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Chaos by the numbers

Your readers may be interested to know that the article and letters about office chaos ("Kings of Chaos," June/01, and "Letters," August/01) reflect at least partially the "perception" (to use the favorite fatuous word of the radical post-realists of the late 1960s) that the University is suffering an ever-worsening "office space crisis." My office, SS 204, for example, looked like a classical sweatshop in the dozen years 1985-97 when typically five students at any time were coding the 108,000 computer records that served as the basis of my Economy and Material Culture of Russia 1600-1725 (Chicago, 1999). SS 204 also has served as the editorial office of the quarterly journal Russian History for 15 years. (Some journals on campus have an office just for that.) In my case, the coup de grace occurred a year ago, when for the first time in three decades the University became a National Resource Center for East European, Eurasian/Russian Studies (CEERES). The four other Chicago NRCs (East Asia, South Asia, Middle East, and Latin America) have two rooms or even a suite, but CEERES has a desk in 204 that was already here. Then there are the usual piles for the half-dozen articles, lectures, and books in progress at any one time.

I am not alone in this "perception." For many years humanities emeriti professors have been asked to vacate their offices upon retirement. Recently one of my colleagues was asked to vacate a closet (where he was storing his archive) so that it could be given as an office to a new professor. Slavic faculty members are being asked to share offices. This is no doubt something about which more will be written in the years to come.

Richard Hellie, AB'58, AM'60, PhD'65

Hellie is the Thomas E. Donnelley professor in history and the College. He also chairs the College's Russian Civilization program, is director of the Center for East European, Eurasian/Russian Studies (CEERES), and is editor of Russian History.-Ed.

I enjoyed "Kings of Chaos" and have a question. There is some information in the piece on economist Robert Fogel that ties into a subject I am dealing with in a children's book on the economy. I am trying to decipher the meaning of the quote in the second paragraph from the bottom: "In 1800 it took five people working on the farm to provide food for one person off the farm-80 percent of the labor force was in agriculture. Today only 2 percent of the labor force feeds 100 people off the farm-half of our agriculture output gets exported."

The comparative figures don't make sense to me; they are not consistently stated. If in 1800 it took 5 people on a farm to provide food for one off the farm, how many does it take to feed 100 off the farm today? According to the article, Professor Fogel says that 2 percent of the labor force, but there's no way to compare that to the 5 to 1 ratio of 1800. Is it now 5 to 100? I would appreciate it if you could get a clarification from him.

Norman L. Macht, PhB'47
Easton, Maryland

The correct ratios, responds Professor Fogel, are actually "4 to 1 in 1800, 1 in 200 today."-Ed.

  OCTOBER 2001

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