I forget the exact day, but 20 years ago, this month, I defended my dissertation. I first drove from my temporary position at U of Vermont to Boston to defend my dissertation to/from Lisa Martin who had moved on from UCSD to Harvard. I survived ... actually, Lisa was always kind as she provided amazingly sharp comments. I then went back to Burlington and flew to San Diego for the dissertation defense with the rest of the committee.
The defense went fine. My primary memory is about the questions asked by one of the outsiders--an historian who had some interesting things to say about two of the cases I had studied--the Congo Crisis and Nigeria's Civil War. The dissertation has shaped everything about my career, I think. My first pubs drew upon the dissertation or focused on related questions. My first book was an improved version of the dissertation with a new case (Yugoslavia's demise) and numbers (which had not existed in the dissertation), as well as revised theory and implications.
But the diss's influence did not stop with that book. The second book built on some of the puzzles left behind by the first along with building on the Somalia case, which was in the dissertation but not the first book.
Even this weekend, I feel its pull. As folks made arguments about Scotland's independence, I argued against the relevance of precedents. The dissertation tried to destroy the myth that countries are so fearful of precedents that they will not support secession elsewhere. Well, it has not done that because myths die really, really hard.
I tell students that they better find a topic that interests them because they might be stuck with it for ten years. As it turns out, I have been stuck with this dissertation for more than twenty years. And it has been mighty good to me, providing the basis for a bunch of different ideas and research agendas. Of course, I may be imprisoned by confirmation bias as I notice the stuff that agrees with my arguments long ago and I probably don't notice the stuff that disagrees.
Anyhow, I have to figure out what to give my dissertation to celebrate our anniversary together.
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