Shawmut Follies (1967)-Part I.

Featuring:

King Arthur: Frank Fisher

Merlin: Robert Bishop

Herald: Robert Eckaus

First peasant: Cary Brown

Second peasant : Tapley

Sir Lancelot: Peter Diamond

Sir Lionel : Paul Samuelson

Sir Sagamore: Pranab Bardhan

Sir Dinadan: Peter Temin

Messenger: John Harris

Excerpts from Scene 1.

A mythical kingdom in the East

(…)

Arthur: I’ve got it! I’ve got it! I know what the world needs!

Merlin: What, Arthur, what?

Arthur: A really great economics department! A new departure in economics department!

Merlin: You’ve got it, Arthur, bless you fine human instincts. Of course that’s what’s been missing.

Arthur: The world will be a better place for a great economic department. I’ll send recruiters to distant lands. We’ll raise every top man in existence.

Merlin: No, no, no, Arthur. That’s what’s been wrong up to now. This constant raiding, the escalation of salary offers, fringe benefits. The isn’t what the world needs.

Arthur: We’ll attract them by an idea and an exemple.

(….)

Arthur: We’ll gather all the young PhDs here and we’ll call it..

Merlin: Yes, Arthur?

Arthur: the M.I.T long Corridor.

Merlin: Splendid.

(….)

Excerpts from Scene 2

A provincial city named after an English philosopher

Herald: hear ye, hear ye. Come on, come all to hearken to the Grand Proclamation of King Arthur

(….)

Herald: Kind Arthur of MIT offers to all young knight of intellectual errantry the opportunity to join the select Long Corridor of economists sworn to uphold true theory, to rescue theorems from rape and pillage at the brutal hands of Midwestern PhDs, to form a fellowship of intellectual excellence and as much good cheer as can coexist with it.

(…)

Bystander 1: Who’s going to go and compete with those fierce eastern minds?

Bystander 2: Not me, man

(…)

Lancelot: I will

Bystander: Who? Who are you?

Lancelot: I am Lancelot du Bay, academic fencer par excellence. I will go.

Bystander 1: To MIT? Think twice, man.

(to be continued…..)

Note: These are excerpts from a play script written by Duncan Foley and Peter Temin in 1967, presumably for the MIT annual Christmas Party. Found in the MIT archives, Hayden Library.

When you do archive work, you always stumble upon this kind of material. You laugh, sometimes you make a copy of it, and then you burry it on a shelf. This time, I’d like to make more of it. I’ve been writing on how economics at MIT was shaped in the postwar period, who were the various protagonists, what were their visions, how did they interact and how did the institutional structures of the Institute (from engineering tradition to recruitment policies and curricula) influenced these interactions and in turn were altered by them. This play script conveys a wealth of information as to how MIT economists viewed themselves, other departments and the state of their science at that time. It also says much about the roles of each protagonist within the community (if only through who’s assigned which character of the Round Table myth). Yet, I’ve just finished a draft of my MIT project, and so far I haven’t mentioned this material in the narrative. The truth is that I don’t quite know how to interpret it, how to handle it. This information is conveyed and filtered by a “tone” that belongs to the realm of humor, derision, possibly caricature, and shouldn’t be taken literally. Any idea or reference on how to handle joke-material in history?

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One thought on “Shawmut Follies (1967)-Part I.

  1. I have often wondered about this. I was given, last week, the libretto of a “theatrical” titled “Mad Mac’s Mystery Hour”, performed at an Economics Department party honoring Lionel McKenzie at Rochester in 1984.
    For example, pace Miller’s King of the Road:

    “Turnpikes for sale or rent
    proofs to let fifty cents
    No shocks no trough no peak
    Don’t write for Business Week
    Ah, but eight years of toil and sweat
    Buys a three page note in JET”

    etc.

    Now, there is a lot in the various pieces here to suggest some kind of self-fashioning beliefs, some identity creation, for this department. How to employ them? On way would be a section on Identity Formation in a longer narrative on that department. More indirectly, one could use short bits to comment on or illuminate other narrative material.
    Like Beatrice, I think these epiphemera can do good work in making a narrative more interesting to a reader.

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