Archive | February, 2011

I am reminded of kindergarten…

23 Feb

while working on my thesis.  When I was in kindergarten, I loved this instrument.  While learning the alphabet, I wrote and rewrote letters over and over, forcefully erasing the previous version each time.  Sometimes, my furious revisions created a hole in the paper.  But this is not about revisions.  It’s about closely scanning a page to find any faint marking.  The difference between kindergarten and graduate school is that in kindergarten I erased that marking.  In graduate school, I want to throw a party.

You’re probably asking where in the world could I possibly be going with this.  Has our resident blogger gone mad?  No, not yet.  I’m currently examining church association minutes between 1817-1833.  A few of the names are clear.  Others…not so much.  I bet if I could see myself, I would laugh.  Move the paper closer.  Move it away.  Put it under a light.  Remove it from the light.  Tilt the paper.  Tilt my head.  And so on…all in an attempt to find out if those two lines were part of a “u” or an “n.”

When I finally decide that the letter is a “u,” I still feel more like an artist than a scientist.  First off, I do not know if consistency was valued less in the early 19th century, but apparently it was the in-thing to vary the spelling of church leaders and ministers each year.  Ok, that is a slight exaggeration.  Still, even after I figure out the spelling in 1826, I have to decide if the 1826 spelling trumps the 1825 spelling.  Then, sometimes the census has a completely alternate spelling different from both.  All of this leaves me feeling like the artist above, instead of the scientist below.

But surely, once I find the correct name, the rest should be easy.  When the name is something like “Obediah Wimpy” it is pretty easy.  Apparently, there weren’t many Wimpy people in Kentucky in the early 1800s.  I can quickly type the name into and enjoy how much easier their search feature has made my life.

But what do I do when the name is “John Wilson?”  There were quite a few John Wilson’s in Kentucky in the early 1800s.  This is where I feel closer to the above artist.  I check the location of all the messengers from the same church.  Generally, this fixes the problem.  If I have eight other people from the same church who lived in Logan County, Kentucky, then there is a really good chance the John Wilson from Logan is the right one.  Still, it isn’t exact.  Sometimes, I never figure out which person is the right person.



Regression to the Mean & Giving Praise

16 Feb

Hello to all the beautiful people out there following the MTSU History Blog.  After a long and fun day of working on my thesis, I’ve been relaxing and reading The Economic Naturalist by Robert H. Frank.

The book has been everything I expected and more.  Granted, my expectations were only so high considering that I bought it for $2 at McKays in Nashville.  I expected to find silver.  But I struck gold.  It was buried deep within the book (or it was on page 146, whichever sounds better).

Frank answers “Why do managers tend to overestimate the efficacy of blame and underestimate the efficacy of praise?”  As a former teacher and coach, this question was extremely relevant.  I know the best literature available says be positive, give X (significantly large) number of compliments for every X (significantly small) number of criticisms, etc.  Still, there were times when criticism seemed to work really, really well.

So, why is that?  According to Frank, it has to do with regression to the mean.  People vary in their performance.  Sometimes they do great.  Sometimes they do poorly.  Sometimes they do average.  The person that does poorly one week will generally do average or even great the next.  Poor performance is often met with criticism.  That criticism is too often seen as the cause of improved performance.  The reverse is also true.  Someone who performs well one week is likely to do worse the next.  That’s one of the reasons why compliments sometimes seem to do little good, or even worse, harm.  So, if your gut tells you to be negative, don’t listen to it.  Hand out some praise!

If I butchered that last paragraph, please forgive me.  Given how bright this audience is, I’m sure you got the idea 🙂

Matt Bailey

The History Day Interviews – Part 2

4 Feb

An Interview with Brad Wright.


Welcome to the second part of our History Day series. History Day is on February 25th. Faculty, graduate students, and volunteers all create an exciting day of learning for students throughout Middle Tennessee. This year’s effort is led by Dr. McIntyre and three graduate assistants – Katie Rosta, Brigitte Eubank, and Brad Wright.

MB: Hello Brad.  Thank you for joining me for the second part of the History Day Interviews.  Will you tell us a little bit about your background?
Brad: I grew up in south Arkansas.  I went to undergrad at the University of Arkansas where I majored in philosophy.  Then, I took a bit of a detour and went through a certification process and got licensed to preach in the United Methodist Church.  So, I went to seminary at the time at Phillips Theological in Tulsa and completed 20+ hours of graduate work there.
MB: That’s interesting.  What brought you to Murfreesboro and MTSU?
Brad: My wife got a job in Smyrna, and I thought I better come with her.  I took a couple classes at Vanderbilt Divinity School, but I started working full time in community organizing with Hispanic immigrants.
MB: Can you speak Spanish?  Tell me a bit more about your work.
Brad: Yes I can.  We were constantly advocating some sort of comprehensive immigration reform.  We ended up working on a lot of legal issues and putting people in touch with legal resources.  Helping people with language issues was a constant thing.  Then, it was just listening to the people and letting them articulate the challenges and concerns they were having and how they thought the community could be a better place.  For example, the 2010 flood in Nashville hit the immigrant community particularly hard.  They tend to live in the low lying areas.  That brought up a lot of issues around housing and other things to the surface that people had not worried about before.
MB: What are your academic interests?  Do they tie into your work?
Brad: I’m going to specialize in Latin American history, particularly the relationship between the United States and Mexico.  But I’ve got a wide range of interests, such as race and class.  I’m going to use Spanish to examine primary sources in Latin America, and I will have to spend some time in Mexico (where I can have fun staying with my lovely mother in law).
MB: Before I forget, how do you like working as a graduate assistant for History Day?
Brad: I like it.  The project is quite an undertaking because there are several different categories and so many students involved.  But I am really impressed by some of the entries and topics we’ve gotten so far with this year’s theme of Debate and Diplomacy.  It is exciting to see students learning how to do research and spending extended periods of time working on a project in history.
MB: Before we close, is there anything else you would like to say or that we’ve missed?
Brad: SĂ­ Se Puede!