Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why is World War I so difficult?

I'm in a what seems to be interminable process of writing a chapter on World War I, and specifically coal and competition policy during the war. I started writing this chapter in August 2009, and it's still not done.

For some reason, I just can't get excited about it. All I can really say is that people didn't have enough coal, and they sometimes blamed coal dealers and operators for the shortage, but they also sometimes blamed the government and the fact that the county was at war. That's it. That's all. I mean, the war sort of served as a prologue to what came after, but my chapter on the 1920s will actually begin by looking at the antitrust reforms in Canada and the US that began around 1909 and ended (more or less) in 1914, which is the year the war started. [*****warning*****RETROACTIVE SPOILER ALERT****warning]


James Hanley said...

So how crucial is this chapter? Is it better left undone and set aside, or is it vital to the overall project?

Pierre Corneille said...

It's probably not a very crucial chapter. WWI, at least in my explanatory scheme, works more as an aberration from the general pattern that the rest of my dissertation claims to document. In that sense, it might very well be better to leave it undone in deference to what (to me) is more vital to the project.

At the same time, I'm very close to finishing this chapter, and might be able to do so within one or two weeks.

Still, thanks for the comment; it's worth considering. If/when I ever finish my dissertation, I'll give you a shout out in the acknowledgments (with the blanket qualification not to hold you or anyone else responsible for errors of fact or interpretation, etc., etc.)

James Hanley said...


I don't know if I've already said this, but the best piece of advice I got when starting my dissertation was, "don't think about writing a dissertation, because that task seems overwhelming--instead, think about writing a few pages on this, a few pages on that, a chapter on this." Each of those is a more conceptually manageable task, keeps the whole thing from being overwhelming, and in the end it all adds up to the whole thing.

If that's not relevant to your situation at this time, pass it on to someone who's just starting out or is getting bogged down.

It works with undergrads who are overwhelmed by writing a "whole 10 page paper," too.

And thanks for the pending shoutout. That's nice of you.

I know I asked last year, too, but if you have any interest in partially dropping your anonymity and having lunch, I'll be in Chicago for the Midwest Political Science Association conference March 31-April 2.

Pierre Corneille said...

Mr. Hanley,

Thanks for the advice. For what it's worth, it's only after I started thinking of the dissertation as a series of research papers I just had to write, rather than THE PROJECT, that I began making real progress on this dissertation.

I should be able to meet on the weekend you mention. I assume that it will be held somewhere near the "loop" (downtown) area? At any rate, you can email me at corneille1604 at yahoo dot com, and I can give you my name and my "real" email address.

(I apologize for the cloak and dagger pseudonymy. I realize that I'm being overly cautious and that almost everyone who happens on this blog and doesn't already know me personally couldn't really give a darn what my identity is.)

Pierre Corneille said...

Whoops....the email is corneille1640 and not corneille1604.

James Hanley said...


I understand the cloak and dagger. Everything you write on the internet is permanent, and potential employers are increasingly doing searches. Not that you've ever said anything that ought to cause concern, but it would be simple enough for someone on an academic search committee to simply slide you down the list based on mild disagreement with views you've expressed. The process of deciding which candidates to interview is very opaque. So anonymity is, regrettably, quite justified.

I'll email you as we get close to the date, and we can see if we can make our schedules meet. The conference is at the Palmer House Hilton in the loop, but I'm not sure yet which hotel I'll be staying at--somewhere in the loop or near north side.