Part Two: MAs, ABDs and PhDs
Columbia, Missouri turned out to be a far cry from what I was used to, me being a Yankee now displaced in the Midwest. But after a few weeks in Columbia, I found myself getting into the academic and social life of a classic college town. After a slow start in my first semester -- I had little idea of what exactly it was I was going to study -- I began to relax and enjoy my new academic freedom. The History Department at Mizzou was an exciting place to work and the faculty were genuinely interested in those students who were dead serious about their academic training.
I was later told by my advisor that the department was rather hesitant about accepting me to the program. It was suggested that since I had only taken two history classes in college that I would need to make up a lot of ground. My advisor also told me that the committee concluded that I would either become the department's worst student, or the best. As it turned out, I didn't let them down.
After working manual labor ten hours a day for the past four years, having all this free time was both a blessing and a curse! I was living in a tiny attic room on N. Williams Street with some odd roommates I rarely saw. I would still wake up at 6 AM but for the first few months I wasted a great deal of time. I had to learn how to study.
Then, during my second semester I was urged to take a class from Professor Michael E. Rose who was a Visiting Professor from the University of Manchester. Rose taught a readings seminar on modern Britain with a focus on the rise of the British welfare state. Rose taught me a great deal. One thing I learned on my own was that graduate school seminars required a great deal of reading -- upwards of at least 750 pages a week, oftentimes more. It was during Rose's seminar, and while reading Thomas Malthus' First Essay on Population (1798) that I encountered The Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) by William Godwin (1756-1836). I had Godwin's Enquiry sitting on my bookshelf.
I bought the book while in college but never read it. So, I picked it up and started reading. I soon became totally taken with 18th century England and Godwin's brand of philosophical anarchism. After all, it had been the Age of Enlightenment which most interested me during my undergraduate days (thanks to Peter Gay). I ended up writing my seminar research essay on Godwin's notion of human perfectibility. Not only that, I decided that (1) I would pursue the field of modern British history and (2) that I would write my M.A. thesis on Godwin.
So Godwin and modern British history it was! I soon discovered that the rather illustrious career of Godwin had a lot to commend. He was writing at a time when British political radicals and reformers had their eyes set on events across the English Channel. For a time his ideas influenced Coleridge, Wordsworth, William Hazlitt, John Thelwall and others. He married the champion of women's rights, Mary Wollstonecraft and their child, Mary, went on to wed the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and then write Frankenstein (1818). I also learned that most historians rebuffed Godwin as a minor thinker. He was more often mentioned by literary historians for his novels, than by historians for his role in the movement for parliamentary reform in the 1790s. So, like all good M.A. candidates, I chose a topic which had in the past earned the respect of a footnote.
I spent two years researching the Godwin thesis, usually reading more than writing. I managed to do some work at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University while home one summer and by the Spring of 1984 I had my research complete. But where was the thesis?
Well, here's how it came to be. My advisor told me in no uncertain terms that if I did not have my thesis ready by April 20th, that I would not get a teaching assistantship for the Fall. He said this to me on April 10th! So, I locked myself in my room and wrote for a week on a blue Smith Corona typewriter. Six days and one hundred or so pages later I pronounced the work done. My advisor read the piece in two days and I still remember going to his office early one Saturday morning while he went over his criticisms (my Introduction, which was in excess of twenty pages, he had pared down to three!). By Wednesday, the draft was in the hands of a very able typist and friend and the following week, I successfully defended my thesis, AN UNEASY AFFAIR: WILLIAM GODWIN AND ENGLISH RADICALISM, 1793-1797. I received my M.A. degree in History in May 1984.
Then, the hard part! Onward to the doctoral program. For some reason -- I know, it's called procrastination -- I had already earned credit hours toward my doctorate so what remained of my graduate program were a few courses in a field outside history -- it turned out to be English literature (how surprising) -- as well as some research hours toward my comprehensive exams. By the Spring of 1985 I had completed my coursework, passed exams in both German and French translation and I had been a teaching assistant for two years. My committee, which consisted of four members of the History faculty and one member from the English department, asked me to complete three WRITTEN EXAMS to be followed by my orals. My written fields were:
The committee allowed me to take my exams back to my apartment on N. 9th Street and for eight hours per day for three alternating days (Friday, Monday, Wednesday) I did nothing but write. And write I did. My Royal Alpha "Electronic" typewriter (such an improvement over the Smith Corona!) and I pumped out almost 150 pages! It was a bit much, as one member of my committee remarked, but what the heck, they made me read some pretty wild stuff -- this was my chance to give it back to them. (I still remember the day that Jackson Lears went through a bibliography of books I should read for my comps -- he had checked off more than sixty titles! Of course, I read them all.)
I submitted four bulky copies of my writtens and on Friday, at 1 PM, I sat down in the faculty lounge in the Arts and Sciences Building to take my orals. Without getting into longish details, this event was a rite of passage. A three hour rite of passage. When we finally took a break after two hours, I turned to one examiner and said, "why is it that as soon as I start talking about something I know, you guys change the subject to something I know nothing about?" He simply smiled and from that point on I had a better idea of what was going on. The committee didn't want me to demonstrate what I knew. Rather, they wanted me to utilize the tools of analysis and methods of critical thinking from what I knew to discuss things I didn't really know. Interesting. To make a long story short, I earned a High Pass and the right to undertake my dissertation. I was no longer just a graduate student -- now I was what is called an ABD, which means, all but dissertation but which others, including myself, have fondly referred to as all but done.
Well, what was my graduate career all about? After four years of full-time study I believe that what I walked away with was a knowledge of the history of the Industrial Revolution and its effects in Europe, the United States and, to a lesser extent, Russia. My concentration was the period roughly 1750-1914. Social history, then known as the New History was all the rage. My advisor, Richard Bienvenu (Richard retired in May 2006 after forty years of teaching), was an intellectual historian specializing in revolutionary France and the Utopian Socialists and although I enjoyed the five or six courses I took with him my expertise was clearly modern Britain. In this respect, I devoured the works of E. P. Thompson, Raymond Williams, J. F. C. Harrison, Asa Briggs, Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm. As you might have surmised, these guys are all members of the New Left and my training in Marxism as an undergraduate came in very handy. Of course, I had to forget everything I learned about Marx as an undergraduate and basically start all over again. Such is the life of a graduate student!
For the record, here's a list of my grad school courses: History of Socialist Thought, Intellectual History of Europe in the 17th and 18th Centuries, The Age of he Renaissance, Intro to Historical Research, American Cultural and Intellectual History to 1865, Intellectual History of Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Revolutionary France, American Cultural and Intellectual History Since 1865, The Later 18th Century in English Literature, Historiography, and The Romantic Poets. Added to this were Readings in Modern European History, Readings in English History, and Problems in English History, all of which were seminars with anywhere from three to twelve students. I also managed thirty-five credits in Research in History, which were required hours while I researched and wrote my Ph.D. dissertation.
Almost all my courses in British history were taught by Michael Thorn, a man whose intellect and compassion for intellectual rigor was outstanding. Michael was twice selected as Teacher of the Year at Missouri, an honor which eventually meant the "kiss of death." He was finally denied tenure because he refused to publish anything -- I think Chesterton was his thing -- and so Missouri lost perhaps their best professor. Fortunately, I had finished my coursework before his departure.
At Missouri I studied under Richard Bienvenu (European intellectual history, France, history of socialism), Jackson Lears (American cultural and intellectual history, historiography), Charles Nauert (Renaissance and Reformation), Charles Timberlake (Russian Revolution), Dina Copelman (Modern Britian), Haskell Hinnant (18th century English literature) and Rev. J. Robert Barth (British Romantic Poetry). While searching for links (on 10/9/06) I ran across the obituary for Father Barth (d. September 21, 2005). I had never had a great affinity for poetry. Barth changed all that. Anyone who took his classes at Harvard, or Missouri, or Boston College was profoundly affected by this talented teacher, scholar and human being. I wrote my best papers for Barth -- one on Wordsworth, The Prelude, and the "spots of time," the other on Keats' concept of negative capability. I would later learn (following another death), that my brother Dave also had a class with Barth when he was at Harvard in the early 1970s. And Wordsworth remains my favorite poet to this day.
Having passed my comps (1985) it was now time to get on with the dissertation. In consultation with Michael Thorn, I decided to forgo my love of the 18th century -- I really wanted to write about John Thelwall, a London journalist during the tumultuous 1790s, but was told that (1) such work was "not marketable" and (2) David Erdman was already working on a similar book -- and move into a modern field. Together we chose scientific management. I had read The Principles of Scientific Management by Frederick Winslow Taylor but was surprised to learn that there was very little mention of scientific management in England. I thought this was odd since England was the First Industrial Nation.
Had historians missed something? Was there such a thing as scientific management outside the United States? I started to research the topic and slowly but surely I discovered a few things. First, yes, there was an incidence of scientific management outside the U.S. and second, scientific management did not always signify Taylorism. I read Harry Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (1974). He talked about scientific management but made no reference to its existence globally. In fact, it was clear to me that in Braverman's mind, scientific management and Taylorism were synonymous.
I came across a book by Craig Littler called, The Development of the Labour Process in Capitalist Societies (1982). Littler's book was the only recent monograph that I could locate that spoke directly to the issue of scientific management outside the United States. In one chapter he introduced Charles E. Bedaux, a management consultant and entrepreneur in scientific management who, between 1914 and 1944, was more directly responsible for introducing scientific management techniques in Britain (and elsewhere) than Taylor or any other Taylorite. I became fascinated with this man and needed to learn more. There were scant references to Bedaux in the literature and a search of the Library of Congress revealed just a few books and pamphlets written by Bedaux. But Littler referenced his chapters on Bedaux by reference to the Bedaux Archives. Where were these archives? The mystery began!
At this time, I was living with my Mom and Dad in New Haven and making full use of the libraries at Yale. I also began to write letters to other British historians asking them about Bedaux. Michael Rose wrote me and said I should contact Howard Gospel of the University of Kent at Canterbury and the Business History Unit at the London School of Economics and Political Science. So I wrote Gospel a letter describing my research and my inability to locate the Bedaux Archives.
I waited an eternity for the trans-Atlantic mail to do its wonders. Finally, a letter arrived and there it was. The Bedaux Archives were held by a British company called INBUCON, or Industrial Business Consultants. I went back to the library and an hour later had the address. I wrote a letter of inquiry to the archivist and two weeks later I received the response I had been awaiting for over a year. Yes, INBUCON had the archives and I could consult them. So, I made my airline reservations and in July I found myself standing in Gatwick in anticipation of six month's research.
Thanks to some rather bad advice from one historian, I ended up at the Modern Records Centre at Warwick University in Coventry. I was told this would be an excellent place to begin research. So, I made arrangements to stay at Warwick for six weeks -- a week or two would have been more than sufficient. I did manage to conduct some solid research at Warwick and the staff there were excellent. However, very little about Bedaux was to be found.
I finally moved to London (Fulham, Chelsea) and that was the place where, ultimately, things began to happen. After all, there was the British Library! There too, down in Knightsbridge, were the offices of INBUCON. I interviewed with the archivist and it turned out the Archives were not in London, but in Haywards Heath in West Sussex. So, I made all the proper arrangements and every day for more than two months, I took the train south to Haywards Heath.
The Archives turned out to be very poorly maintained and consisted of 35mm copies of onion skin documents. There were approximately 30 reels that I needed to view but unfortunately, there was no index to the materials. I had to do that myself! Some of the records were photographed backwards as well as upside down. I could not photocopy any of the material but the kind folks at INBUCON gave me an IBM typewriter so I ended up having to transcribe all my data. I won't get into what I discovered there -- you'll have to read my dissertation and other publications. But one thing I did notice was most alarming.
Film 16 was missing! I couldn't believe it. It was gone. This was an important film as it contained records of Bedaux installations at companies which experienced strikes. I had already worked at the Trades Union Congress archives in London and had also visited the archives of several companies that had used Bedaux. There was a triangle of investigation I was trying to uncover: business-labor-Bedaux. And now, an important film was missing. I checked Littler's book. Had I missed something? And then it hit me. Littler had repeatedly referenced his Bedaux chapters to Film 16 -- the one that was missing! Well, you be the judge. I won't say another thing about it.
I remained in England until early February. I showed up at Newark with a backpack and two suitcases bursting with documents and research notes and now the really hard part began: writing the dissertation! How to begin?
Well, the first thing I did was a buy a computer -- an 8086 machine with 640k of RAM and a whopping 20 MB hard drive. I bought Nota Bene, an academic word processor which I thoroughly enjoyed until Windows 3.1 came along. I ended up moving to Hollywood, Florida to be with my fiancée, Joyce, who was employed as a nurse anesthetist. This was in December 1987. Notice, I am about to write my dissertation 1400 miles from my dissertation committee -- BIG MISTAKE!
Over a period of six months I managed to write an introduction and the first chapter. Not much output at all. I was watching too much television and not doing enough work. I wasn't motivated at all. I must have seen every episode of Bewitched and Little House on the Prairie! Joyce was beginning to get on my case. After all, she was going to work at the hospital every day and was also on call regularly. And here I was, telling her about my important day when in actual fact, I had done nothing!
In June 1988, Joyce and I got married. We honeymooned in St. Lucia and had a great time. "Time to settle down and get to work on that dissertation," I told myself. But then, as always, something got in the way. . . .
| The History Guide | |
Copyright © 2000, 2006 Steven Kreis