Bellesiles's Response to the Emory Report


Michael Bellesiles Chronology: Latest Developments
Summary of the Emory Report
Other Responses to the Report
Remaining Questions

Bellesiles begins his 6-page response to the committee's report by thanking "those who participated in this difficult and often confusing endeavor." He then goes on to dispute the process that resulted in his condemnation:

I remain convinced that the standard workings of academic discourse remain the best way of correcting errors and increasing our knowledge. With time, the development of probate record databases would clarify the extent of firearm ownership reflected in this source. It is not evident that launching a sharply focused investigation of one small part of a scholar's work brings us closer to the truth on the subject of that research.

He says that he welcomes scholarly criticism, but implies that he is being held to a harsher standard than others have in the past: "Many scholars have admitted and corrected errors in their own research, enriching our knowledge in the process. I believe that if we begin investigating every scholar who challenges received truth, it will not be long before no challenging scholarly books are published."

He pleads that he has been unfairly tried and convicted: "The report casts aspersion on my integrity as a scholar based on three paragraphs and a table in a six hundred-page book. It seems to me that raising uncertainties that question the credibility of an entire book without considering the book as a whole is just plain unfair."

He says that in the new edition of his book he has corrected mistakes and added new material. Arming America, he says, "has been subjected to the most thorough scrutiny of any work of history." Yet, apart from the probate records, "only a single misquote has been found, and only the most minor errors discovered."

He added that he "deeply regrets" the loss of his yellow legal pads in the flood at Bowden Hall.


The Charge: That Bellesiles misled readers by excluding two years of records on gun ownership in a table marked 1765-1790.
The Response: Bellesiles says that he deliberately excluded data on gun ownership for the years 1775 and 1776 because these were the years that guns were "being widely dispersed by governments." He admits that he should have provided an explanation in a long footnote.

The Charge: That Bellesiles did not adequately document his sources in the use of probate records.
The Response: Bellesiles says that much more documentation should have been provided. He should have "taken down the name of every probate file" he examined.

The Charge: That there are serious questions about Bellesiles's claim to have used microfilm records provided by the Mormon Church.
The Response: Bellesiles admits "I may not correctly recall how I acquired the microfilm." He insists he did do microfilm research and five graduate students saw him reading microfilm.

The Charge: That he may never have done the California research he claimed to have done.
The Response: Bellesiles insists he did the research, even though he was confused about where the records were located. He says no one has disputed that the documents he subsequently found in the Contra Costa archives proved his main point: that gun ownership increased in the nineteenth century.

The committee questions where I read a dozen probate files that I mistook to be from San Francisco County. In 1993 and 1994 I conducted research in California. I visited many archives and courthouses during those two trips, including some in the East Bay area in 1994. Unfortunately, I misunderstood the provenance of a dozen probate records that I read in a single day as being from San Francisco rather than Contra Costa County. I hope that this error is understandable, since many documents are labeled as being from the San Francisco Probate district.

The Charge: That he showed little proof that he did the research he claimed to have done in connection with Massachusetts probate records in Essex, Suffolk, and Plymouth Counties.
The Response: "The committee ... sought to learn precisely where I read the various probate records in Massachusetts, but again the loss of my notes made that difficult to precisely reconstruct."

The Charge: That he conflated wills and inventories in Tennessee records mined by scholar Lucy Gump and cited in his revised edition of Arming America. The committee also found that he conflated wills and inventories in the original edition of his book.
The Response: Bellesiles ignores the committee's finding with regard to Tennessee. He implies that the committee drew the conclusion that he had conflated data in the original edition of the book on the assumption that his table must have included statistics compiled by Lucy Gump. He insists he did not come across her work until after the book was finished.

The Charge: That he lumped together arms and ammunition in his narrative about Benedict Arnold's march on a powderhouse.
The Response: He says the committee cited the wrong year of the march (1776 instead of 1775). He does not offer a defense to the charge, instead addressing another widely circulated concern that he had misconstrued the facts about the march.

The Charge: That he himself developed doubts about the "quality of his probate research" yet published it anyway.
The Response: Bellesiles says that the committee is mistaken. He says that while he expressed doubts about the usefulness of probate records, he was satisfied with the way he used the records. (He employed a technique using "sample sets." He says this is a well-known and approved technique. The committee found his use of sample sets was flawed. It did not question the use of sample sets.)

The Charge: That his research results in probate records cannot be replicated.
The Response: He says that it is "not surprising" that people over the past two years have not been able to replicate the results it took him twelve years to accumulate.


This is Mr. Bellesiles's conclusion in its entirety:

Arming America aimed to prompt scholars to rethink one of the prized givens of American history: that American culture has always been permeated with firearms. For several decades writers have stated without any effort at validation that gun ownership was nearly universal in early America. At the very least, I hoped that historians would seek out the evidence for this assertion, since I felt that the sources indicated that gun ownership was not widespread, that there was little popular interest in firearms, and that most American men were largely unfamiliar with the use of guns until the Civil War. Arming America has succeeded in shifting the attention of scholars, as well as many members of the general public, to this issue. The overwhelming bulk of the evidence in support of this book's thesis remains unchallenged, despite the most rigorous examination (my web page will soon have a consideration of every supposed error of which I am currently aware as well as a list of corrections). All that remains in question are the few paragraphs and table on probate materials. On those paragraphs, Emory's committee of inquiry found no evidence of fabrication, though they do charge evasion.

With all due respect to the committee, I adamantly deny both charges. I have never fabricated evidence of any kind nor knowingly evaded my responsibilities as a scholar. I have been open to evidence that contradicts my hypothesis. I have never consciously misrepresented any data or evidence. I have spent twenty years conducting research in archives scattered throughout this country and in Europe. I have corrected every error possible and continue to work to replace the lost probate data.

The controversy surrounding Arming America has made it impossible for me to continue both my scholarly research and my teaching. My students, who are after all the reason for the University's existence, deserve a teacher who can devote the time and energy necessary to a challenging academic experience. I treasure my fourteen years at Emory University. Being able to work with so many fine colleagues and to teach such energetic and engaged efforts of many people seeking to enhance the quality of that education. Former Provost Billy Frye's-support for the interdisciplinary Violence Studies Program, of which I was the founding director, stands forth as a model of creative leadership. Former Dean Steve Sanderson and former Provost Rebecca Chopp boldly defended academic freedom when Professor Deborah Lipstadt and I were attacked by extremists. I will miss my many friends--staff members, professors, and students. But the persistence of this controversy does not serve the best interest of Emory's students, or of my family, or of scholarship. I will continue to research and report on the probate materials while also working on my next book, but cannot continue to teach in what I feel is a hostile environment. I am therefore resigning from the Emory faculty effective at the end of the year.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

vaughn davis bornet - 5/15/2010

First, I greatly appreciate Mr. Walsh's comprehensive offering of data on this case.

Second, I do deplore the language (and CAPS) used by the first commentator. Webster offers all kinds of words and English innumerable phrases with which to make a forceful point.

Third and most important, as one with five years at Emory and a lifetime of affiliation (ever since 1935), I would like to protest the generalization made above about Emory's characteristics as an educational institution.

In my view, it stands as a Southern success story since its founding in (as I recall) 1836 as a Methodist effort to improve the South. It was a pleasure, overall, for this Pennsylvanian to come to Emory via Miami Beach and enjoy personalized instruction and quality scholarship.

VAUGHN DAVIS BORNET, Ph.D. Ashland, Oregon

Bob Andrews - 12/21/2002

I urge everyone to print the following and insert them into all copies at libraries and book stores.

You also might consider printing the message on stickers for library books and seeking permission to paste them inside the front covers.


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

Clyde W. Howard III - 11/5/2002

WEll, if Bellesiles is really so sure the committee was wrong in its findings, how come he chose to resign from his post at Emory (a notoriously left-leaning institution)? I expect it was like a lot of public integrity cases investigated by the FBI and handed to US Attorneys: "Here's the deal. If you resign, or maybe just chose to not run next election, which is about to come up, then we just let this die. Otherwise, I indict, try you, and you get to see what a vaction in Club Fed is like."

The most egregious cases do get prosecuted, sometimes - consider Mr. Traficant - but many are dealt with under an unrecorded quid pro quo. And if you ask how I know, well you'll have to trust me on that proposition.

I am happy to see Bellesiles out of Emory, and while it is ahrd to wish a man the loss of his profession, I sincerely hope no educational institution will hire him in teh future - or any scholarly publication accept any submission, at least not without genuine and searching review. NOTHING this man says in the future can possibly be trusted without first having an independent verification (not even a claim that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west). But I expect taht teh sorry cypto-totalitarians who praised his lies will find something lucrative for him to do. HCI (or whatever it calls itself now in an attempt to hide its real objectives - another bunch of frauds) will probably hire him.

Jim March - 11/1/2002

But again: academic fraud in support of gun control is nothing new. It's just new to the world of history scholarship.

We'll be combating this BS for decades, at least in the area of public opinion. Emory's findings have ensured we won't be facing it in court...that's something, at least.


P.Lukens-Espinosa, Ph.D. - 10/31/2002

>Everybody wants to be able to look up at History Professors
>as kind of special. Now there are fewer people that will.

Unfortunately. I was taught from the time I wrote my first undergrad paper "if it can't stand up to the scrutiny, don't write it." I think MB forgot what that DEFENSE of his dissertation was all about - making sure his work stood up to professional scrutiny. As much as I DIDN'T want him to be right from a personal perspective (I'm one of those not-entirely-rare conservative historians), I was hoping from a professional perspective that he could stand up to the scrutiny - for the sake of our profession. I was also taught, that unless you take some heavy statistics classes before hand, DO NOT engage in quantitative history. You'll embarrass yourself. I wonder how many stats classes MB took? Again, for the sake of the profession, I was hoping that MB's work could be explained simply as sloppy work, and that Cramer was wrong. But MB's evasiveness and cavalier posturing throughout this whole thing. . . . Well, I think it speaks for itself.

I had been following this during the late '90s - early "oughts" on talk.politics.guns. From the beginning, I knew this would enter the realm of academic integrity. C. Cramer's criticisms DID stand up to scrutiny, and spoke volumes about MB's efforts. Just the fact that "legitimate" scholars (legit from the Left's perspective - I'm probably not one, because I *AM* a conservative) picked up on Cramer's "amateur" work and ran with it speaks volumes....

John Gillette - 10/31/2002

Not sure his basic premise is too incorrect from his point of view. Having been excorciated by "right thinkers and progressives" since 1968 and belittled for not being willing to compromise in the popular press, when in fact gun rights and privileges have been whittled, chipped and compromised away almost continually for 30+ years. Little or nothing has been in the popular media about some gun control origins being anti-black in origin. Now we see a narrowly written academic and legalistic response to a narrowly written "charge" and it does in fact appear to be a whitewash to someone who does not have the background to see what it really says between the lines. People in the profession can read it and see that it as a total refutation of the book, and a declaration that the author is deserving of all the scorn his profession can bestow.

But he is frustrated in that he will likely not see any refutation in the popular media of the book. None of the morning talk shows, or "Rosie's" that fawned over the book and the author will stand up and say we were wrong, we really blew it. He'll get in discussions and "Arming America" will be cited, he'll say the book was bovine excreta, and the answer will be, it wasn't why did it win all those prizes.

But in many ways, his reaction is similar to several posts here. Bellesiles apparently set out to damage the gun rights movement, in so doing he attacked what many feel are a God-Given right, that Americans, as Americans, have the right and duty to control their government and not the other way around. MB looked upon his academic peers and the people of his country and attempted to perpetrate a hoax for political reasons. In so doing he attacked what is seen as a right by many and he significantly damaged a profession (directly and indirectly). He had to have known that once it got the desired reaction any subsequent retraction would not get near the publicity. He (and some of his supporters) have caused the profession to be belittled in the eyes of the public and the damage can never be completely repaired.

Everybody wants to be able to look up at History Professors as kind of special. Now there are fewer people that will.

Jamin - 10/30/2002

This is absolute crap!!! Right now there is a man in the State of Alabama being sued for simply hanging up the TEN COMANDMENTS... and this stupid lying sack of crap, a TYPICAL ANTI-GUNNER completely LIES and litteraly MAKES UP stuff too fight my GOD GIVEN RIGHTS to bear arms!!!! Which is not only FRIGGIN HERECY.. But FRAUD, not too mention other ILLEGAL THINGS!!!! And you won't even hear this on TV, why because all the liberals out there wouldn't want the world to see all the crap other anti-gunners and liberals are CONSTANTLY doing everyday!! If a republican or some decent guy that actually fought FOR OUR RIGHTS instead of against them did ANYTHING HALF as bad, they'd make sure it'd be ALL OVER THE DANG NEWS!!! This is a barbaric OUTRAGE!! This man needs too be put in jail!! What a surprise, he being a professor at SO CALLED top american colleges?!!! LOL Prooves everything I tell my friends! Im not a bit surprised! And what of these *FINDINGS* what FRIGGIN JOKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ITS OBVIOUS THERE BEHIND HIM!! THEY DID NOTHING BASICALLY SAID NOTHING, WASN'T EVEN GUILTY OF FRAUD? BS!!!!!!!!!!!!! HE NEEDS TO BE HUNG!!


Jamin R. Freid