THE LATEST (posted 10-25-05)
What They Are Up to
What books are historians writing or just getting published? To make this interesting we've prepared a little quiz. The directions are simple. Match items in the left-hand column with those in the right. Can you do it?
|John Quincy Adams
Taking the names on the left in sequence, we'll start with David Donald. You would expect Donald to be doing the book on Lincoln. But this was a trick question. Donald says he is tired of doing Lincoln books. Instead, for a change, he's tackling John Quincy Adams. "I've said farewell to Lincoln so many times, but this time I think it will really happen," Donald told an interviewer. "I'll miss writing about Lincoln, but on the other hand, I've sort of been there, done that. Perhaps I was getting repetitious anyway."
Next is Diane Ravitch. She's a natural for the book on education, right? But that's too easy. And you wouldn't want to be fooled twice. Ah, but it is the intention of Grapevine to fluster the reader. Yes, Ravitch is doing the education book: Forgotten Heroes of American Education: The Great Tradition of Teaching Teachers.
What about David Kennedy? His last book was about the Depression and World War II. The big scholarly book before that was about World War I. Neither book offers an obvious clue to his next one but when you find out what it is it makes sense. It's about national character, which is, after all, what he was often writing about in his other books.
Simon Schama, who is celebrated for his books on British history, is writing about American slavery. The book, Rough Crossings : Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution, is already out in Britain. It will be published in the states next year.
Finally, there's Doris Kearns Goodwin. She's the author of the book on Lincoln, which, she recently told Thomas Mallon, she took 10 years to write. This is an interesting statistic. It means Goodwin was working on the Lincoln book before the borrowed passages were exposed in her Kennedy book. In other words, this isn't the book she wrote after her scandal. It's the book she was writing while she was in the midst of the scandal. One wonders. Did the scandal change her? If it did, did she have to rework the parts of the book she wrote before the scandal broke? A self-confident author worked on the book the first seven years, a clearly nervous and defensive (and perhaps more driven) author finished the book. Mallon, one of the first to read the book, calls it a masterpiece. So does David Donald. Goodwin doesn't like talking about the scandal. But really one of the most interesting questions is its impact on her writing. Can a person go through what she has gone through and not write differently? Did the pain help? If it did, perhaps it bears out the theory of Joshua Wolf Shenk, who argues that depression helped Lincoln achieve greatness.
Hurricanes are expected in the fall, so it wasn't a surprise that Katrina hit during September. But the very week she struck the Gulf coast Raymond Arsenault was celebrating the publication of his latest paperback book, Paradise Lost: The Environmental History of Florida, which includes accounts of some of the worst hurricanes in American history. This was the second time there had been a coincidence of this sort. In 1999 he was working on another book about hurricanes. As part of his research he had to visit the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Worried about visiting the area during hurricane season, he phoned ahead to find out if any storms were approaching. He was told to come on down. No hurricanes were in the vicinity. Her arrived in time to experience hurricane Irene. Things got so bad that FEMA took over the Center. Arsenault told HNN he had learned his lesson: Don't listen to the scientists about weather predictions.
Publisher with a Sense of Humor
Whether you like the Politically Incorrect books or not, and many don't, you can't say that the publisher, Regnery, lacks a sense of humor. On the back cover of one of the latest volumes, Robert Spencer's Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades, Spencer is identified as the director of Jihad Watch and the author of 4 books on Islam. Then there's this: “He lives in a Secure, Undisclosed Location.”
What Do You Call a Female Historian?
When Rebecca Anne Goetz joined the HNN Blog, Cliopatria, Ralph Luker, the blog's self-described Cliopatriarch, quickly discovered that Goetz has a sense of humor. In her first blog she asked if she should now be referred to as a Cliomatriarch? "I recently discovered," she wrote, "that 'historianess' is a correct, if archaic, descriptor for a woman historian. So why not Cliomatriarch?" Why not?
Armenia and Turkey
Turkey has bloody hands for the Armenian Massacre, but both countries should be taken to the woodshed for the way they are treating scholars these days. In the last few months Turkey and Armenia have been making asses of themselves. Turkey cancelled a scholarly conference that had been called to review the massacre, forcing the scholars to race from one university to another in search of a venue. Then a court put an author on trial for writing about the massacre. (Turkey's foreign minister played down the case, reassuring reporters that he was confident the charges would be dismissed.) Armenia meanwhile arrested Yektan Turkyilmaz, a Duke University graduate student investigating the massacre. That he happened to agree that the Turks were guilty didn't matter. As he recalled, "The interrogators’ questioning in the initial few days of my arrest was entirely devoted to my research, my political views and connections with Turkish intelligence and state officials. The concept of 'scholar' is meaningless to them. According to them, as the investigator put it, 'all scholars are spies.'"
Chutzpah ... Or Simply Good Marketing?
In its three years in existence Campus Watch has infuriated liberals incensed over the website's monitoring of classroom discussions about the Middle East. Some of these professors have complained in writing--but to little effect. Campus Watch flourished. And now to add insult to injury--from the liberals' perspective at any rate--Campus Watch is using the complaints against the organization to help raise funds. In the most recent fundraising appeal in September founder Daniel Pipes wrote:
Our influence and visibility has inspired a remarkable lament from Miriam Cooke, a Middle East specialist at Duke University: “Campus Watch is the Trojan horse whose warriors are already changing the rules of the game not only in Middle East studies but also in the US University as a whole. They threaten to undermine the very foundations of American education.” Criticism, as they say, is the other sincerest form of flattery.
So what is it? Chutzpah or marketing genius? We report. You decide.
The Historian in Iraq
If there has to be a historian in Iraq you would want it to be Cavalry Col. H.R.McMaster, the author of the highly esteemed book, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam.
McMaster went to Iraq in 2004 at the request of Gen. John Abizaid, the chief of U.S. Central Command, where his job was to "assess war progress and propose long-range solutions for the post-Saddam Hussein era." Currently he leads the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq.
His book tells the story of how a president lied the United States into war over the objections of leading military figures, who put aside their qualms and kept quiet about their objections. The book is required reading at West Point. But McMaster, who earned a Ph.D.at the University of North Carolina after joining the army, is a strong supporter of the war:
President George W. Bush's approach to the current Iraqi problem stands in stark contrast to LBJ's approach to Vietnam. The Bush administration made its case for military action, and, after considerable debate, the American people, through their representatives in Congress, gave approval. The administration also made its case to the United Nations, highlighting the damage that inaction would inflict on prospects for peace in the long term
McMaster is regarded highly in the military. He served in Desert Storm in an action that is now taught in classes at West Point. Students say he is an exceptional teacher. In September the army put him forward to brief the press about the operation in Tall Afar, which terrorists had used as a haven from which to launch attacks. Speaking bluntly he said: "The enemy in this area is -- this is the worst of the worst in terms of people in the world."
This is an enemy, who when they came in, they removed all the imams from the mosques, and they replaced them with Islamic extremist laymen. They removed all the teachers from the schools and replaced them with people who had a fifth-grade education and who preached hatred and intolerance. They murdered people. In each of their cells that they have within the city has a direct action cell of about 100 or so fighters. They have a kidnapping and murder cell; they have a propaganda cell, a mortar cell, a sniper cell -- a very high degree of organization here. And what the enemy did is to keep the population from performing other activities.
The 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America
You have probably seen Bernard Goldberg's book, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. If you haven't here's the lowdown. Goldberg, the former CBS news reporter who claims the media are pushing a liberal agenda, thinks liberals are ruining America and he's put together a list of the worst offenders (though he throws in a few conservatives for balance). We figured that with all the studies showing liberals dominating the history profession there must be lots of historians who had made it onto Goldberg's list. But alas only one did. Apparently, historians aren't doing nearly as much damage as David Horowitz claims. (So who was the historian who made the list? Eric Foner, who has become the punching bag of conservatives.)
Back to Doris
Did we mention that Doris Kearns Goodwin has a book out? It's pretty hard to miss. This week Simon & Schuster bought an entire page of the NYT to advertise the book (the cost of such ads is usually around $75,000). So she's doing well again, right? Well, that depends. We came across these two stories in the NYT on September 5. They demonstrate that even the newspaper of record is a bit confused about Doris's role in our society. Is she to be held up as a scholar or reviled as a plagiarist (note: Goodwin denies that what she did can be considered plagiarism)?
In a story about Katrina by White House reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, in which Goodwin commented on Bush's performance, she was described as "Doris Kearns Goodwin, the presidential biographer." But over in the technology section of the paper--same day!--in an article about software that can detect plagiarism, she was lumped in with Jayson Blair and Stephen Ambrose.
In the rolodex world of the media one is usually either in the god guy or bad guy category. Doris, like many celebrities, remarkably straddles both.
Old Historians Never Fade Away
When I was a high school student and told my father I was thinking of becoming a historian he looked up, smiled, and said that's good ... from the obit pages it appeared that historians usually seemed to live to a ripe old age. I don't know if anyone has done a study of this but there do seem to be a lot of old historians. And they keep working into old age. Many of those ripe old men my father referred to were doing research and writing up to the day they died. Just last week Alvin Josephy passed away at age 90. Obituaries mentioned that he has another book coming out next year: Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes. Five years ago, at age 85, he came out with his memoirs. David Herbert Donald, in his 80s, is working on the book on John Quincy Adams, mentioned above. Robert Remini, also in his 80s, is writing a history of the U.S. Congress while serving as the official historian of the U.S. House of Representatives. John Hope Franklin, age 90, came out with two books in the last year, In Search of the Promised Land, and just this month, his memoir, Mirror to America. Bernard Lewis, age 89, remains on of the most prolific public historians in the country.
One of my mentors is Bernard Wiesberger. He wrote his first book 52 years ago. This summer he finished his 21st book (about baseball). He travels a lot now--but he keeps writing.
If you know of a historian who has kept working long past retirement age, please tell us about him/her by clicking here.
President Bush, Historian
As he headed off to his summer vacation President Bush was preparing to read three history books, according to his staff: Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar by Edvard Radzinsky, and The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry. (Given what was coming he picked the wrong book by Barry to read. It wasn't the flu we had to worry about this fall, it was the floods. Barry is the author of the bestseller, Rising Tide, a history of the 1927 Mississippi flood.) On previous vacations the president was said to have read biographies of George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Theodore Roosevelt, Richard the Lionheart and Peter the Great, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Bush is no Woodrow Wilson, the only president with a Ph.D. in history. And he's not likely to be elected president of the American Historical Association as was Teddy Roosevelt, the author of several works of history. And like his father he often dismisses history. He told one reporter who asked how some event or other would look in fifty years that he didn't care--we'd all be dead by then. But is he really indifferent to history? He was a history major in college. He reads history books (though his staff may hav hyped his reading list a tad-- click here). He has had several historians over to the White House through the years. And last month he appointed a history major, John Roberts, chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Why then is no one tooting his interest in history? Even conservative historians don't seem to want to make much of any of this. In Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton much pride was taken by historians for these presidents' love of history. But Bush? The liberals don't want to give him an inch. And the conservatives prefer to think of him as a six-gun shooter.
David Starkey, Fighter
The British historian was fighting mad. "I've used the dirtiest tactics," he confessed, "and what I have learned in academic politics is very dirty indeed." And with whom was David Starkey upset? And over what? Was it something Tony Blair did or said? Was it some egregious faux pas by President Bush which aroused the ire of Britain's TV don (AKA the"rudest man in Britain")? No. Starkey was "fighting to the death" against awarding an English Heritage blue plaque to the late conductor Annunzio Mantovani (d. 1980). But why? The plaques--which "celebrate great figures of the past and the buildings that they inhabited"--have gone to all sorts of people including Madame Tussaud. And Mantovani, the "king of easy listening music," seemed fairly harmless. But Starkey takes his music seriously, the papers informed the British public this summer. And he couldn't abide an award to Mantovani. Jimi Hendrix--yes, said Starkey, a lover of hard rock. But Mantovani--no, never! (London Independent July 28, 2005)
Now what is more remarkable? That a historian should make such a fuss about a thing like this? Or that the British press thought it noteworthy enough to devote a story to it? American historians must face the fact that in Britain their peers' whims, predilections and fights and such are deemed worthy of public debate and here they are not.
For the Record
Most days the NYT corrections' list is dull. But this one caught our eye this past July--that's July 2005:
An obituary on Jan. 6, 1993, about William G. McLoughlin, an emeritus professor of history and religion at Brown University, misstated the date and cause of his death. Professor McLoughlin died on Dec. 28, 1992, not on Jan. 4, 1993; the cause was colon cancer, not liver cancer. The article also misstated the location of his World War II military service. It was at Fort Sill, Okla., not in Europe. The Times learned of the errors through a recent e-mail message from a family member.
This is worth remembering the next time the Times refuses to publish your letter complaining of some mistake or other that has found its way into the paper. The editors do care about some mistakes. But just not the one to which you want to draw attention.
The Historian Who Doesn't Want to Testify
It wasn't just reporters being asked to testify this summer. So was the town historian in Kent, Ct. Francelia C. Johnson was summoned by the Schaghticoke Indians to testify about her knowledge of the tribe's activities in the 19th century. The Schaghticoke claim that they have been in continuous existence in the area and are therefore entitled to plant a casino there. Critics insist the tribe petered out in the last century. Ms. Johnson, who collects documents on the tribe, was thought to have some answers. And the tribe demanded that she turn over her documents, including "any and all books, records, notebooks, loose-leaf notebooks, notes, ledgers, birth certificates, cemetery sketches, obituaries, genealogical trees, marriage licenses ... or other information in your possession or custody or under your control relative to any Schaghticoke Indian."
Ms. Johnson declined and the town selectmen backed her up, getting her appearance postponed. But this isn't the end of the matter. Millions may be riding on what Ms. Johnson knows. She has hinted that she has information about the tribe that might be useful in their fight for recognition. But so far: she's mum. (Click here for details on this fascinating fight.)
Genuine Want Ad, Spring 2005:
American West Steamboat Company has an exciting opportunity for a full time historian to work on board our sternwheeler vessels. Responsibilities include delivering natural history & cultural enrichment programs to enlighten our guests on the history, culture and geography of the places we sail. Top candidate will possess extensive knowledge of the Pacific Northwest including the Columbia and Snake Rivers, the Lewis and Clark expedition and the history and geography of Alaska's Inside Passage. Experience in oral storytelling is preferred but not required.
Maybe next summer?
Founding Father Angst
It's said nowadays that the Founding Fathers are the rage. But not all of them, apparently, according to a press account that appeared in Scotland last spring :
A famous museum in the United States has provoked the ire of historians after turning down a Benjamin Franklin exhibition to show one on Star Wars instead. Boston's Museum of Science passed on the chance to showcase a travelling exhibit celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Franklin, one of America's founding fathers, who was born and grew up in the area before moving to Philadelphia at age 17. The museum says it can't accommodate the tribute to the Founding Father because it is opening a large Star Wars exhibit instead this summer.
What's Ben Franklin compared with Yoda, after all?
The Naked Historian
From a blog entry by Cliopatria's Ralph Luker:
I continue to be amazed at what some people will post on the net, even under cover of anonymity or pseudonymity. I got into trouble once for remarking about a female history blogger who posted photographs of herself hefting her bosoms at the camera's eye. In the last two months, we've had a similar situation of a young male history blogger. He speculated about the adequacy of his -- ah -- his male organ, complained about the lack of direction from his graduate school professors, and confessed to indiscretions with privileged information about his fellow graduate students. Such candor won him favor in some sectors of the blogosphere, but just within the last 24 hours acquaintances from his institution guessed his identity. Suddenly, his blog was no more.And on that note, adieu--for now.
WINTER 2004-SPRING 2005 (posted 4-20-05)
What You Might Have Missed
If you have been on holiday and missed recent editions of the HNN newsletter, here's a small sampling of the events that have drawn the attention of historians over the past few months. Japan took North Korea to task for kidnapping its citizens and concealing the details of this history. South Korea and China took Japan to task for approving a textbook that sanitizes the history of Japanese colonialism. And Japan took China to task for encouraging street protesters to throw rocks at the Japanese embassy over the textbook controversy.
Moving west on the map, Armenians took the Turks to task for continuing to minimize the Armenian Genocide. Turks took the Armenians to task for ignoring the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Turks. And finally moving south, Kenyans took the British to task for minimizing the toll the colonial war on the Mau-Mau took on innocents.
Evidence that people the world over remain ignorant of history surfaced again and again (Americans can take slight comfort in this, but not much). One in eight Italians think the Holocaust is a Jewish invention. Nearly a third of British youth think Oliver Cromwell fought at the Battle of Hastings. One in six Canadians think that only a million Jews died in the Holocaust. The British media reported that our cousins are as badly informed about history as we are, and even demonstrate only a slight acquaintance with the history of World War II, though British historians are persuaded that the public has been feeding on a gross diet of Hitler and the Holocaust to the exclusion of most other subjects in both school classes and on television.
Here at home: The Watergate papers of Woodward and Bernstein were opened while fears arose that the Nixon papers might never be fully opened if they are transferred to the custody of the Nixon library. Somebody named Ward Churchill, whom few had ever heard of, became the subject of thousands of stories and blog entries after he compared the victims of 9-11 to the Nazis. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese compared abortions to the Holocaust.
About historians: John Hope Franklin celebrated his 90th birthday. Sean Wilentz was nominated for a grammy. President Bush said he has been reading Joseph Ellis's biography of Washington.
Good News/Bad News
There have been a spate of good news/bad news stories involving historians.
Good News: A long stretch of highway in Louisiana was named after a historian. Bad News. It was named after STEPHEN AMBROSE. This is the second time Ambrose has been honored with a highway. Last year the part of the same highway--Interstate 10--that runs through Mississippi was named after him.
Good News: This winter the number eight spot on the New York Times Paperback Bestseller list was held for a time by a history book. The bad news, at least in the eyes of many historians): It was THOMAS WOODS Jr.'s The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, which both liberals and conservatives have panned. (Woods defends his book here.)
Good News: After MICHAEL GRANT, the classics historian, passed away at age 89 the NYT prominently featured his obituary in suitable recognition of his many accomplishments. Bad News: It took the NYT weeks to publish the obit. He passed away on October 4. His obituary did not appear in the NYT until October 25, some two weeks after papers in London had reported his demise.
Good News: In December, after years of deep archival work, ALF EVERS finally finished his 700-page history of Kingston, New York, Kingston-on-Hudson: An American Historical City. Bad News: The very next day he died, after a brief cold. He was 99 years old. His approach to history was memorably recorded one day in response to a question posed by an interviewer.
You can't understand a town without understanding the surrounding towns, and as you go more and more deeply into it, it takes you farther and farther from your base. You start accumulating books about your town's history, and then you begin to buy books on the surrounding towns, and then on the county and surrounding counties, and then the state and the surrounding states. The process can go on until you reach the limits of the planet, and by that time, possibly, there will have been discovered that, somewhere out in space, there are planets surrounding suns that we know nothing about, in which there are other towns, which have their local histories. And, so, eventually, there will be space travelers that may bring back local histories to people like me, who are so green on the subject.
Did Bill Clinton write his own memoirs? At the American Historical Association meeting in January Grapevine happened to find out the answer:
Some have suspected that the president got help from historian TED WIDMER, a one-time Clinton speech writer who now runs the C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Maryland's Washington College. Widmer would have been an ideal choice. He is a graceful writer, easy to work with, and a dutiful researcher. And as MICHAEL KAZIN noted recently in a glowing NYT review of Widmer's new book about Martin Van Buren--one of the short presidential histories being written under the direction of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.-- Widmer possesses a commanding understanding of American politics.
So did Widmer help Clinton with the memoirs? He told Grapevine he did. But he quickly minimized his role in the self-effacing manner of speech writers of old. He said his work mainly consisted in interviewing Clinton on tape about the president's life. If the book reads like oral history it is because it is oral history in a way, Widmer explained. Clinton, speaking easily in whole paragraphs, just spilled out his life's story, one story after another and another. Widmer then transcribed the interviews--hours and hours of them--and organized them.
So now you know.
Talk Radio Fireworks
Suppose for a moment you have been invited to o a radio show on your book. Great, right? How often do the radio people call historians anyway? So ED BLACK, author a few years ago of the blockbuster book exposing IBM's support in the 1930s for Nazi concentration camps and the author recently of a book about the history of Iraq, was thrilled when he was booked on the Laura Ingraham show. Ingraham reaches an audience in the millions. What's not to like?
But his excitement turned to trepidation as he was making his approach to the station. In his words: "The driver turned on the radio station, and Laura is speaking in her fiery way... says she is going to make me 'very uncomfortable' and I am in for a 'debate' because they have another historian on who is going to undermine me." Holy Cow! This wasn't what he expected. And as he explained to friends, "In the business, it is totally not permitted to sked a guest without telling him who else is on."
Relief came quickly, however. It turned out the other guest was WALID PHARES and he and Black share similar views about Iraq. As Black pulled up to the studio he got Walid's people on the phone, told them what he heard Laura say, and they made a pact. This would not turn into a classic scream fest. "So when I stepped to the mic, the mood became decided non-antagonistic, non-spectacle, very professional, and very informative."
Black ended his account by predicting that Laura, who "began to see that the issue of Iraq is massively multi-dimensional" would begin to see that "it cannot be covered so quickly," Has she seen the light? Grapevine doesn't know. But if she has she is apparently alone. Thus far nobody seems to have detected any sudden blossoming of reason on Talk Radio. Screaming and sloganeering remains de rigueur.
Fashion in History
On the London Times list of the twenty best dressers of 2004, which appeared in late December, there was a surprise this year. Along with the usual run of actresses and models there was number 15, SUSANNE KAPOOR, a medieval arts historian. According to the Times, she deserved to be included for "services to retro fashion. Wears both real vintage and brand-new - but whatever the provenance, the look is Sixties glamazon. Likes a bit of sparkle." So there to all those who think of historians as frumpy. At least there is one who is not.
Vietnam at the OAH
After the Nixon Library canceled the scholars' conference on Vietnam, some made an effort to hold the event anyway at the annual meeting of the OAH in San Jose. A series of Vietnam panels featuring name historians like STANLEY KUTLER et al. no doubt would have attracted enormous attention. In the end the OAH program committee was unable to pull it off. There simply wasn't enough time between the collapse of the conference and the scheduled OAH meeting in which to make all the arrangements.
Ok, there are many differences between the AHA and the OAH, right? The AHA was chartered by Congress; the OAH wasn't. The AHA deals with history that happened around the world; the OAH doesn't. The AHA is bigger. But you knew all that. Here's what you may not know or may never have given any thought to. The two organizations elect their presidents by vastly different methods. Although both have Nominating Boards elected by their members, the boards work differently. Over at the AHA the Board selects two people for the position of president-elect and lets the members choose between them. In other words, at the AHA they hold elections to determine the leader of the organization. Over at the OAH the Board selects one person for the position of president-elect. And that's it. There is no contested election for this position.
We wondered about this difference and asked the OAH why it doesn't offer voters a choice. LEE FORMWALT, the executive director, told us that the problem with elections is that they lead to public embarrassment for the loser. And this isn't really fair. The Board after all only selects people of the highest caliber for president-elect. Why put up two equally capable candidates one of whom will be fated to be branded a loser? As Formwalt explained, they wouldn't be nominated if the Board wasn't convinced that they met the highest standards of the profession. He added, "of course, there is something to be said for democracy." But is democracy necessary in selecting the leadership of a scholarly organization? Maybe yes, maybe no.
At the AHA contested elections have indeed led to embarrassment for the loser from time to time. Some candidates have been creamed. In the 1990s the AHA made an attempt to minimize the pain. It discontinued the practice of publishing the election results in Perspectives, the AHA's newsletter. Now if you want the results--the hard numbers--you have to go to the seldom-consulted annual reports of the organization.
Why did the two organizations go their separate ways when it comes to electing their leaders? That seems to be a mystery. If you know please contact the editor and we'll let everybody know. It's a bit of history that might prove interesting as we reflect on the 100th anniversary of the OAH in 2007.
Note (updated 4-23-05 4:30pm PST) In response to our request for information, Hanna H. Gray, former president of the University of Chicago, sent us the following email, which helps explain how the AHA system of contested elections developed:
In the early 1970's, a committee was appointed to review the structure of the AHA. (I was its chairman; the committee was originally appointed by Joseph Strayer when he was president and its work went on for a couple of years ....) Out of the report came the new organization of three divisions in the AHA and the shift to electing presidents on the basis of a slate of two. The latter caused a lot of debate, both within our committee and in the AHA, where the annual business meeting ultimately voted the changes.After Professor Gray's comment was posted we heard from Jesse Lemisch:
Hanna Gray's account of the origin of contested elections in the AHA is a model of administrative/political history from the top down, and it utterly misses the pressures from below which led to the situation that she describes in which an AHA committee came out for contested elections.
Gray says that her AHA Committee to review the structure of the organization was appointed in the early 1970's. She seems to view this simply as a farsighted initiative by the AHA and ignores the stormy context in which this happened, and to which the committee's work was a response: the early 1970s was hardly a tranquil time, neither in the larger society nor in the AHA. The Radical Caucus's actions at the 1969 AHA had included getting a surprising number of votes for left historian/activist Staughton Lynd as president. (n advance of the meeting, the hysterical Richard Hofstadter had called for a "counter-revolution" in the AHA.) There was a wave of horror from above at what Peter Novick has aptly called "the collapse of comity" (See Novick, That Noble Dream; Lemisch, On Active Service in War and Peace: Politics and Ideology in the American Historical Profession; Lemisch, "Radicals, Marxists and Gentlemen: A Memoir of Twenty Years Ago," Radical Historians Newsletter, November 1989.)
The new president, Robert R. Palmer commenced a national tour to attempt to pacify and channel dissent. Various reforms followed. The [Sheldon] Hackney Committee on the Rights of Historians, of which the heroic Al Young was the most dynamic member, gathered data on the firings of left professors (including Staughton Lynd, me and many others) and drew up an important statement on the rights of historians. These things took place within the context of a movement that spoke up for democracy within institutions: Gray's committee worked amidst and responded to the turmoil of the times.
I'm not proprietary about the role of the Radical Caucus: surely we made errors. What distresses me about Hanna Gray's statement is historiographical: it's that old habit of writing political history without reference to the pressures from below which establish a context in which reform takes place. This produces fiction. It reminds me of the histories of the Vietnam anti-war movement which seem to think that Senator Fulbright invented it.
Ethics, Plagiarism, Etc.
One of the unnoticed measures approved at the recent Business Meeting of the OAH was the establishment of a committee on professional ethics. One reason you have not heard much if anything about this committee is that it won't be doing much. If you think a historian is guilty of plagiarism, don't bother notifying the committee. The committee will only investigate charges against scholars who have been honored by the OAH with a prize. That means of all the people implicated in history scandals over the last few years, only one--MICHAEL BELLESILES--would have faced an investigation by this committee, and that is because only he had received an award from the OAH, the Binkley-Stephenson Award for the best article in the Journal of American History. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Joseph Ellis, Ambrose and the others would not have had anything to worry about from the OAH. (It so happens that Bellesiles kept his OAH-Binkley, though he was forced to give up his Columbia-awarded Bancroft.)
The OAH has never had much of a role investigating charges against historians. In the past it simply referred charges to the AHA's Professional Division. That of course is no longer possible. Two years ago the AHA gave up the chore, which had proved overly onerous. Today the AHA committee on Professional Responsibility establishes guidelines for professional conduct. Complaints against historians are supposed to be handled now by the institutions that employ them.
Pulitzer Prize Interview? Sorry.
After DAVID HACKETT FISCHER won the Pulitzer Prize a few weeks ago for Washington's Crossing, HNN contacted him about doing an interview by email. He was very gracious in response. But he declined. Why? Let him explain:
It is kind of you to ask, but your medium is not a natural one for me. and I don't feel comfortable in the use of it. I'm one of the children of the book, and also one of the children of light. I've learned to distrust the digital darkness, and avoid it at all costs. But thanks again for asking.
Note to ROY ROSENZWEIG, head of George Mason University's Center for History and New Media: This is what you are up against.
Middle East Blogger
.Which blogger on Middle Eastern affairs do conservatives love to hate? JUAN COLE, of course. Professor Cole, the president-elect of the Middle East Studies Association, has been denounced repeatedly in the past few months at David Horowitz's FrontPageMag.com and even by David Brooks in the NYT. It turns out that even Paul Wolfowitz is reading him. According to ERIC ALTERMAN'Sblog over at MSNBC.com, Wolfowitz says that he in fact reads Cole's blog but doesn't like it. When asked about it, Wolfowitz "made a munched up face like his sushi had gone bad."
Historian for Hire
From time to time we like to feature the different ways people are using history to earn a living. Some, as was pointed out in an article published on HNN last month, have found it lucrative to sell their services to the tobacco industry. Others have found remunerative work by providing research for the chemical industry (and attacking the work of others critical of the chemical industry). But others are using history in less controversial ways. There's Margaret Brennan, a West Virginian who helps people set up historical displays, among other things. And there's Audrey Galex, a Southerner who helps people create video biographies of members of their family. And she's not alone; apparently a lot of historians have taken up this business. They've created a trade group: The Association of Personal Historians. But perhaps the prize for creativity should go to Dave Burrell, a former intern at the Smithsonian who helps prepare histories of historic homes so the owners can fetch higher prices when they sell. As he explains in a press release: "The underlying principle is simple: since so much of the mystery of old homes lies in their connection with the past, a home history can highlight that connection very vividly." It turns out he's not alone in this business. A Google check uncovered a story a few years ago in the Washington Post about another historian who performs the same service in the nation's capital. The article explained that the research on a single dwelling can take two to three months and cost as much as $3600. Clicking to the historian's website we discovered that theWall Street Journaljust published an article about his company, which, with the help of "a little-known science called dendrochronology," can help you discover how old a house is by taking a wood sample and counting the rings in it to determine when the wood was harvested. We have one word for this: Nifty!
In a departure from past practice, this edition of History Grapevine is devoted to a single book: FORREST McDONALD'SRecovering the Past: A Historian's Memoir, which is HNN's November Book of the Month. There's simply more fodder in this book that can be fit into the usual couple of paragraphs.
To begin with, there are his acerbic comments On PAGE SMITH: "Page Smith was a mainstream historian until, at some point in he 1970s, he embraced radical chic." On Alfred A. Knopf: "[A man] whose regal and pompous presence was such that Tom Govan said of him, 'There but for the grace of God goes God.'" On CARL BRIDENBUGH: "[H]e was a sorry excuse for a human being."
Then there are the passages dripping with bitterness. While Page Smith's supposedly inferior history of the American Revolution (which was riddled with "hundreds of gross factual errors") sold well, his own textbook sold badly, owing, he says, to the "radical swing of the historical profession." His coauthor on the textbook, LESLIE E. DECKER, was supposed to write half the book. "As it worked out, Decker wrote one and a half of the thirty-five chapters, and I wrote the rest."
His indictments of the ethics of the history profession are thunderous: He recalled that FULMER MOOD, his advisor, had warned him "to keep my research and my ideas close to my chest, even in writing my grant reports, for, he said, the history profession was infested by thieves who would steal your material given half a chance." Fulmer had told him that SAMUEL ELIOT MORISON had raided the research notes Fulmer had accumulated in Europe and "gutted the materials and published an article based on them." McDonald says he had thought the warning silly, but then discovered that WILLIAM WARREN SWEET had stolen a paper McDonald wrote and published it. "It was my paper, verbatim, presented as his own with no mention of me." (McDonald says he didn't rat out Sweet "because subsequent research had convinced me that my paper was full of holes.") Though he is disturbed by the more recent scandals of the profession, those involving Ellis, Ambrose, Goodwin, VanDeMark and Bellesiles, McDonald says he remains an optimist, being a "natural-born Pollyanna." Historians continue to do good solid work, the research is producing a clearer understanding of the past, and the book-buying public continues buying.
Along the way he notes that THOMAS P. ABERNETHY considered C. VAN WOODWARD, DAVID POTTER and other critics of Jim Crow as "unsound on the nigra question." And he says that anti-Semitism was rampant at the Brown history department, which he joined in 1959. He notes that one applicant was "by far the best candidate" for the graduate program, but his "photograph indicated that he looked even more Jewish than his name sounded," leading "several older members" of the department "to dismiss his application out of hand." When McDonald suffered from a back ache JIM HEDGES referred him to someone, "but added, 'Now I should warn you that he's Jewish, but he really is very good.'"
He is a bit of a braggart. He boasts that because he has always needed only a few hours of sleep he can work harder and longer than others. "The normal course load for undergraduates was fifteen hours, five courses a semester; I took six and seven courses and augmented them by occasional correspondence courses." Six pages later he notes that he slept in his car twice a week while doing research (twelve hours a day without stopping) in the archives in Richmond. Thirty pages later he tells us that he did a "smashing job" writing the biography of Samuel Insull: "the book reads like a novel." His most surprising boast is that he didn't bother keeping up with literature in his fields. "Instead, when I need to know what has been written on a particular subject, I send Ellen [his wife] to the library, and she combs the books and journals and comes home with the best available studies." He leaves the impression that scholars who bother keeping up are foolish.
His conservative politics rarely intrude. But the book is noteworthy for the pictures it features. How many other historians have pictures of themselves with Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Not many--and McDonald knows why. The profession is overrun with liberals. Sometimes he seems to go out of his way to depict himself as different. Near the end he recounts that he once gave a paper in which he called the Bill of Rights "unnecessary and pernicious." By then, though it's a surprise to hear he takes this position, his statement's no shocker. This is a man who seems to relish shocking people. After awhile you come to expect it.