Mohammed Bah was a 2023 Summer Research Intern with the Global Diversity Lab (GDL) at MIT’s Department of Political Science. This summer, he assisted MIT Political Science professors Noah Nathan and Evan Lieberman on research projects related to precolonial legacies in Ghana and climate challenges in Liberia. He graduated from the University of Rochester in 2023.
Which projects have you been working on during the GDL summer research program?
I have been working with Professor Noah Nathan on a project focused on Measurement Error and Precolonial Legacies in African Politics. Our project was part of a broader initiative aimed at evaluating the accuracy of commonly used datasets on the precolonial institutional features of African polities. The main goal was to understand how complexities in historical measurement affect the validity of research findings in political science and economics concerning the legacies of pre-colonial state-building for contemporary political and economic development.
Specifically, our research project centered on the West African state of Ghana. We critically examined the datasets employed in the study of pre-colonial African institutions, with a particular focus on the renowned anthropologist George Murdock’s “Ethnographic Atlas.” However, we discovered that this atlas carried significant limitations and potential inaccuracies due to historical measurement errors. As a result, our primary objective was to address these limitations and develop a more nuanced and accurate understanding of the precolonial legacies in African politics, especially in Ghana, where certain centralized political systems were either omitted or not fully recognized in Murdock’s atlas as having precolonial political centralization.
To achieve this, we accessed recent papers that have been published to rectify the errors in Murdock’s atlas. Our research involved analyzing and scrutinizing these papers to understand their methodologies and shortcomings in their datasets and conducting literature research to identify potential measurement errors and propose methodological improvements and alternative approaches that could enhance the accuracy of measuring precolonial institutional features in Ghana.
One of the key aspects of our research was attempting to quantify the extent of inaccuracies in these papers and statistically estimate potential uncertainties in studies relying on similar datasets. This allowed us to establish statistical bounds on the reliability of findings in the broader literature that utilizes these datasets, extending beyond the three papers cited in our research.
In another project with Professor Evan Lieberman, I conducted an in-depth analysis to identify the most pressing climate-related challenges in Liberia. I examined the governing authorities influencing climate policies, their roles, accountability, and the broader array of actors involved in shaping these policies. The research resulted in a comprehensive background report on Liberia’s climate challenges.
What have you learned through the GDL summer research program? What have been the best parts of the experience?
Participating in the GDL Pathways Summer Research Program has been an incredibly enriching and educative experience. Throughout the program, I had the opportunity to expand my knowledge and skills, honing my analytical abilities and gaining a deeper understanding of the intricacies of academic research. The unwavering support and encouragement from the department faculty, fellow students, and staff have played a pivotal role in my academic growth. Engaging in real-world research projects, alongside developing my independent academic research question, has been an invaluable opportunity for hands-on learning.
Additionally, the weekly seminar sections have been immensely educative, where professors and graduate students shared their cutting-edge research, providing unique insights into the field of political science research. Learning about the admission process for PhD programs, hearing about the experiences of other students, and delving into the scope & methods of political science research, including learning R, have been eye-opening experiences that have broadened my intellectual horizons.
This program has not only deepened my passion for research but also instilled in me a greater sense of academic curiosity.
What are your plans going forward?
I will be applying to graduate school in the Fall of 2023. I am particularly interested in programs related to Environmental Management and Policy, Public Policy, and Political Science. Ultimately, I aspire to be a professor or a researcher who contributes to developing sustainable and effective policies that address pressing environmental challenges.