Historians are Humorless, Suggests New Study
From a carefully researched (if possibly contentious) quantitative investigation of ephemera affixed to office doors, University of Texas anthropologist Karl Petruso draws the inference, inter alia, that history faculty could be--if evidence from one anomalous individual is ignored for the purposes of statistical rigor--"consigned to the depths of humorlessness." [See Karl Petruso, "Deconstructing Faculty Doors," Academe, 92:1 (January/February 2006), 38-41, online at http://www.aaup.org/publications/Academe/2006/06jf/06jfpetr.htm]
Petruso created what he calls the Humor/Pedagogy index, Ψ, which is calculated as the ratio between the number of humorous items, h and pedagogic items, p, that are displayed on a faculty member's office door. That is, Ψ =h/p, and if Ψ is greater than, or equal to 1, the faculty member may be presumed to have a good sense of humor. Petruso acknowledges the strange results of his study, which include the inexplicable fact that professors of communication studies communicate nothing at all (at least on their office doors), and that philosophy professors have a high Ψ index--or humor quotient--a surprising finding, as Petruso adds, " to those who happen to know any actual philosophers."
Interestingly enough, Petruso's conclusions, insofar as history is concerned, appear to reinforce the anecdotal evidence provided by the Mouse in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, who declares, referring to history (albeit narrative political history), "This is the driest thing I know." [See Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 3, available online from the Electronic Text Center of the University of Virginia Library at http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/CarAlic.html].
But, as Petruso points out, existing studies of faculty door postings have indeed been too anecdotal (he does not, however, cite Alice), and his analysis is the first to give the inquiry a rigorous quantitative basis. However, the question remains whether Petruso's statistical evidence should be accepted or whether it should it be, as with all scientific analyses, tested further. It is worth noting that Petruso's analysis is based only on the limited examination of faculty doors in a single university, and more research is needed (content analysis of texts? more doors in more universities in other regions? the possibilities are endless) before his conclusions can be accepted. He himself hopes, of course, that his study will inspire other researchers to expand upon the results he obtained.
© American Historical AssociationLast Updated: February 26, 2008 10:43 AM