CO History Doubles Criticism

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CO History Doubles Criticism

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Mon Jul 31, 2006 2:47 am

I post of this immediately upon returning home only because I vowed that I would at several points during the weekend. So, let's get to it. The history doubles was a tournament that I looked forward to playing, as I like history and think that I have decent knowledge of it. The set played at CO was, by any other standard, perfectly fine and most (though certainly not all) questions were competently written, as one would expect out of a very good writer like Frankel. And, I appreciate the effort it takes to produce such a set. In other words, don't take my comments here to imply too much. That being said...

This set really annoyed me...really annoyed me. Firstly, the whole set seemed determined to avoid questions on battles, specific people, and otherwise specifically named things. Rather, it focused on a lot of "items" and generalized events or trends...stuff like the northwest passage, post office, and the impeachment of andrew johnson. I think this general approach is flawed with respect to history, but to add insult to injury, the answer selection was way too easy. It was as if the goal was to cover very broad ideas and time periods and places with each question, not bother with specific things...or to purposely evade memorized clues about more obscure people/things. In any case, what ended up happening is that a bunch of questions were transparent and encouraged guessing or being tempted to associate words and extrapolate (donation of constantine is a pretty good example) - this also includes a handful of common link tossups too which were confusing and unfortunate. As I said earlier, the fact that the answer difficulty level was barely above acf fall didn't help and some questions were just stupidly easy and there for the taking (kitchen cabinet, sieges of vienna, parliaments, Mau Mau). All of the tossups I've alluded to were just plain terrible, at least in my mind. At a tournament with this type of field, and very few inexperienced teams, there is no reason I can think of not to write on a much more difficult level and reward the people who have that depth of knowledge instead of forcing them to duke it out on the muddy battlefield of the above type of tossups.

Now, it should be noted that I thought the bonuses in this set were basically fine. But, of course, you can't get to the bonuses unless you can win the figure-it-out war on the tossups which serve as the great equalizers. It's really frustrating to me when I can clearly outplay a team on bonus conversion and end up in a dogfight with them getting tossups. Now, in order not to come off so much as an underslept blabbering nabob of negativism, I'd like to compare these questions with the history questions at Chicago Open proper. All in all, I think this year's CO was one of the best tournaments in a long time (and perhaps I'll post on it later), but for this purpose I'll just compare history questions to make my point. To give only a few examples I can think of - tossups on Mehmet II, the Treaty of Lausanne, Macedonian Wars, Hong Xiuquan, Alexei, Sweyn, and year of the four emperors are great because one can meditatively process clues and relate them to specific people and things....instead of racking my brain trying to see connections to Hawaii or Cuzco or figuring out Free French or smashing my finger on a buzzer race to Iriquois League or entefada. A few examples of good tus at history doubles - stuff like Onin War, Battle of the Dunes, and Treaty of Nystadt...but they were pretty few and far in between. Not to mention that what happened plenty of times when writing on an easier topic was the use of words to cover up the right answer or throw a player off the scent for a while - often what this really does is just confuse people and make questions circuitous and tortured.

Well, I'll end this serpentine rant after venting that. Perhaps more when I actually see packets.

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Post by Chris Frankel » Mon Jul 31, 2006 5:25 am

I'm going to wait and see how this thread develops before addressing any specific points. I'll just note that my set also contained TU's on Mehmed II and the Treaty of Lausanne, and that, much to my great disappointment, the final round was not read (my intent was that it would be read regardless of round robin standings), and that I had intentionally backloaded the round with some of what I thought were some of the better/more difficult questions of the set (and, granted, some you'd have probably have hated given your comments so far).
"They sometimes get fooled by the direction a question is going to take, and that's intentional," said Reid. "The players on these teams are so good that 90 percent of the time they could interrupt the question and give the correct answer if the questions didn't take those kinds of turns. That wouldn't be fun to watch, so every now and then as I design these suckers, I say to myself, 'Watch this!' and wait 'til we're on camera. I got a lot of dirty looks this last tournament."

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Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Mon Jul 31, 2006 12:32 pm

I don't necessarily agree with Westbrook's complaints, but I wanted to chime in about Frankel's response. Dude, what are you talking about? First of all, Adam and I were undefeated, and in fact had no close games. We'd beaten the second-place team by about 400 points. When it's 12:30 am, and people have to drive 30 minutes to their hotels, and then have to drive 30 minutes back from their hotels to make the start of the Chicago Open in the morning, the prospect of playing a competitively meaningless final doesn't sound so appealing.

Not to mention that the idea of backloading the final with "the better" and "harder" questions in a set is intrinsically dubious, since you have no way of knowing in advance which round of a tournament will be the decisive one. (At this tournament, for instance, the crucial round turned out to be the one in which Adam and I played Charles and Jerry.)

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Post by grapesmoker » Mon Jul 31, 2006 1:26 pm

Even as someone who typically insists on the maximum quizbowl for the money, I have to say that around 12 or so, I was so tired I could barely buzz; when I did buzz, I had trouble stringing words together (Velvet Divorce != Velvet Revolution, durr). I agree with Andrew; I can't imagine what benefit there would have been to playing another round since it was pretty clear Andrew and Adam were by far the best team.

For what it's worth, I enjoyed myself, and would have had a better time if I hadn't been so tired. I think there were a few questions that seemed pretty easy in terms of being pretty obvious what was being sought, the Donation of Constantine and the Northwest Passage questions that were mentioned before being the most obvious examples. I wasn't so hot on the questions of the "this group" type myself, but that's probably just personal preference rather than any substantive criticism. Overall, I thought the questions were mostly well-written and relatively accessible (to that field). Thanks to Chris for putting in the time and effort to make this event happen.
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Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Jul 31, 2006 1:45 pm

I'm not going to complain about a tournament that is entirely free of science and literature, but in retrospect I do see some of what Westbrook is talking about. Perhaps more military history and great man tossups next year?

The only other things I'll say is that there seemed to be a 1/0 great books distrbution that seemed more like social science than history and that I heard a lot of complaining about the length of bonuses -- but I don't know how much of the latter was due to the fact that it was almost midnight.
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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Mon Jul 31, 2006 1:55 pm

Yeah, Chris, I was sort of racking my brain to come up with CO history tossups to cite and I couldn't think of perfectly appropriate ones and so I just threw some stuff out and posted to get this up. Duly noted that your set had those tus as well, and agian, I'll try to be more specific later. The gist of my argument remains that - I don't think the tossups in this tournament did a very good job at all of testing history knowledge, especially depth of knowledge.


As a side note, I have no problem with making later packets more difficult...the problem here of course was simply the logistics of not being able to play it until 1 in the morning. Whatever, I still contend that the tourney would have been far superior/more enjoyable if the regular rounds had consistently imitated the type of material I cited (Lausanne, Dunes, Nystadt, Onin).

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Post by Chris Frankel » Mon Jul 31, 2006 9:59 pm

I'm still stalling for my eventual response, having just got home from work and being exhausted, but, in the mean time, I'll post the distribution I used to shed some more light onto how the set was constructed:

1/1 British (English/Scottish/Irish up to the English Civil War/Protectorate era)
1/1 British (from the Restoration to the present)
1/1 French
1/1 German/Continental (e.g. Dutch, Swiss, Austrian, Holy Roman Empire, etc.)
1/1 Russian/Slavic Peoples (e.g. Poland)/Scandinavian
1/1 Mediterranean (Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Papal States)
1/1 Miscellaneous European (mostly either eastern European topics or topics that spanned multiple nations/regions)
1/1 Roman/Byzantine
1/1 Greek/Other Ancient Civilizations (e.g. Egyptian, Persian, Babylonian, etc.)
1/1 American (Colonial Era to 1800)
1/1 American (Antebellum and Civil War Era, 1800-1865)
1/1 American (Reconstruction through Progressive Era, 1865-1920)
1/1 American (Roaring 20's to recent history, 1920-1995 or so)
1/1 Western Military History (European and American; the existence of this category implies that strictly military history topics were excluded from other non-classical European and American categories, although questions on wars or rebellions based on non-military clues, such as War of the Bavarian Succession, were not counted as military history)
1/1 Western Historiography or Intellectual/Cultural History (e.g. think of works by historians or landmark works that will invariably be encountered to some extent in any historical survey class, such as the Encyclopedia for a class that covers the history of the European enlightenment)
1/1 East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean)
1/1 Indian/South and Central Asian/Australian
1/1 Middle Eastern/Turkish
1/1 African/Latin American
1/1 Miscellaneous North American or World History
"They sometimes get fooled by the direction a question is going to take, and that's intentional," said Reid. "The players on these teams are so good that 90 percent of the time they could interrupt the question and give the correct answer if the questions didn't take those kinds of turns. That wouldn't be fun to watch, so every now and then as I design these suckers, I say to myself, 'Watch this!' and wait 'til we're on camera. I got a lot of dirty looks this last tournament."

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Post by Chris Frankel » Tue Aug 01, 2006 4:05 pm

Well, after some waffling, here's my general response to Ryan's initial concerns.

First, I will freely concede that the history set was lacking the polish necessary to turn an acceptable/slightly above-average set into a high quality one. As many of you may know, I was in a pretty hectic rush to finish this set over the last month, and did not have the time I would have liked to spent fine-tuning some of the clues and structuring. The answer selection wouldn't have changed too much, but I bet I would have been able to edit a lot of the problem questions (and I acknowledge there were a fair share) for the better.

Now, Ryan is right in his suspicions that some of the annoying trends he cited were the product of active intent (not to annoy, but to impose a certain question writing philosophy), and I will explain my reasoning behind it.

In selecting tossup answers, I always try to focus on a subject's acessibility and importance. I don't like tossup answers that are hard for hard's sake, because I think players should be playing on the whole tossup and ideally be buzzing somewhere just before the FTP, not sitting there hesitantly until a giveaway confirms their suspicions. I also believe that clue selection, and not just answer selection, is crucial in determining a tossup's difficulty. I wasn't aiming for an ACF Fall style tournament, because I find the recent push for ACF Fall difficulty lame myself, but I did want to keep the answers generally accessible and compensate for the use of some easier answers by making an effort to find novel early clues for stock question subjects. I think there were some cases where I did a decent job of this, one example being the Taft-Hartley Act tossup.

To go back to the point of subject importance, I made this issue a big factor in my selection of novelty (in the sense of trying to be new, not cute ) answers. Like I said above, I think writing on esoterica is a shortcut for putting effort into research, and I prefer to take the challenge of expanding the canon in ways that will keep players able to answer tossups without rewarding robotic clue memorization. For me, it just made more sense to write a tossup on Gran Colombia, which people could recognize, than on the Congress of Angostura, which would likely only be answered by elite history players and maybe a few drunks who could have frauded it with a NAQT giveaway about bars stocking bitters named for its city.

My research of history material and old packets also revealed that there were a lot of interesting, significant, frequently-studied topics that just hadn't come up much in the past. This is the reason I wrote those maligned tossups on the Free French, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and a share of those other concept-oriented tossups. When in doubt, there was no question that I, as a history major myself, would pick broad subjects relevant to your average history major's coursework than those narrow terms that only really showed up in packets by generalist qb veterans. I thought the topics I picked deserved to come up to some degree and did my best to research clues that would be recognizable, but not giveaways. I realize that I didn't always achieve this goal, and I apologize for that, but don't think I was entirely off in my intentions.

As for the percieved dearth of battle and biography tossups, I admit that I imposed quotas, but just as much for asthetic reasons. The 1/1 Western military history (not all questions in that category were battles, e.g. the tossup on Tilly) with allowance for ancient/non-Western outliers seemed like a decent compromise, especially since I put quite a few battle clues into more mainstream topics (e.g. Ad Decium and Tricameron as major clues in the Vandals tossup). There were also cases where I decided to write on more general topics in lieu of closely themed military ones for accessibility reasons (e.g. I figured a tossup on the New Model Army would be a lot more gettable to your average player than one on Naseby). Finally, as much as I like reading about and writing military history, I would be willing to wager that had I bumped up the battles distribution to 3/3 or 2/2, I would have a fair share of people complaining about the saturation of military history.

I had a similar thing going with biographies. I dislike having a high number of biography questions, even though history is the one category where it's most appropriate, so I set a targeted average of 3-4 biography tossups per round. I wasn't entirely operating out of personal bias, as I did anticipate that having a handful of king/queen/president/prime minister/empror biography tossups each round would get stale fast for most players. There was only one field where I did aggressively impose an agenda re: biography tossups, and that was in American history, where there's been an irritating trend of people writing inanely obscure biography tossups on one-hit-wonder and named-legislation politicians (Nelson Aldrich, Carter Glass, and Justin Morrill being some of the glaring examples I can cite off the top of my head) as a way of hiding questions that became de facto buzzer races on clues concerning their central accomplishments. That's why I chose to do in-depth research in writing tossups specifically concering the Taft-Hartley Act, the Hawley-Smoot Tariff, the Liberty Party, or the Ballinger-Pinchot Affair, rather than just pasting some biographical clues about Reid Smoot, James Birney, or Richard Ballinger, and calling those tossups. Again, I am aware that I didn't do the best job in writing some of those tossups, but I think they beat the alternative.

My biggest regret are the complaints of transparency, because I, too, hate guess buzzes, and really made an effort to playtest in order to expose any possible transparencies where I thought they might occur (Eric Kwalter, Eric Douglass, and Leo Wolpert can back me up here). This was the toughest task for me, because I have next to zero guesswork skills and buzz almost exclusively off specific recognition of names or terms mentioned. That is to say, I would only have buzzed on Northwest Passage specifically off having heard of Robert McClure's prize for finding it or having heard about Humphrey Gilbert's tract on it; my own lack of instincts make it unlikely I would have thought, "hey, it's a bunch of British guys searching for an elusive feature, I'll guess the Northwest Passage), and so I didn't think that other people would be able to make that guess. I wish I could have predicted potential guess buzzes better, and I have to admit I was stunned to see people making quick guesses on what I thought were hard, unfraudable clues when I read the packet last night in the chatroom. Again, I regret my poor anticipation, and will definitely keep it in mind should I end up writing any more quizbowl questions in the future.

I appreciate the criticism and wish I could have produced a better-received set, but hopefully this post at least explains where I was coming from in producing it.
"They sometimes get fooled by the direction a question is going to take, and that's intentional," said Reid. "The players on these teams are so good that 90 percent of the time they could interrupt the question and give the correct answer if the questions didn't take those kinds of turns. That wouldn't be fun to watch, so every now and then as I design these suckers, I say to myself, 'Watch this!' and wait 'til we're on camera. I got a lot of dirty looks this last tournament."

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Tue Aug 01, 2006 7:16 pm

That's a fair argument. As far as the avoidance of military stuff and
biography, I think that these things account for such a large chunk of
history knowledge that they really should come up quite a bit. As I've
said before, I'm a big fan of rewarding people for the difficulty and
effort it takes to acquire knowledge (provided that the knowledge can
be said to be legitimately academic - which can always be debated).
I've defended geography on the grounds that it's a subject that takes
a lot of time and effort to master, and such mastery should be
rewarded sufficiently. And, there are a shitload of people in history.
I too groan at tossups on people who may be famous only for their eponymous appearance in a tarriff bill, but there are so many others whose importance transcends this. Some recent tossup examples in
American history I can think of are Richard Mentor Johnson, Robert Lansing, and William McAdoo. Instead of a tossup on New Model Army, I might suggest one on the Battle of Marston Moor. Given the field, I think this would clearly be canonical and would stop people from reading into the question once they figure out that the time period is the English civil war and we're talking about an "it" that does some fighting (it's not the best example, since there are only two civil war battles that are probably
askable in Naseby and Marston...even I could be persuaded that Edgehill
and Preston might be pushing it). But, it's certainly preferrable to people
buzzing on Gran Colombia (hmmm, they mentioned Paez de Santander and he was involved in the South American wars of liberation...and, they're implying that it's some sort of body or government...even though the question is being purposely coy about that...).

As far as the matter of difficulty alone, I might have written this level
for some sort of regional singles event. What made it silly and unnecessary to me was that this was a CO field AND the tourney was a doubles event. As such, I expected it to be at least the level of last year's fine arts singles and probably a little harder given the extra player and field.

Much more important I think than my opinion of the appropriate history
distribution is the general method that people take when approaching
answer selection these days. My biggest goal whenever I'm writing
questions is to stop people from making buzzes on indirect and logical
inferences, and to force them into buzzes on concrete clues which bear
no purely logical or contextual connection to the answer (i.e. knowing
that the Battle of Bedriacum is associated with the year of the four
emperors). I feel this way because I'm always super-suspicious of most
qb players that they don't really "know" anything in the sense that they've
memorized clues, so much as they have the ability to buzz and say the most appropriate thing under the circumstances.

The method of answer selection employed here by Frankel is something
like "I'm determined to write on these very canonical and accessible
THINGS, but I'm going to find super deep and obscure things about them
that haven't come up, and I'm going to attempt to skillfully manipulate
the question so that people can't see what direction it's going." Well, sometimes this approach is sometimes necessary and indeed useful, I've certainly used it and will use it again in the future...often, it's simply not feasible to write on less canonical or more original topics given the field, so you do your best. I don't think that's true with this field. In addition, it's really hard to write these types of questions successfully, even for an elite question writer like Frankel. This problem is only compounded when writing on things like the Donation of Constantine which are bound to give themselves away. A variant of the above approach goes something like "I'm going to write on the same basically accessible topics, but I'm going to find a new way to package them and hopefully sneak in some new clues in the process." So, you write on the Northwest Passage or Hawaii thinking "they'll clearly just infer the answer if I write on Liluokalani or Kamehameha, so I'll try all of Hawaii and focus on avoiding saying Hawaiian sounding names." Again a very useful strategy in the right situation, but often these questions end up being either transparent or convoluted or confusing as hell (often purposely so).

The conclusion is that the policy I've basically adopted at any tournament regionals level or above is: write questions as difficult as is absolutely feasible. I've done this because there are a whole slew of topics on that level of difficulty which it's possible to write about in straightforward and unconfusing ways with deep and original clues...as I said before, no matter what level of difficulty you're writing, it's also much easier when you choose to write about people/battles/etc rather than concepts/items/trends/themes/etc. Add to all this that I simply don't think that there should be such a stagnating canon...rather it should be pushed and moved forward when the opportunities are there, which isn't often at all.

I'll conclude by saying that I wouldn't have bothered with this rant had
this event not been written by a very competent writer, and I appreciate
the time put into it. One should also take at least half of my arguments
to be exactly what they are, completely self-interested. In addition to
pointing out my feelings on the distribution of history topics, I simply
saw this event as a good reminder of some things that I find troublesome
and as a sort of wasted opportunity.

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Post by Important Bird Area » Tue Aug 01, 2006 9:30 pm

As far as the avoidance of military stuff and
biography, I think that these things account for such a large chunk of
history knowledge that they really should come up quite a bit. As I've
said before, I'm a big fan of rewarding people for the difficulty and
effort it takes to acquire knowledge (provided that the knowledge can
be said to be legitimately academic - which can always be debated).
Actually, one of the things I liked most about this tournament was the relatively low prominence given to military history.
as I said before, no matter what level of difficulty you're writing, it's also much easier when you choose to write about people/battles/etc rather than concepts/items/trends/themes/etc.
What's easier for the *writer* is in my opinion far less important than the degree to which the question tests the player's academic knowledge. Obviously arguing from academic curricula to ideal distributions is an enterprise at best hazardous and at worst foolhardy (cue dinosaurian grumbles about theater lighting), but the existing qb history canon includes both biography and military history in far greater proportions than those found in university history departments. A certain amount of that can be chalked up to the epistemological bias of quizbowl in the identification of discrete answers, but I think the unwillingness of question writers to write on more challenging topics has contributed as well to preserving a form of "quizbowl history" based on the historiography of the 1950s or even earlier. (By analogy, consider the by now widely-accepted argument for the abolition or reduction of science biography.) In short, I reject the premise that tossups on items and concepts are *necessarily* any less transparent, or even harder to write, than tossups on people.

Having gotten that metareflection out of my system, a few specific points:
either transparent or convoluted or confusing as hell (often purposely so).
I certainly agree that several of the questions cited could have been structured better: for example, the Free French tossup, on which I dithered for about ten seconds before hearing "cross of Lorraine" and figuring "eh, whatever, I'll just buzz in and say Free French." On the other hand:
>Instead of a tossup on New Model Army, I might suggest one on the Battle of Marston Moor. Given the field, I think this would clearly be canonical and would stop people from reading into the question once they figure out that the time period is the English civil war and we're talking about an "it" that does some fighting (it's not the best example, since there are only two civil war battles that are probably
askable in Naseby and Marston...even I could be persuaded that Edgehill
and Preston might be pushing it)
This by contrast may have been my favorite tossup of the tournament. I've heard several Marston tossups over the years, and never one asking for the New Model, so for me this is an example of canon expansion done right.

One of my complaints with the canon in general, and military history more specifically, is the comparative shallowness and repetition of the "askable" answer space. It would take something like Carleton's database to actually answer this, but I would guess that a vast proportion of the tossups written over the years on English Civil War battles have in fact been on Marston Moor and Naseby. At a tournament with this audience, why on earth *not* write about Edgehill or Preston or Dunbar or even Second Newbury? It was this impulse that some years ago induced me to write a bonus asking for Malplaquet/Ramilies/Oudenarde because I was so tired of players and writers reflexively associating "battle from the War of the Spanish Succession" and "Blenheim."

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Tue Aug 01, 2006 10:52 pm

What are you talking about? New Model Army is not canon expansion, it's a very easy question on something that gives itself away. If you're arguing for increasing depth in battle tus, I agree - but there's also nothing hard about Ramillies, Oudenarde, or Malplaquet and they come up plenty and should. I have no problem with Edgehill or Preston, I was just suggesting they may be a bit hard. I don't agree with less military/biography, but my point simply is if that's your thing, you really should pick much harder things than Free French or Gran Colombia (at a tourney like this) or they tend to give themselves away/become convoluted/not reward people with more knowledge.

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Post by grapesmoker » Tue Aug 01, 2006 11:17 pm

Ok, I'm not a historian or anything, but I have some thoughts on this.

First, Ryan, forgive the potential ad hom, but your post is really rambling and I'm having trouble figuring out what points exactly you're trying to make. I'll just take it piece by piece.
Ryan Westbrook wrote: As I've said before, I'm a big fan of rewarding people for the difficulty and effort it takes to acquire knowledge (provided that the knowledge can be said to be legitimately academic - which can always be debated).
That's a general view point that I guess is probably shared in the abstract by most people who play the game, but I don't think it gives you much to work with when it comes to deciding what to write about. Is Gran Colombia harder than Chacabuco or New Model Army harder than Marston Moor? I have no idea. They're all pretty canonical things that come up from time to time, they're not particularly obscure, and one is just as worth writing about as the other.
I've defended geography on the grounds that it's a subject that takes a lot of time and effort to master, and such mastery should be
rewarded sufficiently.
Of course, this conveniently ignores your second criterion which is that the subject must be academic to begin with. I'm of the opinion that there's nothing academic about knowing the location of Mt. Cook or what rivers converge to form the Ob. We can debate that in a different thread if you like. The point still stands that simply obscurity or difficulty of memorization is not what's being rewarded, since any subject is hard to know inside and out.
I too groan at tossups on people who may be famous only for their eponymous appearance in a tarriff bill, but there are so many others those importance transcends this. Some recent tossup examples in
American history I can think of are Richard Mentor Johnson, Robert Lansing, and William McAdoo.
I'm generally opposed to the writing of tossups on people who are known for only one thing. Richard Mentor Johnson seems to me to be one example of such a person. If we consider him important enough for tossup material, why not every Congressman or Senator who's ever had a bill named after him? Tossups on Macon, Aldrich, and Pendleton for all! My feeling is that this turns the history distribution (especially in American history) into biography bowl that's little better than the old bio bowl everyone hates.
As far as the matter of difficulty alone, I might have written this level for some sort of regional singles event. What made it silly and unnecessary to me was that this was a CO field AND the tourney was a doubles event. As such, I expected it to be at least the level of last year's fine arts singles and probably a little harder given the extra player and field.
I thought the difficulty was pretty good. I can't think off the top of my head of any answers I didn't recognize, but I don't want to play a stump-the-chump tournament with tossups about the third-most important Argentinian statesman of the 19th century. Save that for the hard bonus part.
Much more important I think than my opinion of the appropriate history distribution is the general method that people take when approaching answer selection these days. My biggest goal whenever I'm writing questions is to stop people from making buzzes on indirect and logical inferences, and to force them into buzzes on concrete clues which bear no purely logical or contextual connection to the answer (i.e. knowing that the Battle of Bedriacum is associated with the year of the four emperors). I feel this way because I'm always super-suspicious of most qb players that they don't really "know" anything in the sense that they've memorized clues, so much as they have the ability to buzz and say the most appropriate thing under the circumstances.
Sorry, dude, I don't really understand what you've written here at all. You want people not to be able to make logical inferences? So, based on your logic, I shouldn't be able to figure out from the clues that the answer is going to be, say, an event important to 19th century European diplomacy? I don't understand how you can even begin to hope to eliminate inferential methods in question answering. You can be as suspicious as you like of quizbowl players, of course, but in the end the most knowledgeable teams seem to win anyway, so it's not like some sort of grave injustice is being committed. Yeah, I probably answer more questions correctly than I legitimately know about history, but that's the game. There's no way around that, and I'll still lose to players whose real knowledge exceeds mine.
The method of answer selection employed here by Frankel is something like "I'm determined to write on these very canonical and accessible THINGS, but I'm going to find super deep and obscure things about them that haven't come up, and I'm going to attempt to skillfully manipulate the question so that people can't see what direction it's going."
While I object to deceptive wording in questions, I don't see that there was a problem with this in this particular set. I also don't see any problems with writing pyramidal questions by selecting little-known clues about well-known topics; there's just nothing inherently wrong with that.
A variant of the above approach goes something like "I'm going to write on the same basically accessible topics, but I'm going to find a new way to package them and hopefully sneak in some new clues in the process." So, you write on the Northwest Passage or Hawaii thinking "they'll clearly just infer the answer if I write on Liluokalani or Kamehameha, so I'll try all of Hawaii and focus on avoiding saying Hawaiian sounding names." Again a very useful strategy in the right situation, but often these questions end up being either transparent or convoluted or confusing as hell (often purposely so).
Again, I'm against confusing questions, but there was nothing at all confusing about most of these tossups (well, ok, there were a couple of pronoun mistakes here and there, but that's beside the point). Yes, the Northwest passage question was transparent, so perhaps that's a question that shouldn't have been written. Most of the rest was just fine though.
The conclusion is that the policy I've basically adopted at any tournament regionals level or above is: write questions as difficult as is absolutely feasible. I've done this because there are a whole slew of topics on that level of difficulty which it's possible to write about in straightforward and unconfusing ways with deep and original clues...as I said before, no matter what level of difficulty you're writing, it's also much easier when you choose to write about people/battles/etc rather than concepts/items/trends/themes/etc. Add to all this that I simply don't think that there should be such a stagnating canon...rather it should be pushed and moved forward when the opportunities are there, which isn't often at all.
I don't think that's a good policy at all. I think a good policy is to write pyramidal, factually accurate questions on interesting things. If the things in question are concepts or battles, that's fine as long as you can make a good question out of it. I think trying to impose a particular philosophy of question writing beyond that is not a good idea because it artificially restricts answer choices without any good reason that I can see.
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Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Aug 01, 2006 11:41 pm

I'm generally opposed to the writing of tossups on people who are known for only one thing. Richard Mentor Johnson seems to me to be one example of such a person. If we consider him important enough for tossup material, why not every Congressman or Senator who's ever had a bill named after him? Tossups on Macon, Aldrich, and Pendleton for all! My feeling is that this turns the history distribution (especially in American history) into biography bowl that's little better than the old bio bowl everyone hates.
As a Whig and a detractor of the Van Buren administration, I am not a big fan of Richard Mentor Johnson. But you have insulted Richard Mentor Johnson.

Richard Mentor Johnson isn't a "a man who had a bill named after him". In fact, I don't know of a single bill named after Richard Johnson.

Richard Mentor Johnson was a commander at the Battle of the Thames, a battle which you may have heard of. He claimed to have killed Tecumseh, another guy you might have heard of, and in fact may have. (Though as a Whig I deny it). He was from that point on a prominent politician who got involved in many scandals and important events over the span of a long career, from his attempt to force the Mail Service to deliever on Sundays in the 1820's to his controversial Vice-Presidency in the 1830's. He was the only Vice-President since the passage of the 12th amendment who was elected by the Senate rather than by the electoral college. He is also notable for, among other things, being probably the only US Vice-President who lived with (and had children by) a black woman who he was not married to, and probably the only US Vice-President to be a more-or-less open atheist.

He was also, of course, the tossup answer that determined the 2005 ACF Nationals championship.

I too condemn tossups on Payne, Aldrich, Smoot, Hawley, etc., and all those guys. But I think their tariffs should come up as legitimate tossups and their careers might serve as good lead-ins for tariff tossups. I also think that its important to ask about tariffs that aren't named for a guy -- the Mongrel Tariff should come up much more often, and, indeed, the entire Chester A. Arthur administration is under-represented. But there are plenty of now-obscure guys from American history who had long careers and are known for more than one thing. I think that this is what Westbrook is talking about, and I think that the History Singles suffered greatly for a lack of them.
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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Tue Aug 01, 2006 11:53 pm

Yeah, Jerry, I grant you there is no travesty or grave injustice here, just whining about personal preferences. Also, sure, every player buzzes in on more stuff than they actually know or have memorized concrete clues about, that'll always be true - I just really try to minimize that because it personally bothers me when people buzz and make lateral thinking guesses (i.e. "I know generally who Paez is...I didn't know he had any relationship to Gran Colombia...but it seems profitable for me to guess that"). Personally, and this is a view many others may not share, I'd rather give people an easy reflex buzz off a memorized clue than have them make "educated guesses" on questions (based on context, language used, or whatever). And, this plays into your other point - I don't know if New Model Army is "harder" than Marston or Preston in an absolute sense either - but I do know that this type of question makes it near impossible to make those educated guesses. Same for a tossup on, say, the Battle of Pichincha...good luck reading into that, you'll have to choose from a host of other options and you'll fail usually.

Also, hmmm, which Argentinian statesman? Rosas? Urquiza? Mitre? Sarmiento?

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Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Aug 01, 2006 11:54 pm

As long as I have my history juices worked up, I'll provide a list of things I think should come up more in the history cannon:

Mongrel Tariff
Walker Tariff
Rivers and Harbors Act of 1846
Rivers and Harbors Act of 1883
Amos Kendall
Fries Rebellion
Lord Salisbury
Lord Sidmouth
Lord Liverpool
Silver-Grays
The National Intelligencer
The Globe

That's all I can think of right now. I'm sure Westbook can give a much more detailed list.

In any event, I could defend all of these as important, and I think they'd make not only a fine expansion to the cannon, but also a fine replacement for things like "this guy who happened to get his name attached to a tariff" .

That's not to say the history distro is broken. There are many more tossups on dead white guys than I expected coming out of high school. But it could be better.
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Post by Chris Frankel » Wed Aug 02, 2006 2:17 am

A few quick thoughts.

In writing something like the New Model Army tossup, I didn't claim to be innovative, nor was I making the claim that I was the first person to put the topic in the canon. What I did claim to be doing is attempting to take a very gettable answer that hadn't been explored much in a tossup format and make a balanced tossup that offered some new and interesting clues. I took a very in-depth English Civil War class, and if I heard a tossup on Marston Moor, I would say to myself, "Here is a person who clearly hasn't studied the war enough to have an idea of the significance of the topics discussed in it. Marston Moor is about as important as the Battle of Turnham Green or the Siege of Taunton, but because it has come up more in quiz bowl, this person has naively assumed that it's significant enough to write a tossup about." Obviously I couldn't have studied every category in detail, but my goal was to make it so every answer had a legitimate air of significance and didn't just come up for the sake of being quiz bowl ready. Whether or not I succeeded is the subject of this debate, but that was the philosophy that motivated me to skew towards the general and conceptual.

Meanwhile, I remain steadfast in my opposition to the reliance on obscure political biography questions in American history. I absolutely understand placing a clear emphasis on the political and military in fields like, say, Chinese dynastic history, where it's just not possible to write a tossup on social, economic, or cultural history without the answer being something silly like "peasants," but American history is studied so deeply and with such attention to broader contexts that it's important not to neglect historical subjects by default because they fall into the "soft" category. Granted, they shouldn't get the lion's share of coverage, and I realize that those tossups on the Pony Express and Ellis Island were probably ill-conceived in retrospect, but topics like American westward expansion or late 19th Century immigration form substantial areas of legitimate academic scholarship (as opposed to trendy postmodern niche topics like women in Kievan Rus or racial minorities during the time of the Flavian dynasty).

Speaking as an American history concentrator myself, I just can't agree with a lot of things Ryan and Bruce are asserting about the subject (don't take this the wrong way, Bruce, but I think someone who is obsessed enough with niche 19th Century politics to label himself a Whig probably shouldn't use that obsession as the standard for what topics are both worthwhile to ask AND reasonably recognizable for someone with general background knowledge). While not figures of niche importance like Aldrich or Morrill, Robert Lansing and William McAdoo aren't the best ideas for tossup subjects because they don't, at this point in the game, satisfy a general accessibility criterion that allows them to cross the space from a 20-30 part of a bonus to a tossup answer. Richard M. Johnson did nothing important aside from the bit of trivia about being the first Senate-elected VP and at best, that was worth writing a bonus part about him (which I did for the tournament). Looking at both Bruce's justifications and the ACF tossup, I see nothing but "did you know?" type stuff (Bruce's observations about his being an atheist and the ACF's "who cares?" leadin about his liking cavalry), biographical trivia (both Bruce's and the tossup's observations about his penchant for miscegenation), and almanac trivia (this man held Office W in State X from Years Y-Z). Like the others I've complained about, this tossup was just another formulaic combination of esoterica and almanac listings that poorly represents the study of American history. Even if some of the tossups that represented my rebuttal to this trend sucked, I think it was good for the larger picture to bring it to light, and though I don't plan on playing much, if at all, in the future, I would love to see a moratorium on tossups about all but the most major non-presidential American political figures (think Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Huey Long, and not Robert Hayne, Hamilton Fish, or Frank Kellogg).
"They sometimes get fooled by the direction a question is going to take, and that's intentional," said Reid. "The players on these teams are so good that 90 percent of the time they could interrupt the question and give the correct answer if the questions didn't take those kinds of turns. That wouldn't be fun to watch, so every now and then as I design these suckers, I say to myself, 'Watch this!' and wait 'til we're on camera. I got a lot of dirty looks this last tournament."

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Post by Important Bird Area » Wed Aug 02, 2006 3:37 am

New Model Army is not canon expansion, it's a very easy question on something that gives itself away.
As Chris mentions above, canon expansion is as much about the substance of the clues as about answer selection. This tossup's leadin is the first time I recall mention of Sprigge's Anglia Rediviva in quizbowl, and I was pleased to see this because I had just read a bunch of it for my dissertation. Were people really having buzzer races off this clue at Chicago?
I don't understand how you can even begin to hope to eliminate inferential methods in question answering.
Jerry has this much exactly right, even though lots of us rarely if ever use such methods. I'll take on his anti-geography heresy in that other thread he mentions.
substantial areas of legitimate academic scholarship (as opposed to trendy postmodern niche topics like women in Kievan Rus or racial minorities during the time of the Flavian dynasty).
Chris, that's a cheap shot. There's nothing necessarily postmodern, much less illegitimate, about either of those areas of scholarship.
Here is a person who clearly hasn't studied the war enough to have an idea of the significance of the topics discussed in it. Marston Moor is about as important as the Battle of Turnham Green or the Siege of Taunton, but because it has come up more in quiz bowl, this person has naively assumed that it's significant enough to write a tossup about.
Yes and no. Marston bears roughly the same relationship to the English Civil War as Gettysburg does to the American: both are big, bloody battles with a bunch of famous colorful personalities and decidedly less impact on the war's outcome than posterity has sometimes liked to imagine. I think it clearly *is* significant enough to write a tossup on, but that shouldn't blind question writers to the rest of the conflict. (Both of the other items you mention strike me as fair game for regionals or nationals level bonus parts, if only because it's more difficult to accumulate clues about things significant primarily for not happening.)

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Wed Aug 02, 2006 4:35 am

As Chris mentions above, canon expansion is as much about the substance of the clues as about answer selection. This tossup's leadin is the first time I recall mention of Sprigge's Anglia Rediviva in quizbowl, and I was pleased to see this because I had just read a bunch of it for my dissertation. Were people really having buzzer races off this clue at Chicago?
I figured you meant that...and, yes, Sprigge's Anglia Rediviva may be a great clue. But, if the question gets past that clue because noone knows it (a likely scenario), it may quickly descend into people figuring out the time and thing and buzzing. Note that I don't even know if the tu in question did that and I don't care - I'm just making a general point.

And, if you're going to define canon expansion the way you are, then absolutely every packet should expand the canon in that it should have at least some unique clues. My whole point is that at harder-level tourneys, I'd like to see less of this type of expansion and more of the usual type of expansion (tus on things there have not been tus on before)...at lower-level tourneys, you're forced into the prior type of expansion.


Also, the only way I'd find women in the Kievan Rus to be worth anyone's time is if it's the plot to a period pornography piece.

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Post by grapesmoker » Wed Aug 02, 2006 9:50 am

Bruce wrote: Richard Mentor Johnson isn't a "a man who had a bill named after him". In fact, I don't know of a single bill named after Richard Johnson.
Nor did I ever imply that there was a bill named after him.
Richard Mentor Johnson was a commander at the Battle of the Thames, a battle which you may have heard of. He claimed to have killed Tecumseh, another guy you might have heard of, and in fact may have.
No, Bruce, I have never heard of this "battle" of the "Thames" that you speak about. Perhaps you could enlighten me and tell me what continent it took place on? And who is this "Tecumseh" character?

(Though as a Whig I deny it). He was from that point on a prominent politician who got involved in many scandals and important events over the span of a long career, from his attempt to force the Mail Service to deliever on Sundays in the 1820's to his controversial Vice-Presidency in the 1830's. He was the only Vice-President since the passage of the 12th amendment who was elected by the Senate rather than by the electoral college. He is also notable for, among other things, being probably the only US Vice-President who lived with (and had children by) a black woman who he was not married to, and probably the only US Vice-President to be a more-or-less open atheist.
All of this is mildly interesting and some of it is even laudable, in my view. Nevertheless, none of it makes him tossup material. As Chris already pointed out, tossups on him would in fact tend to devolve into esoterica that no one not specifically studying that period of American history could reasonably be expected to know. I'll just quote this: "Meanwhile, I remain steadfast in my opposition to the reliance on obscure political biography questions in American history." and refer everone to that paragraph.
He was also, of course, the tossup answer that determined the 2005 ACF Nationals championship.
And this, in my view, was extremely unfortunate. I was there at this championship, and I watched the two best teams in the country playing that round. I'll remind those who don't remember that on one side was a Chicago team comprising Seth, Selene, Subash, and Susan, while on the other was a Michigan team of Zeke, Adam, Matt Lafer, and Leo Wolpert. That question went on for what sounded like 8 lines until the giveaway of "he killed Tecumseh" in that room, at which point Matt Lafer answered it. In other words, all that the two best teams in the country knew about Richard Mentor Johnson was that he killed Tecumseh. This tells me that he's probably not tossup material (although as a consequence of this debate everyone will know everything about him and Johnson will become canonical at junior-bird tournaments).
I too condemn tossups on Payne, Aldrich, Smoot, Hawley, etc., and all those guys. But I think their tariffs should come up as legitimate tossups and their careers might serve as good lead-ins for tariff tossups. I also think that its important to ask about tariffs that aren't named for a guy -- the Mongrel Tariff should come up much more often, and, indeed, the entire Chester A. Arthur administration is under-represented. But there are plenty of now-obscure guys from American history who had long careers and are known for more than one thing. I think that this is what Westbrook is talking about, and I think that the History Singles suffered greatly for a lack of them.
So, in short, your position is that we need more obscurata. Tariff questions are fine as long as they give you an opportunity to figure out what the question is talking about using those inferential methods Ryan hates so much (giving dates, certain key figures, etc.). The legislative history of a bill and the debates by minor figures that took place surrounding it are good for leadin clues, but not for the rest of the question.

Since I'm already on a roll, I'll just take this opportunity to bemoan the way many American history questions have come to be written over the past few years. In particular, I don't like the trend toward more biography which involves digging up more and more obscure minor politicians. I'm not an Americanist, but I have a hard time imagining that the literary output of such people or the multitude of positions they held (which are common clues in these types of questions) are of any interest to anyone but a few people. I definitely found this to be the case during the last two ACF Nationals, and it seems to hold only in the American history distribution. I don't know if people just think the stock of significant events, people, and legislation has been exhausted, or if there's some push from elsewhere to put this stuff into questions, but I object to it and I think it's a bad idea. I object to it primarily on the grounds that in my experience, it ends up eliminating the middle clues and either reducing questions to buzzer races at the giveaway or cause them not to be answered at all.

Of course, I'm a generalist in every area but physics, and so my preference (already stated elsewhere) is for significant things that one can actually sit down and learn about without memorizing someone's biography. That includes a not-insignificant preference for tossups on works rather than writers, and in particular for events in history over people. My feeling is that over the last couple years, question writing has changed to a style which is heavily weighted against the generalist. That includes extensive biography questions that overwhelmingly favor those with a complete knowledge of one writer's/politician's work over those who have a broad knowledge of many works/political events.

None of this should be taken to mean that biography shouldn't be asked at all. But, especially in history, if you're going to write a biography question, I encourage you to make sure there are things to say about the person that aren't just curiosities and that actually form a pyramid of clues rather than the precipitous drop I've been seeing in many questions lately. I think that the pendulum has swung too far in that direction and I hope that the next year's tournaments will return to a more balanced division between biography and events tossups.
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Post by Nathan » Wed Aug 02, 2006 11:55 am

I'm going to stay out of this debate except to note that I generally agree with Chris, although goodness knows good points have been made by everyone.


I will note that I thought the "Year of the Four Emperors" tossup was a poor one.
The question identified early that it was looking for a "period"...always a vague term, since different historians identify different periods with different nomenclature. When it mentioned the battles of Bedricum I became thoroughly confused since if I recall correctly -- Galba lost to Otho at Bedricum I while Vitellius lost to Vespasian at Bedricum II....so at this point I'm thinking "what do they mean by period? can I just buzz in and say "Galba,Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian....oh, wait, maybe the mean these are events preceding the Five Good Emperors" since it was this successional chaos that eventually laid the groundwork for the stability of the Five....so I buzzed in and said the "Five Good Emperors"...
after receiving my neg, Yaphe buzzed in and said "the Four Good Emperors" which in retrospect certainly shouldn't have been allowed, but I wasn't in the mood to complain.

my point is that questions like this are difficult because the question writer felt obligated to avoid mentioning this "year"...(its a year in Roman history, I wonder what that is) but "period" lends itself to such vagueness as to make such tossups better in theory than actual practice.

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Post by grapesmoker » Wed Aug 02, 2006 12:22 pm

Nathan wrote: I will note that I thought the "Year of the Four Emperors" tossup was a poor one.
The question identified early that it was looking for a "period"...always a vague term, since different historians identify different periods with different nomenclature. When it mentioned the battles of Bedricum I became thoroughly confused since if I recall correctly -- Galba lost to Otho at Bedricum I while Vitellius lost to Vespasian at Bedricum II....so at this point I'm thinking "what do they mean by period? can I just buzz in and say "Galba,Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian....oh, wait, maybe the mean these are events preceding the Five Good Emperors" since it was this successional chaos that eventually laid the groundwork for the stability of the Five....so I buzzed in and said the "Five Good Emperors"...
after receiving my neg, Yaphe buzzed in and said "the Four Good Emperors" which in retrospect certainly shouldn't have been allowed, but I wasn't in the mood to complain.

my point is that questions like this are difficult because the question writer felt obligated to avoid mentioning this "year"...(its a year in Roman history, I wonder what that is) but "period" lends itself to such vagueness as to make such tossups better in theory than actual practice.
I disagree. The period known as the "year of the four emperors" is a well defined period corresponding to the year 69 A.D. If you were paying attention to the question, there's no way you could construe the answer as being "the Five Good Emperors." That can't even be right because the five good emperors start with Nerva's rule in 97 or so. The answer "Four good emperors" is right out because it's pretty obvious that 3 of the 4 can't plausibly be considered "good."
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Post by Nathan » Wed Aug 02, 2006 12:27 pm

eh...here's the problem:

although a year can be a period in a literal sense...
I can't think of any historical period that is anywhere near that short of a unit of time. you would never call a year a period in a historical sense.

thus, the question was, by definition, confusing.

and sure, the Five Good Emperors started almost 30 years later...but it's not far-out to assert that the chaos of 69 helped precipitate the later stability...

the question illustrates the inherent difficulty with using vague terms to avoid giving-away what you're going for...

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Wed Aug 02, 2006 12:48 pm

Of course, I'm a generalist in every area but physics, and so my preference (already stated elsewhere) is for significant things that one can actually sit down and learn about without memorizing someone's biography.
Eh, I might point out I'm every bit the same type of generalist (minus the physics part). As Chris implies earlier, I'd argue that the type of questions I'm pushing actually quite favor generalist qb veterans with some knowledge of material on the far outer fringes of the canon.

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Post by grapesmoker » Wed Aug 02, 2006 12:57 pm

Nathan wrote: and sure, the Five Good Emperors started almost 30 years later...but it's not far-out to assert that the chaos of 69 helped precipitate the later stability...
It's not wrong to assert that as a proposition of historical fact, but you're just wrong to imply that "five good emperors" in any sense corresponds to the clues offered in the question. I'm sorry if you were confused by that, but the answer you gave is simply implausible. It doesn't connect, at all. It's like buzzing on the Tariff of Abominators and answering "the Civil War."
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Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Aug 02, 2006 1:28 pm


No, Bruce, I have never heard of this "battle" of the "Thames" that you speak about. Perhaps you could enlighten me and tell me what continent it took place on? And who is this "Tecumseh" character?
This argument strategy would work much better if I hadn't seen you 30 a bonus on the battle of the thames like 3 days ago.
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Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Wed Aug 02, 2006 1:30 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
Of course, I'm a generalist in every area but physics, and so my preference (already stated elsewhere) is for significant things that one can actually sit down and learn about without memorizing someone's biography. That includes a not-insignificant preference for tossups on works rather than writers, and in particular for events in history over people. My feeling is that over the last couple years, question writing has changed to a style which is heavily weighted against the generalist. That includes extensive biography questions that overwhelmingly favor those with a complete knowledge of one writer's/politician's work over those who have a broad knowledge of many works/political events.

None of this should be taken to mean that biography shouldn't be asked at all. But, especially in history, if you're going to write a biography question, I encourage you to make sure there are things to say about the person that aren't just curiosities and that actually form a pyramid of clues rather than the precipitous drop I've been seeing in many questions lately. I think that the pendulum has swung too far in that direction and I hope that the next year's tournaments will return to a more balanced division between biography and events tossups.
I have some issues with the conclusions people are advancing in this discussion, and in particular with the bias against "biography" expressed in Jerry's quote above. That bias seems to dovetail with the assumption that there is one unitary thing (the thing which Frankel refers to as "legitimate academic scholarship") with which all questions should fall in line. First of all, as anyone in the humanities ought to know, it's ludicrous to speak of "legitimate academic scholarship" as a single, well-defined entity. One person's academic research is another person's frivolous waste of time, and pretending to set oneself up as an arbiter of the acceptable (as Frankel does with his offhand dismissal of scholarship on "racial minorities during the time of the Flavian dynasty") is simply absurd.

In fact, "history" is a very large domain, and there are a number of ways in which one can take an interest in it. One might take basic courses in the subject, in which case one would probably be exposed to the kinds of things Jerry discusses above (since survey courses and textbooks frequently take the form "this event happened, then this event happened"). One might major in history and go on to grad school, in which case one would be exposed to a number of things which Frankel presumably finds contemptible, and which rarely show up in questions (e.g. debates between current scholars, some of whom might even be "trendy" and "postmodern," about historical questions, which would be the equivalent of literary-critical lead-ins to questions on works of literature). Alternatively, one might simply read a lot of books about some particular era which has caught one's fancy.

I want to focus on the latter, since that's basically my way of taking an interest in history. In particular, my interest in 19th-century America has led me to read a number of biographies of 19th-century Americans. When you read something like Robert Remini's biography of Daniel Webster, you learn not just about Webster but about the politicians with whom he interacted. In that book, for instance, I learned that in 1816 Richard Mentor Johnson proposed that Congress change its method of paying itself, a seemingly innocent suggestion which led to a bill which so outraged the American public that two-thirds of Congressmen were voted out of office at the next election. Is that a "curiosity," or an important fact about American political history c. 1816? I don't see that it's obviously a less important fact than minor provisions of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, or minor engagements of the Black Hawk War. They're all just "things one might know about if one took an interest in 19th-century American history." If you happen to know more about events, and the minor facts associated with them, good for you; you'll do well on a certain kind of tossup. If you happen to be interested in a different kind of history, you might be more likely to know about people and the minor facts associated with them, in which case you'll do well on "biography questions."

My point here, I guess, is as follows. I don't see why a certain kind of legitimate history question (call it an "event" question if you like) should be privileged over other kinds of legitimate history questions ("biography" questions, say). Also, there's no ontological difference between clues about events and clues about people. To call the former "significant" and the latter "curiosities" is to use prejudicial adjectives to advance one's position, rather than arguing for it.

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Post by Captain Sinico » Wed Aug 02, 2006 1:40 pm

Bruce wrote:

No, Bruce, I have never heard of this "battle" of the "Thames" that you speak about. Perhaps you could enlighten me and tell me what continent it took place on? And who is this "Tecumseh" character?
This argument strategy would work much better if I hadn't seen you 30 a bonus on the battle of the thames like 3 days ago.
Your ruse is exposed, Jerry!

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Post by Nathan » Wed Aug 02, 2006 2:44 pm

" Robert Remini's biography of Daniel Webster"

hopefully it is better than his biography of Andrew Jackson.


"I'm sorry if you were confused by that, but the answer you gave is simply implausible. It doesn't connect, at all."

I don't dispute that at all..my issue is with the question phrasing...not with the fact that my answer was wrong regarding the tossup as written.

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Wed Aug 02, 2006 3:35 pm

Rats, I've thrice now decided not to post anymore. I just wanted to clarify my position...

I'm not against people buzzing on a year like 1913 because they know that's when the Underwood-Simmons Tarriff happened, or buzzing on the question because they know it followed the Payne-Aldrich Tarriff (in fact I'm all for both). I'm against "educated guesses" (the best phrase I can think of) - i.e. buzzing and saying what seems most likely without necessarily having any concrete knowledge like "this happened in 1913." Sometimes that can be a fine line, but it's important, I think.

My most important and perhaps only point is: If you don't like writing biography/military, that's fine (even though I disagree) - but you should be awfully careful when you pick answers for that, and if feasible make them a whole lot harder and less transparent than Gran Colombia or New Model Army.

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Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Aug 02, 2006 3:35 pm

(don't take this the wrong way, Bruce, but I think someone who is obsessed enough with niche 19th Century politics to label himself a Whig probably shouldn't use that obsession as the standard for what topics are both worthwhile to ask AND reasonably recognizable for someone with general background knowledge)
And yet I could name a half-dozen players who could beat me out to tossups on the very figures I am "obsessed" with.

It just doesn't seem to be as unaccessible as you make it out to be.
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Post by ThomasJeffersonProxie » Wed Aug 02, 2006 8:51 pm

Bruce wrote:[Richard Mentor Johnson] is also notable for, among other things, being probably the only US Vice-President who lived with (and had children by) a black woman who he was not married to, and probably the only US Vice-President to be a more-or-less open atheist.
Why you hatin', Bruce?

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Post by Important Bird Area » Wed Aug 02, 2006 8:54 pm

And, if you're going to define canon expansion the way you are, then absolutely every packet should expand the canon in that it should have at least some unique clues. My whole point is that at harder-level tourneys, I'd like to see less of this type of expansion and more of the usual type of expansion
I agree completely about the omniprevalence of canon expansion; after all, the alternative is buzzer races on every question. I do however question that the introduction of novel tossup answers is the "usual" method of canon expansion. It strikes me as in fact dramatically unusual, that new information most often enters the canon either 1. in bonuses or 2. mentioned in tossup leadins, and that this situation is as it should be.
all that the two best teams in the country knew about Richard Mentor Johnson was that he killed Tecumseh. This tells me that he's probably not tossup material (although as a consequence of this debate everyone will know everything about him and Johnson will become canonical at junior-bird tournaments).
This is not necessarily on topic, and perhaps more suitable for another thread, but Jerry's comment reminds me of another theoretical complaint I have with question-writers: quizbowl portrayed as a closed circle of specialized knowledge, in which everyone knows about Richard M. Johnson or Mt. Townshend or whatever because of some past message-board debate over difficulty and canonicity. I don't think anyone deliberately sets out to write on topics of interest specifically to quizbowlers, certain trash tournaments excepted, but I do think that this can come awfully close to a sort of quizbowl form of the Gnostic heresy, in which list memorization and combing old packets for lead-in clues is the appropriate method for attaining enlightenment.

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Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Aug 02, 2006 9:14 pm

ThomasJeffersonProxie wrote:
Bruce wrote:[Richard Mentor Johnson] is also notable for, among other things, being probably the only US Vice-President who lived with (and had children by) a black woman who he was not married to, and probably the only US Vice-President to be a more-or-less open atheist.
Why you hatin', Bruce?
Fuck you. Go back to dismantling our Navy so we almost get reconquered by the Brits.
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Post by Chris Frankel » Thu Aug 03, 2006 8:19 am

I see I ruffled some feathers with my glib remark about the merits of certain historical specialties. To rephrase my opinion less offensively, I would say that it's undeniable that some areas of scholarship, like the hypotheticals I mentioned, are going to seem "out there" to all but your most specialized scholar.

A well-rounded undergrad or history major will probably have accumulated a decent general picture of Chinese dynastic or Roman imperial history, but since those tend to be elective areas of study, chances are he won't have gone beyond the bread and butter of the fields: hard political/military facts like rulers, dynasties, wars, rebellions, etc. That tendency limits what can reasonably be asked about in quiz bowl to primarily those topics. U.S. history is studied much more broadly among college students, and nearly everyone in quiz bowl has taken a class like U.S. AP, which covers American history across the board, touching on social, religious, industrial, minority, etc. history and introducing the hard facts and names quiz bowl likes for those broad topics which would be inaccessible when applied to most other cultural backgrounds.

One of my criticisms was that this breed of canon expansion in U.S. history only focuses on minor political affairs and ignores major social topics that should come up and that we have the luxury of being able to ask about because they're studied across the board. I don't necessarily hate biography tossups, but I think that instead of mining extremely deep into the lives of lesser politicians to pull out tossups on Richard Johnson, we should instead be exploring major (and much more generally recognizable and accessible) figures like Lucretia Mott, Boss Tweed, Jane Addams, or Clarence Darrow.

I don't buy the "Richard Johnson was really important for someone who's read in-depth books about 1810's politics" argument, because I could just as easily justify a tossup on something obscure I've studied like the McNary-Haugen Bill by arguing that its proposed passage was one of the critical issues of Calvin Coolidge's presidency and a central issue of debate in the 1928 elections (which it was), but that still doesn't fulfill the general accessibility criterion required to elevate it from a difficult bonus answer into a tossup designed to be converted by nearly every room. Or to pull an a social history analogy out, it would be like writing a tossup on Sarah Grimke, Terrence Powderly, or Bruce Barton, all reasonably important figures who did have an impact on U.S. history, but still would be ill-advised tossup answers for reasons of general accessibility.
"They sometimes get fooled by the direction a question is going to take, and that's intentional," said Reid. "The players on these teams are so good that 90 percent of the time they could interrupt the question and give the correct answer if the questions didn't take those kinds of turns. That wouldn't be fun to watch, so every now and then as I design these suckers, I say to myself, 'Watch this!' and wait 'til we're on camera. I got a lot of dirty looks this last tournament."

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Post by Chris Frankel » Thu Aug 03, 2006 8:38 am

If this were a normal forum, this would just have been a brief edit message, but my possibly unclear point in the above post was to say that I was never trying to say that biography clues were inherently illegitimate or that people were less worth asking about than events so much as that tossup answers should be limited to broadly accessible topics, while borderline and niche topics should only appear as bonuses.

In other words, I was disagreeing with Andrew's premise that Johnson and the Webster-Ashburton treaty themselves are of the same level of importance and accessibility, and expressing criticism at a trend where people seem to approach U.S. history canon expansion by choosing to write tossups on borderline/niche people in favor of on broadly accessible events, places, groups, etc.
"They sometimes get fooled by the direction a question is going to take, and that's intentional," said Reid. "The players on these teams are so good that 90 percent of the time they could interrupt the question and give the correct answer if the questions didn't take those kinds of turns. That wouldn't be fun to watch, so every now and then as I design these suckers, I say to myself, 'Watch this!' and wait 'til we're on camera. I got a lot of dirty looks this last tournament."

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Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Thu Aug 03, 2006 12:07 pm

Chris Frankel wrote: I don't buy the "Richard Johnson was really important for someone who's read in-depth books about 1810's politics" argument, because I could just as easily justify a tossup on something obscure I've studied like the McNary-Haugen Bill by arguing that its proposed passage was one of the critical issues of Calvin Coolidge's presidency and a central issue of debate in the 1928 elections (which it was), but that still doesn't fulfill the general accessibility criterion required to elevate it from a difficult bonus answer into a tossup designed to be converted by nearly every room. Or to pull an a social history analogy out, it would be like writing a tossup on Sarah Grimke, Terrence Powderly, or Bruce Barton, all reasonably important figures who did have an impact on U.S. history, but still would be ill-advised tossup answers for reasons of general accessibility.
This isn't quite right, I think. Obviously, I'm all in favor of having tossups be "accessible" -- I think anyone who's played one of my tournaments over the last year would recognize that I'm a big advocate of having as few tossups as possible go unanswered. To stick with the Richard Johnson example, the objection to it is surely not that it isn't "accessible," since everyone is in agreement that it has a well-known giveaway ("vice president who claimed to kill Tecumseh," etc.). The question is whether it deserves to be a tossup, not whether it can be answered at all.

My contention is that there's nothing wrong with having a person be the answer to a tossup. Let's say you're interested in working information about that Richard Johnson-sponsored Compensation Act into a question. Obviously, a tossup to which the answer is "The Compensation Act" is out -- nobody's going to get it, save maybe Bruce on his best day. However, there are several ways you could use it as a lead-in. You might say "This stuff happened during the presidency of X," and let the president's name be your gettable answer. Or you might use it as a lead-in to Johnson. If you found 2-4 other significant things like that which he did, I don't see the problem with using them to construct a tossup to which "Johnson" would be the answer and having the giveaway be the standard lore about him. It's still a tossup on significant stuff from American history, for people who are well-versed in the period; and it still has a well-known giveaway, for people who aren't.

A good comparison, I think, is to literature tossups which have an author's name as the answer. These are lame if they're written "Born in X, he attended Y college before writing his first book, Z." If they're written in the way that has become standard -- as descriptions of successively less-obscure works written by the same person -- they're fine. History tossups which have a historical personage's name as the answer should be subject to the same standards. If they are a tedious recitation of uninteresting dates and events in that person's life, then yes, they're probably poor. But if they're descriptions of successively less-obscure things to which that person was relevantly connected, I don't see the problem with them.

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Thu Aug 03, 2006 2:10 pm

I agree completely about the omniprevalence of canon expansion; after all, the alternative is buzzer races on every question. I do however question that the introduction of novel tossup answers is the "usual" method of canon expansion. It strikes me as in fact dramatically unusual, that new information most often enters the canon either 1. in bonuses or 2. mentioned in tossup leadins, and that this situation is as it should be.
Well, yes Jeff, I didn't mean to imply I'm for just plucking tu answers out of nowhere. They're going to come from second/third parts of bonuses; I just meant answers that I've either never seen tus on or only very rarely in recent memory. Some examples of that which I wrote for CO - tossups on Where Angels Fear to Tread, Myrmidons, and Edward Tylor's Primitive Culture. None of these are wildly inaccessibly difficult, I think, and they've all definitely appeared in bonus parts.

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Post by Matt Weiner » Thu Aug 03, 2006 5:20 pm

Chris Frankel wrote:Or to pull an a social history analogy out, it would be like writing a tossup on Sarah Grimke, Terrence Powderly, or Bruce Barton, all reasonably important figures who did have an impact on U.S. history, but still would be ill-advised tossup answers for reasons of general accessibility.
Do people not learn who Terrence Powderly is in high school now?
Ryan Westbrook wrote:Well, yes Jeff, I didn't mean to imply I'm for just plucking tu answers out of nowhere. They're going to come from second/third parts of bonuses; I just meant answers that I've either never seen tus on or only very rarely in recent memory. Some examples of that which I wrote for CO - tossups on Where Angels Fear to Tread, Myrmidons, and Edward Tylor's Primitive Culture. None of these are wildly inaccessibly difficult, I think, and they've all definitely appeared in bonus parts.
Myrmidons has been a tossup forever and has plenty of clues that can be picked up by cursory exposure to the Trojan War story, which I believe means most teams, if not most players, can answer it. Primitive Culture is probably not going to be answered except by a sociology/anthropology student or a team that has been studying for potential new answers in that area, but at a tournament like CO where the majority of teams do some sort of prep work for qb, it's okay in context. The tossup on Where Angels Fear to Tread probably reduced to "buzz in if you've heard this title asosciated with EM Forster before and know the Pope quotation" with the actual plot clues that made up the prior 3/4 of the tossup being of benefit to at most 1 or 2 teams. You should have used it as the first part of a bonus, dropped the cutesy giveaway, and followed it up with parts on Forster and another novel.

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Post by No Rules Westbrook » Thu Aug 03, 2006 6:30 pm

The tossup on Where Angels Fear to Tread probably reduced to "buzz in if you've heard this title asosciated with EM Forster before and know the Pope quotation" with the actual plot clues that made up the prior 3/4 of the tossup being of benefit to at most 1 or 2 teams. You should have used it as the first part of a bonus, dropped the cutesy giveaway, and followed it up with parts on Forster and another novel.
Nonsense. I defend the question thusly: the first two sentences are good for people who have read the book and will be excited to see it come up. The next two are for people who have memorized the basic plots to EM Forster novels (of which Angels is a pretty major one) and know main characters etc. (I wrote on it because I didn't know any characters but for instance I can give you that type of information about works like Cather's A Lost Lady or Sapphira the Slave Girl). The next clue tells you it's the first novel of EM Forster - so if you know it at all as one of his titles you should be anticipating the answer and then it has the convenient ability to be given away by another lit clue in Pope's quote.

And, yeah, I expect at any high level tourney like co that teams have done "prep work" for qb...and, they should struggle if they haven't. Tylor has come up repeatedly in bonuses, and if you know Tylor you probably know his most famous work since they're kind of synonymous. Obviously, I'm not suggesting the appropriateness of these things for easy tourneys. I'm also not saying that every question or even most questions in the packet should expand the canon similarly, but some should and I'm giving examples of stuff I think appropriate.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter » Thu Aug 03, 2006 10:32 pm

Yeah, full stats:

https://webspace.utexas.edu/egk55/www/h ... dings.html

Had to do them all at once. Sorry that took so long.

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Post by Nathan » Fri Aug 04, 2006 11:55 am

Where Angels Fear to Tred is a perfectly legit tossup and has, in fact, been used before as a tossup.

I haven't read it but I'm not unfamiliar with the plot (the other team negged so there was no need to take it before the giveaway in my room).

Jim Baker got Primitive Culture pretty quickly so at least some people are pretty familiar with it (I only know it as a giveaway for Tylor).

Myrmidons is certainly fine, though there could have been an Achilles reference in the giveaway...


On another note, I agree with Andrew (and I doubt Frankel actually disagrees) that if one can come up with clues dealing with substantive historical matters substantially related to a (somewhat minor) historical figure, then a tossup with that figure's name is fine. The key prerequisite being "substantially related" -- Tossups of the nature "This Congressman cast one of the 227 votes for blah, blah blah, and once gave a speech to the Rotary Club of New Ulm on blah, blah blah......FTP, name this 8-term representative from MN who had something to do with Prohibition." suck.

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Post by Nathan » Fri Aug 04, 2006 2:24 pm

Chris:

I was thinking about your statement: "substantial areas of legitimate academic scholarship (as opposed to trendy postmodern niche topics like women in Kievan Rus or racial minorities during the time of the Flavian dynasty)."

I know (or think I know) what (or who) you're trying to disparage....the overspecialization of the academy can certainly sometimes lead to a lack of proportion or overstatement of relative significance....or even to hack work like that of Howard Zinn (or his right-wing Founding Father-adulationist analogues)...

but when trying to grapple with historical events (let alone those with a paucity of records)...often social history provides a prism from which to see the whole of a period or society in many facets that a concentration on the ruling class will often miss.

For example, my graduate work was concerned with the American colonial experience and the first 30 years or so of the American republic, especially New England. Although in many ways Perry Miller is the colossus still astriding that field, Mary Beth Norton's Liberty's Daughters is a seminal work in that field (and rightly so), equal to the most notable efforts of Edmund S. Morgan and Bernard Bailyn. And her work has provided essential insights (without one could characterize as any radical ideological baggage) onto both American society in the latter part of the 18th century and the Revolution itself that were simply not available before. Likewise, Jesse Lemisch and Eric Foner have done much for our understanding of how the Revolution was perceived by the majority of the American people (and, of course, Foner's work on slavery and reconstruction is positively magisterial). Although one might averr that Foner and Lemisch are "left" historians, that's both an oversimplification and based on the questionable assumption that a concentration on the working class and/or slaves of a period makes one intrinsically leftist. (The analogous slur is to characterize Forrest McDonald as a "right" historian merely because he emphasized the revolution as actually sincerely revolutionary in character in opposition to Beard. Indeed, Robert Brown, who definitively disproved the central Beardian thesis, was ostracized within the Academy for years for his work.)

My point is, social history is a indispensible part of the historiography of any period.

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Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Fri Aug 04, 2006 7:47 pm

ekwartler wrote:Yeah, full stats:

https://webspace.utexas.edu/egk55/www/h ... dings.html

Had to do them all at once. Sorry that took so long.

Eric
Are these actually "full" stats? I get an error message when I click on anything at the top.

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Post by MLafer » Fri Aug 04, 2006 9:20 pm

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:
ekwartler wrote:Yeah, full stats:

https://webspace.utexas.edu/egk55/www/h ... dings.html

Had to do them all at once. Sorry that took so long.

Eric
Are these actually "full" stats? I get an error message when I click on anything at the top.
It will work if you remove the 1 and one of the underscores from the address, e.g.
https://webspace.utexas.edu/egk55/www/h ... iduals.htm

should be

https://webspace.utexas.edu/egk55/www/h ... duals.html

not sure why the URLs are like that.

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