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American Politics with David Mayhew

Thursday, February 24, 2005 at 11:29AM
Posted by Registered CommenterPolitical Mammal in My personal history

Though I majored in computer science, and took very little political science in college, I got very involved in a few projects for undergraduate courses in American Politics. One was a data analysis class that I intend to write about separately. The other two were taught by Professor David Mayhew (http://www.yale.edu/polisci/people/dmayhew.html): American Political Parties and Elections, and United States Political Geography.

After college I worked for a few years as a programmer or architect of various political applications. Then I went on to the doctoral program at MIT in political science. I doubt that Professor Mayhew would remember me, but I remember him in great detail, as he played an important role in my redirection towards a formal study of politics, and I suppose from there to my current state of affairs, running a partisan political software firm. For that, I owe him thanks.

One thing that impressed me about Mayhew and what I guess I aspired to emulate was his ability to walk to the chalkboard and draw from memory a startlingly accurate map of any part of the country. He could outline, for instance, how Kentucky and Tennessee meet Missouri and Arkansas, and recount details about the political history of that area. I spent a lot of time trying to memorize the state boundaries after that. For years it was my default doodling exercise.

Now I was not a particularly diligent student, and in fact I doubt that I turned in a paper on time in either of his classes, but I ultimately took the assignments seriously. I wrote a paper on “Computers and Political Campaigns” for the Fall, 1986 parties and elections course, and on “The Political Geography of Colorado’s Second Congressional District” for the Fall, 1987 political geography course. I have both of those papers still, and it is alarming to see how static my interests have been.

When I went on to graduate school, I learned how important to the discipline of political science Mayhew’s book Congress: the Electoral Connection was considered to be, and took note of his paper on the vanishing marginals in Congressional elections. I also came to appreciate the work involved in his studies of divided government and electoral realignments. I was happy to be able to put a face behind a book or article I was tasked with reading.

I left MIT after finishing my coursework and exams, but without attempting a dissertation, and came to join Connie, my wife-to-be and future mother of my daughter Ella, in Washington, DC. Connie is also ABD from the same department. I started a company that has thrived for eight years, so I have never really looked back. I admit that very occasionally, and less and less frequently, I think that I’ll stumble upon a compelling topic and some hitherto unexploited data, petition my department for readmission, write for a year, and finish that degree. Almost always, however, I am busy and at peace with this choice.

I am reminded by this topic that I keep meaning to write something about how journalists, political practitioners and political scientists should be able to talk without disparaging each other.

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