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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Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Illus­trat­ed Guide to a Ph.D.

Read John Nash’s Super Short PhD The­sis with 26 Pages & 2 Cita­tions: The Beau­ty of Invent­ing a Field

Ser­i­al Entre­pre­neur Damon Horowitz Says “Quit Your Tech Job and Get a Ph.D. in the Human­i­ties”

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Comments (2)
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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:

    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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