Remaining Questions Concerning Michael Bellesiles



  • Will Columbia University's Bancroft Committee rescind its award to Arming America? ANSWER: YES

  • Will the Organization of American Historians rescind the Binkley-Stephenson award, given to Bellesiles for his 1996 article on America's gun culture, which appeared in the Journal of American History. ANSWER: UNKNOWN

  • Will Knopf withdraw Arming America from bookstores? (Will Knopf publish a new edition of Arming America, which Bellesiles has already prepared?) ANSWER: NO

  • Will reviewers like Garry Wills who initially praised Arming America now publicly revise their assessments? ANSWER: NOT YET

  • Will Bellesiles sue Emory? ANSWER: NO

  • Did Emory agree to give Bellesiles a"get lost" payment? ANSWER: DENIED BY BELLESILES

  • Will the American Historical Association withdraw its statement of public support for Bellesiles, which was issued when he claimed to have been harassed by pro-gun activists? (On October 29 the AHA's Arnita Jones told HNN that the organization stands by the Bellesiles resolution.)

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Danielle - 3/19/2003

I think the burning of books is very wrong. I think people should have the right to read and discuss what is going on in life. I really didn't appreciate it when they banned the book "Black Like Me" from places. That book gives us the knowledge of how we treat black people and i thought that was very rude!

thomas - 1/28/2003

yeah right!

Bob Andrews - 12/21/2002

I urge everyone to print copies of the following notice on small slips of paper and insert them into copies of the book at all libraries and book stores.

You might also print up the notice on stickers and seek permission to paste them into the books. But seek permission or you will be committing vandalism.


In October of 2002, Michael Bellesiles resigned from Emory University after an independent panel of PhDs wrote that his work "does move into the realm of falsification" and Emory deemed him to be "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work."

In December of 2002, Columbia University rescinded the Bancroft Prize for his work, saying "his book had not and does not meet the standards ... established for the Bancroft Prize"

Mr. Bellesiles' research fraud ranged from selectively editing source materials to citing non-existent San Francisco probate records that actually were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

source: AP Wire: 12/13/02

Dave LaCourse - 12/16/2002

In answer to my own question, Mr. Cramer did have a detailed response to Bellesiles for his earlier article.


I remembered it only vaguely, but had thought it was about Arming America. Maybe I confused it with some San Fran. probate records. :-)

If Mr. Cramer's work holds up--and others cite specific problems--Mr. Bellesiles could very well lose another award for the Journal article.

More Mr. Cramer/Bellesiles info here:


Whether OAH has a real interest now remains to be seen. But until a good deal of problems with Bellesiles 1996 article are confirmed, his earlier award should remain his.

I am not a Bellesiles fan, and I personally believe he is a fraud, but I do want a number of individuals to submit research and confirm problems before requiring this other award to be revoked. I am very interested in what others have to say on Bellesiles' earlier work.

As for OAH, now that Arming America is discredited, perhaps they are now conducting a proper review. As the old saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

Dave LaCourse - 12/16/2002

I agree that serious questions remain, and concur with you that the AHA and Knopf will do little but provide hollow words. However, Bellesiles lost the Bancroft Award because he really embarrassed Columbia University.

For the moment, I also agree with your OAH comment, but that is because I am not familiar with a simple breakdown of Bellesiles' earlier article as has been done so well against Arming America. Can you point me to a vigorous rebuttal specifically against the earlier article? Did Mr. Cramer do more than touch on it?

Obviously, there is a great deal of overlap, but a specific piece showing many mistakes in that article would make a decision easier. Until that happens, tough to revoke the Binkley-Stephenson award given to Bellesiles for his 1996 article on America's gun culture, for problems in his later work of Arming America. Need specifics to build a case.

To date, the book has been the main focus, as it got much more attention.

So are we about to have another lengthy review for all to agonize over?

In the end, if another compelling case is made, then I personally believe that the OAH will be forced to revoke the award, if only to correct an embarrassing mistake, as did Columbia University. By taking away the first prize, OAH won't have to keep answering the sad question of, "How did you provide him the prize to begin with if his work was so flawed?"

Until then, my money is on your prediction. All of it.

John G. Fought - 12/13/2002

The AP story of Dec 13 linked elsewhere on HNN, if it is
true, is a big positive step. Of the questions above, however,
there are still three important ones left unanswered: what will
the AHA, the OAH, and Knopf actually do? I'm willing to make a
prediction: nothing but inconclusive, ineffectual talk. I hope I'm wrong, as I was about Columbia, which has earned back some respect.

John G. Fought - 11/17/2002

It has now been more than a week since the OAH board was scheduled to meet. Soon after the meeting I emailed the OAH asking what if anything had been decided about the award to Bellesiles, and I've heard nothing in reply. (Yes, it's shocking, isn't it? Must be a hardware problem.)
Perhaps some person with more gravitas than me could try to find out what happened. I'm sure many of us would like to know.

Clyde W. Howard IIi - 11/5/2002

Well, as a criminal defense attorney, I'd feel pretty sick if Bellesiles were my client charged with criminal fraud for his book. Be trying, REAL hard, to get the DA to cut me a deal for probation, maybe even with a little "up-front" time. This would NOT be a case I'd care to take to a jury. Especially of good old East Texas boys (and girls)...

On the other hand, he isn't my client (and I probably would accept him as a client in any case, since I try and have some principles, and defending this particular form of intellectual fraud would violate them), and isn't going to be criminally charged anyway. But I find myself applauding his discomfort (I presume he is uncomfortable).

Brett Bellmore - 10/31/2002

Maybe prove Bellesiles' mental state with a Vulcan mind meld? Let's be serious here; People have been convicted of murder and sent to the chair on flimsier evidence than the proof that Bellesiles committed fraud. HUNDREDS of "mistakes", and every last one supports his thesis. Simple incompetence would have made at least SOME mistakes the other way!

There are really only two alternatives, based on the evidence: Either he's a deliberate fraud, or he's clinically insane.

Steve Lowe - 10/30/2002

I've seen reference in this board and at other places in the Bellesiles bulletin boards that cause me to infer that people thought I was serious when I talked about burning _Arming America_. I was joking! Another example of how humor (sometimes) translates badly to the web. Sorry.

Jim March - 10/30/2002

First thing, "Arming America" and it's journal predecessors have been cited in court briefs, including if I recall right in Ohio where’s there’s a battle over the legality of gun carry being fought before that state’s Supreme Court. Eventually, a US Supreme Court fight over the individual rights view vs. collective right will happen, and unless thoroughly debunked, Bellesiles’ garbage would make an appearance there.

Second...hoo boy, bear with a sec folks, this is complicated.

There is an entire network of anti-self-defense organizations that *thrive* on fraud. The “Violence Policy Center” tried to slam the Texas gun carry permit system using hard numbers of “permits revoked for felonies” versus a per-capita analysis with the population as a control – had they done so, it would have shown how abnormally law-abiding the “packin’ folk” have proven to be. VPC also failed to mention that most of the “felonies” happened decades ago. People were applying for permits at age 50+ assuming that early indiscretions at around age 18 – 20ish had “dropped off their record”. Ahhh, no, they didn’t, it just took a while for the data to show up in state computers in about 1,000ish cases. So while the permits were eventually “revoked for felonies”, this had nothing to do with current (or even recent) felony misconduct. The VPC report was basically fear-mongering and twisting statistics until they screamed “Uncle!”.

Another group, the “Million Mom March”, was eventually caught committing outright financial fraud against the city and county of San Francisco. Myself and another activist name of Nadja Adolf proved this with public records inquiries; less than a month after our initial publication, they did a “midnight move” and laid off 80% of their staff at the same time.

We also made a good case that they misused 501(c)(3) charitable foundation funds for political purposes. See also my archive of records on this episode:


(They are also known as the “Numerically Challenged March”, they had maybe 70,000 tops at their first rally, instead of their claimed 700,000.)

OK, so what has this got to do with Bellesiles?

Pro-self-defense folks were faced with the nightmare prospect of Bellesiles having a permanent “research home” at VPC, HCI/MMM or the like, funded with millions of bucks by the big Liberal cash-cow foundations such as Joyce, Wellness, Goldman (old Levi Strauss family money) and the like, happily cranking out...”male bovine excrement” for the next 40 years.


The only way to stop that was to utterly destroy his credibility to the point where even Sarah Brady or Rosie O’Donell would take notice.


It should also be obvious at this point that cons in the gun control game may have surprised the academic community, but it’s simply a matter of the fraud finally making it into those circles in obvious fashion.

Jim March
Equal Rights for CCW Home Page

David Lloyd-Jones - 10/30/2002

Bravo, doyle dawson!

I see your note just after I posted my own, and see that you have made a very similar point to mine, more vbriefly, and certainly more relevantly.

David Lloyd-Jones - 10/30/2002

Michael Bellesiles has written a book full of falsehoods. He got caught. Exit stage trapdoor muttering about mistakes and confusions. For something like fifteen years of carrying out this performance he seems likely to keep his pension, and there is even speculation, apparently, about the possibility of Emory having paid him to go quietly.

How did it happen? My guess is it happened the same way other big crooked disasters -- Enron or Andersen would seem to me reasonable parallels -- usually seem to happen. You get a little bit of course, no bad things happen, a few good things happen, so you drift further and further off course. The good things keep steering you wrong for so long that when something finally turns up small but wrong, you are so far off course that everything is wrong.

What Bellesiles had going for him was a thesis that many people -- myself emphatically included -- found attractive. I don't hold with book-burning, but I think we ought to consider burning Bellesiles at the stake as punishment for the harm he has done to the cause of gun control and to the credibility of America's left.

I and many people like me hate The Disney Version, so an academic thesis that dishes Davy Crocket is music to my ears. Of course I applauded, and so did many others. Some others gave him prizes, awards, and presitious positions and reviews.

Problem is, the people giving the awards and prizes were exactly the people who are paid to protect me from my own gullibility -- and from frauds like Bellesiles.

Bellesiles got by because a whole lot of people let him get by, as I might very well have had I been in their position.

They were wrong to do so, and they should be punished. Let the purge begin!

Marc Atkinson - 10/29/2002

Bellesisiles is quoted as saying he was "rethinking what it means to be a Christian and own guns"...

Possibly, this was a larger part of Bellesisles real agenda: to connect guns,Christians,and the NRA to something unsavory, such as conservatism. After all 'good,enlightened liberals' despise guns and what they represent as well as the people who owned them in the 18th century.

Marc Atkinson - 10/29/2002

Mr. Cramer-
I just happen to stumble onto this site and wanted to thank you for your efforts in exposing Bellesisles for what he is.
I read with much interest the January 2002 issue of the WMQ, yet even that wasn't enough to unearth the recalcitrant Dr.B.

As you know, it is a far more difficult task to unravel a lie and re-educate the public on the history of firearm use and ownership than it was for Bellesisles to write his fiction.
I hope you and others will continue to get the word out.

I recently sent a 1,000 word response to Jon Weiner at The Nation, and wow!, what a surprise.................silence.

Best regards,

Clayton E. Cramer - 10/29/2002

I am trying to find a publisher for a book-length treatment of the problems with _Arming America_. Just to make it easy to find it in the card catalogs, I am proposing the title: _Armed America: Gun Ownership and Hunting in the Early United States_.

It turns out that I had to stop flipping through Bellesiles's book. Almost everytime I did so, I found another astonishing or amazing claim--and they were nearly all false. It is almost like Bellesiles was doing a psychology experiment--how many falsehoods can I cram into each page before my fellow history professors start to check me?

Steve Lowe - 10/29/2002

Brett Bellmore: "I don't see how anyone can honestly dismiss this as just a case of poor research."

Thus my comment about Bellesiles's disingenuousness.

Besides, however damning the evidence may be, it's still circumstantial until you get a confession or an eyewitness who will say that s/he saw Bellesiles intentionally fabricate evidence. And yes, I have looked at some of Cramer's evidence, although I have depended mostly on summaries and articles on HNN for evidence for my conclusions.

John Anderson - 10/29/2002

If your local library and/or bookstore carries it, request that it be reclassified and moved to fiction. Preferably with a printout of Mr. Cramer's PDF file attached.

doyne dawson - 10/28/2002

The case of the English teacher at Stanford in 1972 is not really comparable. He wasn't accused of fraud and in those days it was cool for radical faculty to support takeovers of buildings. Bellesiles is going to portray himself as a victim of McCarthyism, and has already started his campaign for reinstatement. But whether he gets away with it is up to the historical profession. In fact this may be its real test. Any college president who hires Bellesiles should get a flood of emails from historians pointing out he has promoted a low scoundrel who is taking jobs from honest historians.
I don't have any sympathy for this fellow and can't understand those who do.

Brett Bellmore - 10/28/2002

Frankly, having followed from the start the contraversy on the web concerning the book, and having been already familiar with some of the sources Bellesiles misquoted and perverted, I don't see how anyone can honestly dismiss this as just a case of poor research. Even the people Emory assigned to investigate this couldn't quite justify so innocent a conclusion, and they were directed to examine only a few of the many problems with the book.

I'd suggest you take the time to review the inconsistancies and fabrications Clayton Cramer has extensively documented. (They run to three hundred pages, but it's worth reading if you actually think Bellesiles might just be incompetent.) The Emory report didn't even BEGIN to address the evidence of fraud by Bellesiles. It's pretty damning; You don't need to even get to the probate records to realize that Bellesiles wasn't being honest.


John Bruce - 10/28/2002

Who says Bellisles is leaving the profession? I would guess that more than one department head can find a way to bring Bellisles into his department. It sounds like a few people feel sorry for the guy -- but think of the Ph.D. candidates who can't get jobs in the humanities in the first place. They've got to find a way to start a new career themselves, with far fewer well-placed people to help them out -- and I think the chances are pretty good Bellisles won't have to get certified in Windows 2000 server administration or something like that any time soon. I don't see much reason to waste sympathy on the guy, at least more than on a lot of other people who've got to switch careers.

Thomas Gunn - 10/28/2002

[. . . think how uninteresting this whole mess would have been had Bellesiles merely given up and confessed his sins at the first sign of controversy.]

Michael was wrong. He was defiantly wrong. He besmirched the good name of those who attemted to *quietly* point out his errors. He lied.

You're right however, this would have been an uninteresting mess it Michael had owned up to his deceit, but then he wouldn't have had a big book deal.

What surprises me is how little *real gloating* is going on at Bellesiles expense. Most of what I'm seeing is reasoned rebuttal to Michael's mitigators.©


Steve Lowe - 10/28/2002

Let's solve our need to answer these questions by just getting rid of the book entirely. Let's have us a good old-fashioned book burning and rid our profession and our society of this embodiment of evil--a poorly researched book. Heaven knows, there can't be too many badly researched books around, so the bonfire should be small enough.

(Somewhat more) seriously, though: it amazes me that even after Bellesiles has been driven from the profession, lambasted by the external committee, and otherwise discredited, some people are not satisfied. I'm not a Bellesiles supporter by any means, but it seems that some people, not limited to Mr. Spencer, will not be satisfied until either a) Bellesiles is living on the streets with nary a dime to his name, b) apologizes for his indiscretions, or c) both a and b. Some or all of those questions posed by the HNN staff may be answered in the near future, and I will await the decisions and actions of groups and individuals who did support Bellesiles almost as much as I await the reactions of those who attacked him so relentlessly.

I think the evidence clearly supports the contention that Bellesiles committed an egregious offence against the historical profession and against Emory University, for which he deserves the sack at the very least. But I also admire his willingness to stick to his guns. I find his research faulty (to say the least) and his disingenuousness unpalatable, but just think how uninteresting this whole mess would have been had Bellesiles merely given up and confessed his sins at the first sign of controversy.

John Bruce - 10/28/2002

What will be interesting will be which institution hires Bellisles now -- I assume one will, and it may be in a very prestigious position. Look what happened to Associate Professor of English H. Bruce Franklin, dismissed from Stanford in 1972 for inciting a takeover of a campus building by radical students; the PR spin became that it was due to his left-wing sympathies (e.g., he published an anthology called The Essential Stalin). He now has an endowed chair at Rutgers. I am wondering what endowed chair waits for Bellisles.

Thomas L. Spencer - 10/26/2002

B bailed out of the plane before it crashed. One wonders where he will turn up after this. My suspicion is that, not only WON'T Knopf withdraw AA from publication, but that his promised forthcoming book will come out through, you guessed it......Knopf. Controversy sells, and our friend was unrepentant and defiant to the end. I don't think the corporate culture over there will be for pulling this one, the bottom line is the bottom line. Emory conveniently washed it's hands of the matter. Probably won't say anything further. Note how B was actually THANKED for all his years of teaching there. I wonder if Columbia won't look the other way about the Bancroft Prize, bearing it all in mind. I doubt if there will be any suit against Emory. Institutions and people will try to act like this never happened. They will try to move on. Any attempt to further
press the matter by critics will get the old "jack-booted thug" line of defense. It will eventually be dismissed by some; the whole matter was an NRA plot, a latter day version of McCarthyism, or something similar. The wagons will circle for the night around B and then roll on in the morning.