conclusion (most of these questions at one point were about the Irish or Chinese). If there are more potential answers, the questions play better too.

My main goal when it comes to history is to present people with a wide variety of topics - some people love social history, some people love academic history, some people love institutions, some people love Great Men, some people love [learning about] wars, some people love named operations, and many people love some combination of these! Hopefully everyone who cares about history got something they liked in this tournament.


Part of what I was thinking that I didn't write in that post is that every tournament has questions on Great Men and Named Things, while not every tournament has questions about material history/archaelogy and social history.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby Emperor Pupienus » Thu Feb 01, 2018 10:49 pm

I haven't had a chance to review the set, but I thought that the history was very well done. Thanks you for your work, Will and the other editors.

I think that just looking at answerlines, it is clear that you made a concerted effort to make the history challenging and interesting. I really appreciate the use of historiography into the set. I personally did not get many of the tossups of off historiography, but I know that people were able to first-line the Germany tossup and the Great Game, and I'm sure others were able to get other tossups off historiography. It was also cool to have a lot of archaeology. I personally don't find archaeology especially interesting, and I'm not sure if we need three pure archaeology tossups in every tournament, but it was fine in this tournament.

I am somewhat skeptical about whether some of the more canon-busting tossups in this set should really be tossed up at this tournament. Off the top of my head, _Armenians_ seemed very difficult, _Caribs_ and _Senegal_ River did not play well in my room. I admittedly don't know much about these topics, but I can't name a single Armenian American, and I didn't know there was an ethnic group called the Caribs. In general, the early to middle clues also seemed fairly difficult when I was playing, but after thinking about it more and hearing from other peoples' experiences, the middle clues were probably similar in difficulty to most regular difficulty tournaments.

I did find it odd how little classical history tossups there were (I heard only two, both on Imperial Rome), especially compared to the 3/2 archaeology. Was this a conscious choice or a result of the vicissitudes of packet submissions?
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Feb 01, 2018 11:36 pm

Thanks for your thoughtful response, Jason!

Yeah - I may have been more hyper-conscious than ideal about trying to avoid repeating past questions too hard in my tossups and this could well have heightened the difficulty of early clues. I do hope that the middle clues of tossups did a good job gradating teams - I don't think I saw too many buzzer races there on my questions while reading.

Had I a bit more forethought, I would likely have turned one of the classics bonuses into a tossup before actually editing all the questions (since I mapped out what I wanted to use well in advance) - though indeed more of the usable classics questions were bonuses. That said, I did make an effort to try to use the "ancient history" space to focus on a few other things. There are not that many sources on a lot of "core" classics that quizbowl covers fairly in depth - particularly 5th century Greece, where I don't think it's very hard to learn almost all the clues for most of the major Athenian politicians, etc. and I am usually pretty out of my depth when trying to be inventive / fresh there without going pretty hard. I think I ideally would have had one more tossup on Ancient Greece or the Hellenistic world. However, most tournaments do a fairly good job of this. Also, I did try to sneak in a little classics elsewhere when I could - the Turkey archaeology tossup had a Pergamon altar clue, but that's only one clue.

Perhaps this is a controversial opinion, but while I do think Regionals should be an accessible set (and a bit easier than this year's iteration, mainly via curtailing hard parts and perhaps implementing a seven line limit), I think that as a qualifier tournament it still needs to find a way to feel like a challenge and invitation to "step up" for Nationals in some way or another, and pitching a few change-ups with fairly simple answers is one way to do this. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I'm willing to guess that a lot of the issue with the Senegal river tossup was that people were not aware that there was such a thing as the Senegal river. I had figured that people would know this since Senegal comes up fairly often in the literature distribution and people like Leopold Senghor are fairly well known, and I guess this was a miscalculation on my part. The Caribs question was written with the mindset of "the Tainos were asked at 2015 ACF Regionals and I think they were definitely an outlier there, but now they're pretty normal to ask for. Maybe we can take another stab like that." Perhaps that failed too, but I would also not be surprised if quizbowl patterns repeated and we had more questions on the Caribs in the future.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby ErikC » Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:27 am

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:Perhaps this is a controversial opinion, but while I do think Regionals should be an accessible set (and a bit easier than this year's iteration, mainly via curtailing hard parts and perhaps implementing a seven line limit), I think that as a qualifier tournament it still needs to find a way to feel like a challenge and invitation to "step up" for Nationals in some way or another, and pitching a few change-ups with fairly simple answers is one way to do this. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I'm willing to guess that a lot of the issue with the Senegal river tossup was that people were not aware that there was such a thing as the Senegal river. I had figured that people would know this since Senegal comes up fairly often in the literature distribution and people like Leopold Senghor are fairly well known, and I guess this was a miscalculation on my part. The Caribs question was written with the mindset of "the Tainos were asked at 2015 ACF Regionals and I think they were definitely an outlier there, but now they're pretty normal to ask for. Maybe we can take another stab like that." Perhaps that failed too, but I would also not be surprised if quizbowl patterns repeated and we had more questions on the Caribs in the future.


The Senegal river is not terribly obscure. I myself negged that question with the Niger river by mistake, and I think a lot of people did confusing the clues with states that were located on the Niger that aren't too far from the Senegal.

I remember when I first started playing, the reward from getting a question at Regionals (one of the first tournaments I went to was 2014 Regionals) was much higher because of the difficulty, especially on a harder answerline. For me, this isn't replicated to the same degree with questions like the Peter the Great tossup. I'd rather writers overstep a bit than have just ACF Fall answerlines but harder.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Fri Feb 02, 2018 1:26 am

ErikC wrote:
The Senegal river is not terribly obscure. I myself negged that question with the Niger river by mistake, and I think a lot of people did confusing the clues with states that were located on the Niger that aren't too far from the Senegal.

I remember when I first started playing, the reward from getting a question at Regionals (one of the first tournaments I went to was 2014 Regionals) was much higher because of the difficulty, especially on a harder answerline. For me, this isn't replicated to the same degree with questions like the Peter the Great tossup. I'd rather writers overstep a bit than have just ACF Fall answerlines but harder.


Yeah, I think there's definitely some value in what Ted Gioia posted in the 2015 ACF Nationals thread (about his 2014 Nats tournament) and it's something I've kept in mind since:

Magister Ludi wrote:My methodology was to adjust my answer selection to create a semi-consistent difficulty in each packet. In packet five, I saw Jerry was tossing up both Walter Lippmann and Mentalese, so I adjusted the distribution to have three easier lit answers (Stephen Dedalus, Ovid, Enemy of the People) to balance the “feel” of the packet’s humanities. After being introduced to Water Lippmann and Jerry Fodor, I thought many teams might not be in the mood to meet Ryszard Kapuscinski in the same packet. So I switched some answers to bring in Ovid and Ibsen. Moreover, I wanted to avoid the fashionable bias toward obscure, experimental 20th century writers that tends to permeate upper-level tournaments. At the same time, I intentionally placed my hardest painting tossup Diebenkorn in that round, after specifically placing easy artist tossups on Picasso and Velazquez in the previous rounds. I wanted the painting distribution to take a violent shift from Velazquez to Diebenkorn. I wanted to create a sense of dissonance to combat transparency, so players would think “This could be a tossup on Picasso or someone who’s never come up before. This could be Ovid or it could be the Roman-poet-version of Richard Diebenkorn.”


I think in general it's good to keep players on their toes without trying to deliver overly hard questions. This, coupled with the quizbowl equivalent of defamiliarzation, is I think a good philosophy of how to approach tournaments. You need a mix of basic topics, standard QB fare, and harder/less canonical things (and I don't think these two are necessarily synonymous, though in terms of buzz distribution they may look identical). What that mix is, the writers/editors are left to determine - though I don't think I've ever made it a secret that I like pushing things a bit with my writing while maintaining a strong sense of overall difficulty control.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby 1.82 » Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:16 am

I haven't read through the whole set yet, but the Senegal River tossup seems like an example of fake difficulty; it's a tossup that's made harder than its clues would suggest by being on a more difficult answerline than it needed to be on. The Senegal River may not be terribly obscure, but it's not terribly significant, either. Among rivers of West Africa, it doesn't stand out for its great length or its strong discharge or its large watershed or the significant population living along its banks. I don't think that it would make sense as an answerline if it weren't also the name of a country (I think it's clearly less significant than not just the Niger but even the Volta), and really, if you look at the tossup, only the Niger River clue and maybe the Wolof clue couldn't be used basically unchanged for a tossup on Senegal the country:

18. The first recorded use of this river’s current name, which may mean “our boat,” is by Alvise da Cadamosto, who met the damel of Cayor along the coast just to its south. A city at the mouth of this river has a bridge named for governor Louis Faidherbe, who recruited a famous regiment of marksmen or tirailleurs. After a capital was changed in 1902, a city at this river’s mouth called Saint-Louis went into decline. Land just south of this so-called “River of Gold” was governed by the Wolof empire. Arab geographers like al-Idrisi incorrectly considered this river a western extension of the Niger. The second president of a country named for this river was Abdou Diouf, who peacefully succeeded a founder of the Negritude movement. For 10 points, what African river names a country led by Léopold Senghor?
ANSWER: Senegal River [or Rio de Senega; or Fleuve Sénégal; or al-Sanaghal; accept Senegalese Tiralleurs]


Compare to the following tossup:

18. The first recorded use of this country’s current name, which may mean “our boat,” is by Alvise da Cadamosto, who met the damel of Cayor along its coast just to the south of the river that shares its name. A city on this country's coast has a bridge named for governor Louis Faidherbe, who recruited a famous regiment of marksmen or tirailleurs. After a capital was changed in 1902, a coastal city in this country called Saint-Louis went into decline. Land just south of this country's so-called “River of Gold” was governed by the Wolof empire. [...] The second president of this country was Abdou Diouf, who peacefully succeeded a founder of the Negritude movement. For 10 points, what African country was led by Léopold Senghor?
ANSWER: Republic of Senegal [or République du Sénégal; accept Senegalese Tiralleurs]


Without changing much of any significance about this tossup, it's become substantially easier, even though the clues are the same and it involves the same knowledge. This is because the original tossup doesn't really ask about the Senegal River very much at all, instead asking about Senegal and obscuring that with a harder answerline. You can know about the movement of the capital from Saint-Louis to Dakar and the subsequent eclipse of Saint-Louis without knowing that the river that meets the sea at Saint-Louis is the Senegal, and you can know about Portuguese contact with Cayor without knowing about the Senegal River, particularly since that meeting didn't actually take place at the Senegal. I'm not convinced that this rewards actual knowledge about the Senegal River rather than rewarding the person willing to guess that the Senegalese river being discussed is the Senegal River, and I'm not sure that actual knowledge about the Senegal River is worth being rewarded at this difficulty.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:47 am

1.82 wrote:I haven't read through the whole set yet, but the Senegal River tossup seems like an example of fake difficulty; it's a tossup that's made harder than its clues would suggest by being on a more difficult answerline than it needed to be on. The Senegal River may not be terribly obscure, but it's not terribly significant, either. Among rivers of West Africa, it doesn't stand out for its great length or its strong discharge or its large watershed or the significant population living along its banks. I don't think that it would make sense as an answerline if it weren't also the name of a country (I think it's clearly less significant than not just the Niger but even the Volta), and really, if you look at the tossup, only the Niger River clue and maybe the Wolof clue couldn't be used basically unchanged for a tossup on Senegal the country:

18. The first recorded use of this river’s current name, which may mean “our boat,” is by Alvise da Cadamosto, who met the damel of Cayor along the coast just to its south. A city at the mouth of this river has a bridge named for governor Louis Faidherbe, who recruited a famous regiment of marksmen or tirailleurs. After a capital was changed in 1902, a city at this river’s mouth called Saint-Louis went into decline. Land just south of this so-called “River of Gold” was governed by the Wolof empire. Arab geographers like al-Idrisi incorrectly considered this river a western extension of the Niger. The second president of a country named for this river was Abdou Diouf, who peacefully succeeded a founder of the Negritude movement. For 10 points, what African river names a country led by Léopold Senghor?
ANSWER: Senegal River [or Rio de Senega; or Fleuve Sénégal; or al-Sanaghal; accept Senegalese Tiralleurs]


Compare to the following tossup:

18. The first recorded use of this country’s current name, which may mean “our boat,” is by Alvise da Cadamosto, who met the damel of Cayor along its coast just to the south of the river that shares its name. A city on this country's coast has a bridge named for governor Louis Faidherbe, who recruited a famous regiment of marksmen or tirailleurs. After a capital was changed in 1902, a coastal city in this country called Saint-Louis went into decline. Land just south of this country's so-called “River of Gold” was governed by the Wolof empire. [...] The second president of this country was Abdou Diouf, who peacefully succeeded a founder of the Negritude movement. For 10 points, what African country was led by Léopold Senghor?
ANSWER: Republic of Senegal [or République du Sénégal; accept Senegalese Tiralleurs]


Without changing much of any significance about this tossup, it's become substantially easier, even though the clues are the same and it involves the same knowledge. This is because the original tossup doesn't really ask about the Senegal River very much at all, instead asking about Senegal and obscuring that with a harder answerline. You can know about the movement of the capital from Saint-Louis to Dakar and the subsequent eclipse of Saint-Louis without knowing that the river that meets the sea at Saint-Louis is the Senegal, and you can know about Portuguese contact with Cayor without knowing about the Senegal River, particularly since that meeting didn't actually take place at the Senegal. I'm not convinced that this rewards actual knowledge about the Senegal River rather than rewarding the person willing to guess that the Senegalese river being discussed is the Senegal River, and I'm not sure that actual knowledge about the Senegal River is worth being rewarded at this difficulty.


The point about "fake" difficulty being a possible Thing is a fair theoretical one. I do have some concerns though - to employ an ad absurdum, what if we used this logic to argue that the tossup on Charles Swann is pointless, and we should just ask for the author? Is that not "fake" difficulty - harder than it needs to be? If the Senegal River is not "terribly obscure" it is presumably fair game if you can find enough accessible clues. Maybe my clues weren't accessible, but that's another argument altogether (and one that I could totally buy). If the argument is "people weren't ready for a tossup on the Senegal river, because they weren't expecting it" - well, I will let Cody's post in the other thread do the talking for me:

Cody wrote:An inability on some players's parts to think outside of quizbowl's box does not automatically make a question (or choice of answerline referent) bad, or suboptimal, or what-have-you.


This is in some ways a matter of personal taste, but since most of the question deals with things that existed before the existence of the country, nor within the same precise geographic boundaries (unlike, say, British Nigeria) it seems to me to be somewhat insincere to ask for the modern-day country of Senegal (this is different from, say, Sri Lanka, as that question focused on kingdoms that controlled most or all of the island as a political unit - plus, using "this island" would probably have narrowed answerspace a bit more than "this country"). Perhaps the Cayor clue is not the best but it doesn't seem like it's leading anybody astray. And I really did want to use that Niger River clue, because it was cool and thought it could give some helpful context (and I thought also pretty funny that people just connected the two). Maybe a modern history clue could have been better, though.

As your post implies, it seems to me to encourage misunderstanding of history when you say "Land just south of this country's so-called “River of Gold” was governed by the Wolof empire." This seems to me to be teaching players that Senegal was a country in the 16th century, which it certainly wasn't. Even if you say "modern day country" - well, the Senegal river is not exactly just "Senegal's" river, as there's a tri-national organization dedicated to its management!

Finally, the Senegal River is, in fact, important, as I hope the question made clear - people were writing about it as a "river of gold" in the 16th and 17th centuries! People built a bunch of forts to guard it, and a pretty big port city grew up at its mouth! Also, I've written questions on the Niger before, or focusing on Niger river warfare (hikoi fleets, etc.) in the Songhai empire, so it seemed a bit boring to use the same sort of answerline.

EDIT: Why is this sort of limited thinking being employed in the history distribution, but not the literature distribution, where it's perfectly normal to take new angles and ask for somewhat harder stuff in new ways? Is the thinking being limited because quizbowl has encouraged people to learn history in a certain way - pick up discrete facts one after another, without learning the whole context? Even just reading the Wikipedia article on Senegal will teach you there's a Senegal River, as might a relevant history book.

EDIT 2: After some more thought, I do have more sympathy for the position that "you could well learn a lot of these facts but not learn that there was a Senegal River." I do think that argument has merit, for an answerline that's a lot tougher.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby Æthelred the Unready Steady Cook » Fri Feb 02, 2018 4:02 pm

I agree with a lot of what people have said and I do think there are genuine philosophical debates to be had about what the purpose of Regionals is and where it should position itself. I personally think regionals is a great time to expand the canon if it is done in the right way. It has a big audience and it is far from a novice tournament. As long as most of the difficulty is not too hard the occasional tossup which is a stretch isn't a bad thing. I also think there is a good argument to be extracted from Will's argument about the Senegal river. I don't think people knowing that there is a Senegal river is all that important but I do think that having a harder answerline means that it makes a bigger splash on people's psyche. This helps players who aren't so familiar to remember an answerline better, not least because people talk about an answerline and then that knowledge is reinforced. I could write a tossup on Australia or Harold Holt which both include the same clues. The Australia tossup will certainly have higher conversion but the Harold Holt TU will end up with a lot more people knowing who Harold Holt is. I think in these cases it is up to editors to use discretion.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Fri Feb 02, 2018 4:25 pm

I think Daoud makes a very good point. Obviously, having a full tournament of history category shock therapy would be no good! (Well, unless I decide to write another hard vanity side event, but I don't think anybody wants that). But if a few questions like this can get people to start thinking more and expand the frontiers of questions - in ways that ask for knowledge people either do or should have, without being too excessive - I think that's a good thing.
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Re: What did people think of the (non-Continental Euro) hist

Postby Cheynem » Sun Feb 11, 2018 12:59 pm

So I know nothing about the Senegal River, so I can't comment on that question.

I think Will's point about "Charles Swann" is interesting. However, there are different ways of writing a literature question on Charles Swann, along with one obvious point:

Obvious Point: A question on Charles Swann is going to be harder than a question on Remembrances... or Proust. Similarly, I would guess Senegal River is going to be harder than Senegal. That's not inherently bad, mind you, but the question is thinking of whether or not that difficulty pays off.

Less Obvious Point: One of the reasons literature features such questions is that when you're writing a question on, say, The Great Gatsby, you get sick of questions on the novel/Fitzgerald/one of the main characters. You think about writing questions on "Gatsby's house" or "Gatsby's car" or "the Valley of Ashes" or "New York City." I'm not totally convinced we've had so many Senegal questions that we need to start getting creative, but I also understand that's not an argument against doing so. Indeed, the converse for the lit stuff is true--there's no reason a tossup with the answerline The Great Gatsby could simply focus on the Valley of Ashes and be just as fresh.

Even Less Obvious Point: While this is not a perfect analogy, we learn things about literature in much different ways than history. In reading The Great Gatsby, you will learn the plot of the novel as well as how Gatsby's house is described or what the Valley of Ashes is (you may not remember names). In history, there's a lot more facts and things to consider. As I said, I don't know about Senegal, but I think it's probably possible for someone to study the history of Senegal without specifically noting the river (or maybe it isn't, I really don't know). To use a (sillier) U.S. History example, you could write a question on George Washington's false teeth and someone who had studied Washington a lot wouldn't know what's going on (that's not to say you couldn't do such a question, but that it would be harder and it isn't really the same thing as literature in my opinion).

Now for the different ways of writing a question on Swann.

You could write a question on Swann himself, giving character details and plot points about things he does, followed by the more obvious giveaway type clues ("first volume in Remembrances of Things Past is named for his way").

You could also write a tossup where the answerline is Swann, but most of your clues are really just about Swann's Way or Remembrances in general, stuff like "A text named for this man includes an incident where..." Taken to an absurd level, if all of your clues in this fashion, why not just have the tossup be on Remembrances or Proust? To reference my silly example above, it's a question on "George Washington's false teeth," but all the clues are "a person who possessed these artificial body parts won the Battle of Trenton" type stuff, rather than clues about the teeth themselves.

Eyeballing the Senegal River tossup, I would say it seems like a hybrid type question between those different perspectives. There are some (interesting) clues about the river itself, like the river of gold and map-making. There's also a fair share of contextual clues in which I doubt you're buzzing on knowledge of the river per se, but rather you realize we're in Senegal. In short, I think Naveed's fix is doable but I also think Will's tossup isn't necessarily fake difficulty (which would entirely be the sort of bullshit clues like "A country named for this river..."). I do think Naveed's question is easier than Will's (which might be better, as I'm skeptical if your typical Regionals audience really inherently knows about the Senegal River), but I don't think Will's is "faker."

That was long and rambling and I'm not sure if there's a point, other than I think, yes, history is different than literature when it comes to crafting such tossups, but it's also not inherently fake difficulty.
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