The Battle to Finish a PhD: World War I Soldier Completes His Dissertation in the Trenches (1916)

phd in trenches

Connie Ruzich, a WWI poetry blogger, recently highlighted on Twitter a historic newspaper clipping that will put the travails of academe into perspective. Getting a Ph.D. is always hard. But hard is relative.

Case in point…

100 years ago, Pierre Maurice Masson, a young scholar, found himself fighting in north-eastern France. Drafted in 1914, Masson rose through the military ranks, moving from sergeant, to sub-lieutenant, to lieutenant. Meanwhile, in the discomfort of the trenches, he continued working on his doctoral thesis–a long dissertation on the religious training of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. By the spring of 1916, he had completed the text, corrected the proofs, and drafted an introduction (of course, that comes last). Finally, he announced to friends, “The monster is ready!” And he sought a leave of absence to return to the Sorbonne to receive his doctorate.

Alas, that didn’t happen. The newspaper clip above tells the rest of the poignant story.

You can read Masson’s posthumously published thesis, La formation religieuse de Rousseaufree online.

via Ted Gioia/Connie Ruzich

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  • Sherry Richmond says:

    I can’t read the newspaper clipping. It’s much too blurry. Perhaps it could be retyped & posted?

  • Eugene Wee says:

    @Sherry Richmond: the newspaper clipping reads:

    FRENCH SCHOLAR HERO.
    From Our Own Correspondent.
    PARIS, Friday.

    The Sorbonne has been the scene of a moving and unprecedented ceremony. Pierre Maurice Masson was received Doctor of Letters, but he was received posthumously, as he was killed at the front on April 26. He finished his thesis for the doctorate in the trenches. He corrected his proofs in the trenches, and he wrote in the trenches and exceedingly modest preface to his work, in which he apologised to his readers for devoting his leisure hours at the front to so frivolous a subject in war time as a thesis for Doctor of Letters.

    His subject was Jean Jacques Rousseau’s religion, and he dealt chiefly with Rousseau’s “Profession de Foi du Vicarire Savoyard,” of which he had published a scholarly edition. Pierre Maurice Masson was to have appeared in the Sorbonne on March 4 last, and had obtained leave for that purpose, but owing to military operations his leave was cancelled, and on April 26 Lieutenant Masson was killed in action.

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