Reply to Ralph Luker


Ms. Heyrman is Distinguished Professor History, University of Delaware.

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Dear Editor:

I appreciate your offering me the opportunity to respond to Ralph Luker's article on Southern Cross, which I received from you on 9 June 2003.

Let me begin by thanking Mr. Luker, as I did in my 7 May 2003 email to him, for bringing to my attention an undercount of Methodists in 1790 that appears in the statistical appendix to that book. I have completed a final revision of my tables and submitted same to UNC press for correction in any future paperback editions. I did so in the interests of accuracy, even though the resulting changes are statistically insignificant: percentages of church members within the adult population of the South rise from 14.4% to 14.9% among whites, from 3.7% to 4.4% among blacks. (The up-tick in adherence is equally small.) If anything, the adjusted percentage for membership supports my contention that evangelical progress among southerners, both white and black, was surprisingly sluggish between 1790 and 1813.

In checking my own research against Mr. Luker's other suggestions, I find no basis for making any additional changes in the appendix. Nor do I understand how his criticisms challenge its main contention--that evangelical affinities grew haltingly among southern whites and even more slowly among southern blacks in the early Republic. Let me urge Mr. Luker again, as I did in my first email response (1 May 2003), to produce his own numbers and percentages pertaining to church membership and to submit the results to a refereed historical journal.

While on the subject of statistics, let me address Mr. Luker's concern that my tables undercount African-American membership and adherence in order to diminish the role of blacks, slave and free, in shaping early southern evangelicalism. My main aim in Southern Cross, as I explain in the introduction, is to explore the evolving religious cultures (evangelical and otherwise) of southern whites between the 1740s and the 1830s. It goes without saying that women and men of African descent--no matter how relatively small their numbers among the members and adherents of southern Christian churches in that period---played a vital role in those cultural changes, and Southern Cross accords substantial coverage to their agency throughout. (The entry for "African Americans" in the index runs nearly the length of the column.)

Now to the argument that many early evangelical preachers cast themselves as "powerful shamans who commanded skills that can only be called magical." (Southern Cross, 74). Mr. Luker alleges that my support for this contention consists of "two dubious quotations": he is mistaken. Southern Cross documents several instances in which clergymen, John Early among them, either claimed (or were reputed by others) to control the weather, to foretell the future, to heal the sick by touching them, and to see directly into an individual's heart, "detecting the darkest secrets of his or her past." (Southern Cross, 75.) While I can appreciate the merits of Professor Kurt Berends's interpretation of Early's account of stopping the rain, I believe that the weight of the evidence sustains mine. Early boasted not only his ability to change the weather (with the power of prayer) but also (without the power of prayer) to predict the future, and a few hours after the rainstorm (in the same diary entry), he complained of feeling "as much like breaking down as I ever did in all my travels," until God "blessed me with more than mortal strength and vigor."

In a related point, I argue that the early evangelical clergy sought to dispense with all competitors (such as witches and conjurors) "who claimed leverage in dealing with the supernatural" by racializing the belief in certain supernaturalisms. (Southern Cross, 74) The full citation from Charles Colcock Jones on this point reads as follows: "They [slaves] believe in second sight, in apparitions, charms, and witchcraft, and in a kind of irresistible Satanic influence. The superstitions brought from Africa have not been wholly laid aside." Mr. Luker's comment on my interpretation of this quotation states that "Jones's text simply does not say that 'superstitions' were limited to African Americans." Nor do I claim it does. What I do claim is that Jones asserted that blacks were uniquely credulous in accepting specific "superstitious" beliefs, which he designated as imports from Africa. In fact, whites adhered to many of the same beliefs and practices (a theme explored at length in the first chapter of Southern Cross), but Jones wished to represent the reality as otherwise. Again, reading farther into the source in question lends support to my interpretation: Jones concluded that while blacks could not, "strictly speaking be termed heathen [because of their affililation with Christian churches]; yet may they with propriety be termed the heathen of our land." (Charles Colcock Jones, The Religious Instruction of the Negroes in the United States [1842, repr. New York, 1969], 127-128,153.)

Finally, I'm baffled that Mr. Luker finds some of my sources insufficiently "southern. " To address all his examples: Peter Cartwright was born in Virginia, reared in Kentucky, and spent much of his career itinerating in the South's western country before settling in Illinois; Valentine Cook was born in western Pennsylvania, but raised in western Virginia and spent most of his career in Kentucky; Jeremiah Minter was born inVirginia and spent his entire career in the South; Benjamin Abbott, although based in the mid-Atlantic, frequently itinerated in Maryland. Cook and Minter happened to be in the Allegheny Mountains in western Pennsylvania when they met the devil because they were traveling to or from the South's western country.

Even more puzzling to me than Mr. Luker's objections to Southern Cross is his manner of bringing them forward. It struck me as odd that Mr. Luker began his initial email to me with: "I have owned a copy of your Southern Cross since it was first published and read it with keen interest." Southern Cross was first published in 1997, but I first heard from Mr. Luker in this email of 30 April 2003. It struck me as odder still, if he is interested in scholarly exchange, that Mr. Luker first submitted summaries of his findings to journalists (who took no interest, by the account in his HNN blog of 24 May 2003) and then submitted his article to historians (who advised him, as the same HNN blog indicates, not to publish it), and finally made contact with me in the form of a page-long summary of his criticisms but did not send his article in its entirety. Oddest of all, two days before publishing his 24 May HNN blog on peer review, Mr. Luker sent me an email which includes the following sentences: "Apart from the stats, I would urge you to rethink pp. 74-75 of your book. As you may know, I drafted an article which is fairly critical of it. I have decided not to publish the article, in large part because I think it is basically an honest book."

Christine Leigh Heyrman

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Ralph E. Luker - 6/28/2003

Wilson, Heyrman's statistical errors in her Tables III and V are of the magnitudes of 22%-70%. I don't call that "minor." If you will re-read paragraphs 6-8 in my article, you will see that I have, in fact, documented Heyrman's misuse of ellipses. But you don't have to rely on my word alone for that. Kurt Berends was the person who originally pointed it out. The charge about her misuse of ellipses was made only with respect to her documentation of the shaman/magic theme and it is a telling fact that quotations as evidence of that theme are the only ones in the book in which ellipses are used.
Ralph E. Luker

Wilson - 6/28/2003

Can someone explain what is really going on here?

Yes, it appears that Heyrman made some minor statistical errors that while not "OK" seem to have very little bearing on her argument about evangelists and the creation of the "Bible Belt."

The alleged misrepresentations through the use of strategically placed elipses is simply not substantiated by Luker. Given the brio with which he seems intent on discrediting Heyrman, and his own disassociation of numeracy from Heyrman's actual argument, I'm not inclined to take his word for it.

So can someone explain to me what is really going on here?

Josh Greenland - 6/21/2003

"The discovery of her connection to Michael Bellesiles is used, though,as the first point of argument; see, she must be lying or at least practicing some shoddy form of history. She won a Bancroft, was published by the same publisher, taught Michael Bellesiles. Who knows what other coincidences might turn up?"

That wasn't what I got out of Ralph's mention of Bellesiles. I thought Ralph was wondering if Heyrman may have passed some bad practices on to him.

"[Note: Bellesiles' major critic never published in a peer reviewed journal, only in a law review run by students. Students can have valuable insights, but personally, I learned a lot about research between my undergraduate years and my Ph.D. And I went to law school too, so I know well the difference between student publications and professional journals.There are differences in the quality of publications, whether they are in paper or on the internet as e-journals or blogs.]"

I've been following l'affaire Bellesiles for a couple of years, and I'm not aware of any single "major" critic of Arming America, nor do I accept that a normal law review could check its articles as ineptly as the peer reviewed historical journal that contained some of Bellesiles' work on colonial and early US gun use.

It looks as though you're trying to defend Bellesiles by claiming his "major" critic didn't even publish in a historical publication, while falsely implying that because "many" of the critics posted their criticisms on the internet, no critic tried to publish in a historical publication. Nice try, but we know that historians Gloria Main, Ira Gruber and Randolph Roth published their criticisms in the William & Mary Quarterly in early 2002. No informed person in their right mind would consider these three to be "minor" critics of Arming America.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2003

"Oddest of all, two days before publishing his 24 May HNN blog on peer review, Mr. Luker sent me an email which includes the following sentences: 'Apart from the stats, I would urge you to rethink pp. 74-75 of your book. As you may know, I drafted an article which is fairly critical of it. I have decided not to publish the article, in large part because I think it is basically an honest book.'"
I don't understand why Professor Heyrman finds this odd at all. Her responses to my e-mail conceded a mathematical error, but it was obvious from her summary of it that she still hadn't done the addition correctly. Beyond that, she denied all abuse of ellipses and failed to see that her calculations for Table V produced incomparable numbers. As I've said elsewhere, it isn't rocket science. Had there been indication that she was prepared to recalculate and revise, I would not have felt obliged to publish the article. Despite her publicly dismissive attitude, she still has opportunity to accept the recommendations for revision.

Thomas Gunn - 6/19/2003

06.19.03 ~1425

Ms. Hermes,

You really need to get a grip. Ralph Luker has in no way screwed Ms. Heyrman. The association between Michael and Christine, The Bancroft, the publisher and editor referred to by Ralph is a correlation, not a causation.

I and many others have been taking Ralph to the woodshed for his failure to acknowledge the errors in Michael's book in this forum. He claims the flimsiest of excuses. Ralph doesn't lightly enter the fray.

I can not comment on Christine's book b/c I do not have the expertice to do so, but I trust Ralph's opinion.

If you were up to date with the information here, you would know that Michael's most persistant critic tried repeatedly to get some scholarly journal to publish his findings, to no avail. It finally took Mr. Lindgren to blow the whistle. The fall out from that continues. see: http://hnn.us/articles/691.html

Ralph may have published here as his last resort, do you know if that is the case? According to information suplied here, Ralph gave Christine ample opportunity to correct mistakes, or challenge interpretation in private

John G. Fought - 6/19/2003

Quite a bit has been said in these threads about the persistent inadequacies of peer review. It is disappointing to see it invoked again as a kind of fetish here, after all that has come out on these pages over the past couple of years. In practice, peer review panels rarely do fact checking. They usually do orthodoxy enforcement. I've just gone through (successfully, thanks to the editor) another cycle of it over a long, co-authored, innovative article: same old thing. Anonymity protects not only the forthright, but also the superficial, the narrow-minded, and the inadequate. If Prof. Hermes hasn't run into any of them in her journey, then as they keep saying on TV, "It's a miracle!"

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2003

Professor Hermes attacks a straw man. There is not one word of personal attack against either Christine Heyrman or Michael Bellesiles in anything I have said here. The paper concludes with a specific denial that either of them is guilty by reason of association with the other. It does raise the question of mentorship and that, it seems to me, is a legitimate question. That is not ad hominem.
I would like for Professor Hermes to point to any specific "name calling" in which I have engaged. Would she seriously have us to believe that Heyrman's access to Jane Garrett at Knopf and to the Bancroft circles had nothing to do with Bellesiles's following that same path to glory? Get serious.
Had Professor Heyrman acknowledged the range of problems in _Southern Cross_, instead of minimizing the one problem which she did acknowledge and had she and her publishers assured me that a revised 2nd edition of her book was in the works, this paper would not have been published. I had hoped that that would be the case.

Katherine Hermes - 6/19/2003

Let me first acknowledge that Christine Heyrman was my undergraduate advisor at UC-Irvine, and that I know Michael Bellesiles, and like them, just so that anyone who then wants to dismiss me as "tainted" can do so and move on.

Recently a politically conservative colleague of mine was called a "racist" by other members of my own university community; in fact, he was compared to Hitler and a Klansman. This attack was ad hominem; the accusers had no evidence to back it up. Although this professor and I disagree politically, I was appalled by the nature of the "arguments" used against him, because they were not genuine arguments. They were words aimed at destroying his credibility, certainly, but that is different.

Now it seems, that a historian, Christine Heyrman, is guilty of alleged errors, some of which she acknowledges and some of which she doesn't. Some of Mr. Luker's criticsm is based on evidentiary points; he says numbers don't add up, quotations are altered, etc. These are legitimate forms of argument that Professor Heyrman has answered, though perhaps not to his satisfaction. The discovery of her connection to Michael Bellesiles is used, though,as the first point of argument; see, she must be lying or at least practicing some shoddy form of history. She won a Bancroft, was published by the same publisher, taught Michael Bellesiles. Who knows what other coincidences might turn up?

Professor Heyrman taught me about argument. She taught me that name calling is not a proper form of argument; truth (or as close as we can get to it using the documents and evidence available) is based on more solid things. When I once tried to use a person's political reputation as a reason for why he must be wrong, she shot me down. Show me the evidence that he's wrong, she told me.

In Prof. Heyrman's response, she invites Dr. Luker to publish his findings in a peer reviewed journal. That isn't a blow-off; it is the only way to engage in real scholarly critique. Many of Michael Bellesiles' critics waged their war on the internet, which is certainly a legitimate form of communication, but how many history professors out there limit their students from using the internet for historical and historiographical material for class assignments? I know I do initially, so that they learn how to critique before they just suck up any information that happens to be out there. [Note: Bellesiles' major critic never published in a peer reviewed journal, only in a law review run by students. Students can have valuable insights, but personally, I learned a lot about research between my undergraduate years and my Ph.D. And I went to law school too, so I know well the difference between student publications and professional journals.There are differences in the quality of publications, whether they are in paper or on the internet as e-journals or blogs.]

I read _Southern Cross_, too. I heard Prof. Heyrman deliver early chapters and even read one, with our class. Our class's criticism (and no doubt, more importantly, those of others in the profession) dissuaded her from a particular reading of the sources in that early stage of the book. (She mentions her changing understandings of the evidence in the preface.) She paid attention to criticism and tested ideas as much as one can among her peers. Christine Heyrman was also a teacher who instilled the idea of fairness, and who never let her own opinions show in the classroom. She encouraged her students to express ideas and take intellectual leaps, but was always there to keep the argument logical and precise. Never in my experience was she "thesis-driven." If one of us tried to do that, she always explained in her comments on our papers why the evidence did not add up to the conclusion. She was sceptical of rigid historical models and theories for just those reasons.

I am not suggesting that anyone try to cover up mistakes. We all make them. If they are there, let them see the light of day. Let the level of the mistake be judged fairly. Some mistakes are really incidental, while others are crucial to an argument. There has to be some discernment. Let's stop with ad hominem and spurious attacks that smack of conspiracy theory thinking more than they do of good sense. Some of the most brilliant books of our time are "flawed" but they generate ideas that provoke argument and discussion. A graduate class, and often the average reader, can pick apart a book and find holes. Book reviewers constantly remark on one problem or another. It is the sum total that matters, and one must judge, on balance, whether the conclusions are supported by the weight of the evidence. Reasonable people may disagree on that, of course. Yet we are on the wrong track if we forget what any first grader knows: that name calling can stick and do damage, but it isn't right. And guilt by association is a pretty flimsy charge.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/18/2003

I am happy that Professor Ward joined the discussion. It helps to produce for a larger audience the kind of discussion that historians do engage in all the time. I share her admiration for much of _Southern Cross_. On the other hand, Professor Heyrman has acknowledged only the most limited of her data errors. Table V is a mess and errors made there apparently caused her to project errors of judgment back into Tables III and IV.
Professor Heyrman's use of ellipses is not merely a matter of interpretation of sources. Ellipses were never intended for use in deleting phrases in a way that substantially compromises the intent of an original source.
Finally, the last time I checked, slavery was not legal in Indiana in 1834 to 1836. Professor Ward's growth in Indiana doesn't change that reality. When you are tabulating data on Southern church membership for tables meant to indicate church membership _by race_ and you include states which barred slavery, you're producing something very unSouthern by doing something very Southern: you're being cavalier about evidence.

Caroline Ward - 6/18/2003

THIS is the big expose Luker referred to in his blog?
Heyrman admitted an omission in numbers and says she's taken steps to correct it. This does not involve a 2d edition that must be approved by the publisher but rather the sort of correction that any book goes through in subsequent printings, when any sort of error shows up.
The rest of this battle is over interpretation of sources. There is nothing nefarious about it. This is the sort of dispute historians all get into all the time.
I read Southern Cross & think it an excellent book. I urge other HNN readers to judge it for themselves.
And BTW, I grew up in Indiana in the 1950s, and it sure was southern then. I have no trouble with its inclusion in a table about southern evangelicals.

John G. Fought - 6/17/2003

"My main aim in Southern Cross, as I explain in the introduction, is to explore the evolving religious cultures (evangelical and otherwise) of southern whites between the 1740s and the 1830s." (Heyrman, above)

Among the interesting parallels between Dr. Heyrman's book and that of her former advisee Dr. Bellesiles is the assertion, when factual issues about accurate quotation and enumeration come up, that the book is really about a 'culture' -- 'religious cultures' in one case and a 'gun culture' in another, each traced through a certain period. There are many interesting questions implied by these goals and the methods deployed. It seems in both these cases that the claim to be studying a culture (which incidentally is in these cases really something that might not even qualify as a subculture) excuses or somehow voids the failure to apply careful and critical scholarly methods in the interest of accuracy and persuasiveness. It is apparently enough, in this view, to offer some kind of intuitive or otherwise personal vision that one experiences while reading and then tries to pass on in a book with 'quotations' and 'references'. OK, OK, I made some mistakes in the notes and tables, but I'm on to something here, I just know it.
I do think that Mr. Luker is right to speculate about the effect here of mentor on disciple, and of course, right to blow the whistle on inaccuracies. I'm very pleased to see him doing this: I'm sure it wasn't easy.

JK - 6/16/2003

Thank you Mr Luker for standing up for truth and academic standards, against the all too prevalent academic charlatanism, careerist cliques and political correctness.

A stand like yours generates respect for your discipline, as the official leaders of the profession (and prize-awarding bodies) should recognize.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/16/2003

Professor Heyrman's answer to my article is itself evidence of why I changed my mind and decided to publish the article.
My critique of Heyrman's work is not personal. We have never met. There is much in her book that I admire. My critique of it builds on criticism first made by Kurt Berends, Ann Taves, and others in reviews five years ago. They were published in obscure places, however. Neither Heyrman nor I were aware of Berends's review until a fellow historian called it to my attention, I began looking into related matters, and eventually contacted her about them.
My contact with journalists had nothing to do with specific criticisms of Heyrman's work. It resulted from concerns raised during the controversy over Michael Bellesiles's Arming America about the role of journalists in academic disputes. See: Luker, "Journalists Are Rushing to Judgment About Michael Bellesiles," History News Network, 10 June 2002: http://hnn.us/articles/785.html.
A former president of the American Historical Association urged me to send Heyrman a summary of the argument and evidence in this article, which I did on 30 April 2003. It is not as if this comes as any recent surprise to her. It was only after her responses to my e-mail did not confront the full range of problems in her book for a revised second edition that I decided that I must make the issue public. Five years after Berends and Taves first raised the issues and six weeks after I summarized them for her, Heyrman still gives an inadequate, minimalist concession to her critics. She does that knowing full well, but not telling us, that Knopf's Jane Garrett must approve a revised second edition of the book.
Regarding two matters related to Jon Butler's magic/shaman thesis,
a) readers can decide for themselves whether Heyrman's use of ellipses is problematic. I am not the first or the only historian to have told her that it is. In the case of John Early's diary, I believe it is dishonest. It is quite remarkable that the only place in her book where she uses ellipses is in crafting quotations to justify her finding of evidence for Jon Butler's magic/shaman thesis among Southern evangelicals.
b) her evidence for evangelical itinerants as "fortune tellers" is John Early's claim that some of his listeners would die before he preached in that place again. (Southern Cross, p. 75) She even points out in the book how weak that statement is as evidence of "fortune telling." Death rates in the South and long spans between an itinerant's visits made his statement something closer to a Jeffersonian self-evident truth than an evangelical prophecy.
Ann Taves's point about Heyrman's definition of the South is abundantly obvious. The question isn't any longer so much what her definition of the South is, but what she would mean by the North. It is a rag-tag of New England, much of New York, Michigan, and Wisconsin. That's about it. If Peter Cartwright is a Southerner, so is Abraham Lincoln.
Heyrman should tell us which page in her introduction explains that her "main aim in Southern Cross" was "to explore the evolving religious cultures (evangelical and otherwise) of southern whites between the 1740s and the 1830s." If she had said it there, that might diminish my emphases on her failure to adequately represent African Americans in her narrative of how the South became the Bible Belt. As it is, she implicitly undermines the claim about her book's aim by telling us that "the entry for ‘African Americans' in the index runs nearly the length of the column." She doesn't tell us that that column is on the index's first page, roughly a third of which is given to white space. No pun intended, but a different indicator is on the index's last page, which has one entry for African American women and 22 entries and two cross-references for white women.
Gathering data is not Heyrman's strength. Take the example of her refusal to see a problem with the data in her Table V, a tally of Southern Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians by race in 1834 to 1836. Keep in mind, but hold in suspension, the matter of her counting Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois in tabulating Southern church membership in those years. Seeing that there were substantial numbers of Cumberland Presbyterians and that they were concentrated in the South, she adds them to the totals given for the Presbyterian Church in the United States (and, of course, counts them all white). But she does not do the comparable thing for Baptists and Methodists.
This is not rocket science. Assume that you were looking at the numbers of automobiles produced in the United States in 1959. You count the number of Chevrolet sedans, Ford sedans, and Plymouth sedans. Then you notice that Plymouth also built a number of convertibles and station wagons that year. So you add those numbers to Plymouth's sedan total, but you don't do the same thing for Chevrolets and Fords. You have numbers that are not comparable. Heyrman's data would begin to approach accuracy if she counted Free Will Baptists, Methodist Protestants, and members of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in her totals in Table V. I told her that as long ago as 30 April 2003. As of 14 June, she still doesn't get it.
Finally, even when Heyrman does acknowledge a problem with her data, she does it in a way that minimizes the appearance of its importance. When she adds numbers that total 38,797 and 11,407, but reports them in her book as 31,817 and 8,640, she minimizes the importance of the discrepancy by telling us only the difference that the discrepancy makes as a percentage of the total population. Then she insists that correct addition strengthens her argument! I hope Heyrman does strengthen her argument, but she should do it in a revised second edition of her book. In it, she should quote primary sources accurately, respect the context in which they originally appeared, use comparable data, and check her addition across the board. Then she might have a book worthy of a Bancroft Prize.