Reporter's Notebook: Highlights from the 2004 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association


Mr. Shenkman is the editor of HNN.

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Thursday, January 8, 2004

The AHA is meeting this week in Washington D.C. On Thursday night Senator Robert Byrd was given the first Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Civil Service"in recognition of the senator's lifelong and passionate commitment to the discipline of history." About 1,000 turned out for the event, which was broadcast live on C-Span.

HNN's Ralph Luker had suggested historians protest Byrd's award in light of his long ago membership in the KKK and his recent use of the N-word in a television interview. But Byrd was given an enthusiastic reception. He won a hearty round of applause when he denounced schools which lump history in with social studies, but may have lost points with some when he noted that one of his two favorite history books is David Muzzey's hoary history of the United States, which Byrd said he read back in 1927. Students of African-American history with memories that stretch back to the sixties may recall that Muzzey's book, which once ruled the textbook market, was singled out then as a racist text for its depiction of blacks as"piccaninnies." (Byrd's other favorite history book is Gibbons's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. [Note: Originally the title was rendered incorrectly, as noted by a reader below.]

If Byrd startled the audience with his repeated praise of Muzzey, he won them back when he bemoaned the ignorance of students about history, complaining that many can't even place the Civil War in the right century. He said many Senate pages never heard of Nathan Hale. (Again he invoked Muzzey:"They aren't studying Muzzey." Maybe Byrd studied Muzzey too well?)

When he said many officials in Washington didn't seem much better informed about American history, but they shall remain nameless, the audience murmurred approvingly.

At precisely 8 p.m. Byrd stopped speaking, right on schedule.

Following his appearance a panel headed by Charles Maier addressed the subject of war and democracy. Most members of the audience drifted away once it became clear the speakers were determined to stick to their specialties, meaning that the Iraq war wouldn't be discussed, which even Maier seemed to find a mite odd, though he showered the speakers with praise.

More later. Now it's time to sleep.

Friday January 9, 2004

Friday was the day of panels. Because the conference this year is devoted to themes involving war and peace, an agenda set long before the Iraq war, the panels had a decidedly relevant tone, though none expressly addressed the questions raised by the war. Christopher Vaughan, who gave a presentation about the Spanish-American War, noted in an interview with HNN afterward a similarity between that war and the war on terrorism which he had alluded to in his talk. In both wars the grounds for war shifted, leaving Americans perplexed about purposes. The Spanish-American War began as a war to liberate Cuba, but ended with the occupation of the Philippines. The war against terrorism began in Afghanistan with an attack on the Taliban and al Qaeda and then was extended to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. (More detailed comparisons will be forthcoming in a piece Vaughan agreed to write for HNN.)

Other historians noted how war reshaped American society. At a panel about the Red Scare, Landon Storrs observed that World War II dramatically increased the number of women in the work force. When conservatives began a campaign to root out alleged communists on the federal payroll women were disproportionately targeted, in part because they presumably held more left-wing views than their male counterparts apparently, but also because they were women: some men resented the sharp increase of women workers. One married woman was maligned because she "used her maiden name and didn't want to be blamed for her husband's mistakes." Other women in the workforce were suspected of lesbianism. Those who were married were said in some cases to have gotten their jobs because of the influence of their husbands.

At the Film and History panel Deborah Carmichael examined a strange movie from the 1930s featuring a president facing the twin threats of war and depression (hint, hint), who solves matters by becoming a dictator. No, it wasn't a slap at FDR. The movie implies that dictatorship was what was needed. By assuming vast powers the president puts the army of the unemployed back to work and liberates oppressed peoples abroad. Rather than be frightened of the kingly assumption of power, viewers are encouraged to think that the president was merely replicating the actions Lincoln took at a similarly difficult period

Lincoln came up again in the evening in James McPherson's address as outgoing president of the AHA. Most of McPherson's talk concerned the dramatic twists and turns in the course of the Civil War that led the conflict to extend over four painful years, quite contrary to the expectations of combatants and leaders on both sides at the outset, including Lincoln. But McPherson began by making a direct reference to Iraq: For at least two centuries Americans have found that it is easier to start a war than to end it. They forgot this lesson in Vietnam and then forgot it again in Iraq.

Some 600 historians listened to the talk. McPherson read his remarks, but succeeded in striking a lively stage personality, to the relief, no doubt, of the audience. The same could not be said for many other speakers during the day, who seemed never to have considered the welfare of the audience as they droned on and on in a monotone voice, apparently determined not to make any concession to their listeners' comfort. That most audience members apparently managed to remain attentive is probably true, but what must these professors' undergraduates think when confronted with such performances in the classroom? One can only imagine that they cannot be terribly impressed. Solutions abound. Sociologist James Loewen (author of Lies My Teacher Told Me), bemoaning the reading of papers, told HNN that the New England Sociological Society had banned the practice and suggested that the AHA consider following suit, an idea that some members of both the AHA and the OAH have been considering endorsing. Another conference goer suggested that graduate students be required to take a class to learn how to teach; not a bad idea.

No single session in the morning or afternoon dominated the conference, but the Civil War panel notably attracted a large crowd numbering perhaps 100. Whatever they may remember of the panel's lectures, one fact is likely to remain firmly planted in their minds: the number of copies of Jim McPherson's Civil War opus, Crossroads of Freedom, that have been printed and sold: between 650,000 and 700,000. The news was revealed by panelist Drew Gilpin Faust, who also informed the audience that there have been so many books published about the Civil War that if you had read one every day since the conflict ended 139 years ago there would still be some left over.

The least attended panel may well have been #47, Education and Colonialism in the Twentieth Century, which featured four panelists and four audience members. Why had so few turned out? HNN asked the panel members. Riad Nasser, who delivered a talk about the image of Palestinians in Israeli textbooks, conjectured that people didn't want to hear that Israel, the region's only putative democracy, mistreated its Palestinian citizens. Other members indicated that a less inflammatory reason might be to blame. Their talks were about places people didn't really care about: colonialism in Morocco and Mozambique.

Quick Observations: HNN peaked inside the rooms of about a dozen panels. In almost everyone of them there were only a few women each and almost no minorities. In honesty, the panels didn't look very much like America. Indeed, they reminded this reporter of the sea of faces one usually associates with conventions held by Republicans: white and male.

Best Conversation Overheard in Passing:

Historian A: "You have department meetings every month?"
Historian B: "Yes."
Historian A (incredulously): "And people come to them?"

Most Exciting Events Coming Up: The AHA's Saturday afternoon business meeting. Normally a quiet affair, this year the meeting will feature two controversial subjects. Historians Against the War (HAW), who assembled today at a meeting attended by about forty people, will ask the AHA to go on record in favor of a resolution affirming the rights of free speech and open access to records. And Yale graduate students will (reportedly) ask the AHA to denounce ... Yale. More later as developments warrant, as they say on TV.

Best Line of the Day: Matthew Pinsker, whose book about Lincoln's summer White House was recently published, recalled in a conversation with HNN being asked by a reporter if he thinks Lincoln was gay. (His book includes details about one Capt. David Derickson, who was rumored to have slept in the same bed with Lincoln at the summer White House over a period of months at a low point during the war.) "The question is whether Lincoln's gay because he slept with this guy. The answer is I'm no Ken Starr and there's no blue dress in this case."

And on that note, to bed. Oh, one last thing. Two people thoiught that Thursday's report about Sen. Byrd in this space didn't give the senator enough credit. He knows, we were assured, that Muzzey is out of date.

Saturday/Sunday January 10-11, 2004

The conference ended on a wet note. Literally. A broken pipe flooded the ground floor of the Marriott, blocking access to the south entrance, forcing historians crossing the street from the Omni Shoreham (where most of today's events took place) to walk several blocks in the freezing cold to an alternative entrance. Brrrrr. It was 20 degrees. (The day before it had been 10.) Click here to see a picture of the flood.


The association made news on Saturday when the Business Meeting approved a resolution condemning Yale University's handling of labor relations. The resolution was approved at a stormy session pitting Yale graduate students against leaders of Yale's history department. Click here for details.

Earlier the AHA approved another resolution, this one sponsored by Historians Against the War (HAW):

In view of current efforts to restrict free speech in the name of national security, the American Historical Association affirms the sanctity of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, the decisive importance of unfettered discussion to the pursuit of historical knowledge, he necessity for open debate of United States foreign policy and other public issues in order t safeguard the health of democracy and of our profession, and the need for open access to government records and archives.

The resolution passed unanimously. Click here for more details.

General AHA News

Earlier at the Business Meeting Executive Director Arnita Jones revealed that some 5,300 members had attended the conference, one of the largest turn-outs ever. She told HNN this was definitely one of the more successful meetings. The organization is in the black. Membership is up. And the AHA even secured a new stellar URL address: historians.org (the new site is still under development but features a cleaner interface); readers wishing to search the full archives of the AHA may want to click on the old URL: www.theaha.org).

Outgoing president Jim McPherson handed the gavel over to Yale historian Jonathan Spence, who, in line with a somewhat quirky AHA tradition, promptly declared the meeting over. Mr. Spence teaches Chinese history at Yale. Only two other AHA presidents in the last half century have been drawn from the ranks of scholars in Chinese studies: John Fairbank (1968) and Frederic E. Wakeman Jr. (1992). Mr. Spence, who bears a striking resemblance to Sean Connery (down to the twinkling eyes and raspy voice), told HNN that he plans to focus his presidency on the preservation of archives and artifacts. He said this is a subject with which he has been concerned for years owing to the destruction of invaluable artifacts during the Chinese revolution. The subject, he said, is of especially relevant concern now in light of the destruction of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan and the sacking of the Iraq national museum and library.


A panel devoted to biography attracted a larger crowd than any other over the weekend featuring top-selling authors Joseph Ellis, Robert Remini, John Lukacs, and Annette-Gordon Reed. It was Ellis's first prominent appearance at a major history convention since the scandal broke involving the made-up stories about his resume. He was received warmly.

Ellis, speaking in defense of biography, disagreed with another historian who has said that "biographers are always looking for love in all the wrong places." He denied that he had fallen in love with Thomas Jefferson and noted that a Virginian, objecting to Ellis's criticisms of Jefferson, had declared, "I was a mere pigeon squatting on the statue of Mr. Jefferson." If anything, Ellis said, ever since Freud biographers have tended to be overly critical of their subjects. As one wry author put it, famous men may have their disciples, but it is usually Judas who writes their biography. Readers expect biographers to be critical. "People read biographies nowadays," said Ellis, "for the same reason they attend stock car races." The crowd loved this observation and roared with approval at his description of Washington [editor: not Jefferson, as originally reported here; correction 3-22-04] as "the deadest white male in American history."

Annette Gordon-Reed, noting that she is a lawyer by training, said that in her profession it would never occur to anybody to think that just because you spend a lot of time with someone you are in love with them. But she admitted that a friend of hers has told her she needs to find another man besides Jefferson. The author of a widely-hailed book on the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Gordon-Reed is now working on individual biographies of both Jefferson and Hemings.

Robert Remini, the Jackson biographer who has also turned out works on John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, said that only recently had he realized that he's never written history, just biographies. Even his newest project, a history of the Congress, is really a "series of biographies." He said he finds it easy to write. It's the rewriting that's hard. "I was trained by Jesuits and you were rewarded if you did good and punished if you did bad. I decided that I had to write nine pages a day. And if I did I got a martini. If not, I didn't. Now I take a martini whether I've written or not" (laughter).

Remini, who by now had the crowd in stitches, said there's one chief advantage of biographies. "For one thing there's a beginning and an end. He dies."

He noted that when he told the people back at the Hermitage in Nashville, the site of Andrew Jackson's kingly estate, that he was writing a book about Henry Clay one of them nearly fainted. "The general may shoot you," she warned. Jackson of course hated Clay.

Most panels attracted older crowds, but one had a distinctively younger demographic: a round table on imperialism sponsored by Radical History that happened to feature one of the oldest members of the AHA, Staughton Lynd. Unsurprisingly, the session had the feel of a political event. One historian, observing that activists have to find funds for the many projects that are needed to promote the education of Americans about foreign policy, joked that George Soros has plenty of money: "God knows how much he'll shovel in. We might want to get some."

A historian who was sent over to Afghanistan to help teach soldiers, related that he had conducted a secret poll of his students in advance of the Iraq war to find out what they thought. Ninety-two percent of the students, he reported, opposed war. (He said he polled between 80 and 100 soldiers.)

Despite the obvious interest of historians in the subjects discussed at many panels, the Washington Post'sBob Thompson, who attended several, observed in an article published Sunday morning that little that the historians said was useful to ordinary citizens despite the obviously relevant topic of the conference, war and peace. He panned the panel on war and democracy which opened the conference, noting that it failed to hold the attention even of the members who were present. To put it harshly, he wrote, "If they can't even hold the attention of their colleagues on such an innately compelling subject, how can they expect ordinary humans to absorb what they have to say?" Later in his story he noted that the History News Network, the History News Service and other organizations are attempting to draw a larger audience for public history, the subject of a panel at a Saturday morning session. But he seemed unconvinced, the subhead over his story summing up his views: " American Historians Talk About War, but Is Anyone Listening?"

Perhaps he should have waited before writing his piece. Sunday morning featured several panels which directly addressed issues of concern to voters. At the panel devoted to Restriction of Civil Liberties in Hot and Cold War America Max Paul Friedman talked about the failed attempts during World War II to seek out and find Nazi sympathizers in Latin America. Of 4,000 Germans who were deported from Latin American countries--often illegally after being kidnapped by federal agents--only a tiny number proved to be Nazis and some turned out to be Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Comparing what happened in the 1940s with what is happening now to detainees at Guantanamo Bay, he concluded that a policy which is arbitrary and ineffective can harm national security rather than helping it. The World War II effort, he observed, hurt the United States by deeply alienating Latin American countries FDR had only recently been courting under the Good Neighbor policy.

At another Sunday morning session devoted to The American Empire: Past, Present and Future, historians crowded into a large room to hear four speakers discuss one of the issues of utmost concern to anybody interested in foreign affairs (which should be everybody). Andrew Bacevich, in a brilliantly-argued address (whether you agreed with him or not), contended that America has become a deeply militarized society and that it is unlikely to change even if President Bush loses re-election. He noted that one of the unspoken assumptions of our post-Cold War age is that America is not only the world's sole remaining super power--but that it should remain so. Several factors conspired to turn America militaristic, he said, among them Ronald Reagan's easy election victories in 1980 and 1984 as a military hawk, which proved that citizens are eager to vote for politicians who campaign for a strong America. Another factor was the birth of the new evangelical movement, which has identified the military , which formerly was associated with violence and whoring soldiers, as the repository of traditional values. In 1992 he argued Bill Clinton had an opportunity to shift the debate about the military by raising questions about the purpose of a Pentagon budget that is greater than all the rest of the world's military budgets combined. But Clinton sidestepped the issue because it probably would have cost him votes and possibly the White House.

Paul Schroeder followed up with a riveting lecture about the importance of the international state system. Mary Renda, in an equally suggestive address, traced the history of American imperialism to Jefferson's decision to place an embargo on food shipped to Haiti at the request of France at the time of the Haitian revolution. As Timothy Pickering, former secretary of state under John Adams complained, Jefferson had sided with an empire against the oppressed colonists--and why? because the colonists in this case were black.

Whether one agreed or disagreed with these historians' positions, it would be hard to argue that their talks weren't directly relevant to issues faced by the voters.

The only question was why these panels, some of the most interesting of the session, were sequestered to the last hours of the conference when most historians were preparing to catch flights home. Alan Brinkley, who chaired another fascinating Sunday morning conference, said he felt he had been the victim of a bait and switch. He'd been told the panel he headed--The Constitution, the Supreme Court and the New Deal--which featured historians William Leuchtenburg Laura Kalman and G. Edward White, would be a major part of the program. He said he never imagined they would schedule the panel for 8:30 on Sunday morning.

To end on a more positive note: At the Breakfast Meeting of the AHA Committee on Women Historians, Columbia's Alice Kessler-Harris, who is considered one of the finest women historians in the United States, electrified the audience with a thoughtful address about the place of women in the profession. Historians who heard the address made a point of telling HNN that in their opinion it ranked with the finest presidential addresses delivered at the AHA.

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More Comments:

Clayton E. Cramer - 1/23/2004

"nstitutionalized racism of the academy"? I can think of few institutions in our society that are less focused on overcoming traditional racism (as opposed to the socially accepted form called affirmative action).

I don't know what experiences you have had that cause you to make this claim about one of the most liberal parts of American society, but I would suggest that you start out by asking yourself if the problem is really racism, or that throwing around hyperbolic language like that has caused that very liberal establishment to wonder about your grasp on reality.

What next? Are you going to complain about institutionalized heterosexism in the academy? That's almost as much of a laugh as "institutonalized racism".

John Moser - 1/22/2004

I certainly would not support an ideological quota system, any more than I would advocate any sort of quota. But this would seem to me to be the logical conclusion of the view that every occupation or social grouping needs to be a microcosm of American society at large. This has never been the case, and I am not convinced that it necessarily should.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/19/2004

I agree that we pay too little attention to intellectual diversity. In Rick's defense, it's a whole lot easier to look at a room and notice that the faces are all white and 90% male than it is to look at a room and figure out that everybody's to the left of George McGovern or whatever. On the other hand, if the right largely withdraws from our professional organizations, it becomes difficult to represent points of view which simply aren't present. Nor ought administrations mandate the hiring of faculty or graduate schools the admission of students based on some ideological quota system. If you agree to that, however, I'm still unsure where your complaint hits pay dirt.

John Moser - 1/19/2004

True, and I've attended my share of AHA meetings. But one might make a similar response to someone who, like Professor Shenkman, laments the relative lack of women and minorities. Certainly more of both would be welcomed.

What I'm pointing to here is not the left's dominance within academia. That would hardly be an original insight, and I spend very little time agonizing over this dominance. However, what bothers me is the tendency for academics such as Professor Shenkman to engage in hand-wringing over "diversity" when it comes to race, gender, and ethnicity, and not in the matter where one would think diversity was most desirable--in political and philosophical viewpoint.

Maarja - 1/18/2004

If any readers of HNN are aware of discussion during AHA of the proposed transfer of Richard Nixon's tapes and records from Washington to the private Nixon Library in California, please post here. I did not attend AHA and have not heard whether this important but complex and arcane issue was discussed or not. If not, I would be interested in hearing why not. I know of course that it was not on the agenda, which was prepared well in advance of the recent developments in the Nixon case.

For more on the Nixon issues, see my Letter to the Editor published in the New York Times, December 28, 2003. (I am a former employee of the National Archives' Nixon Project, and worked in that capacity for 14 years with the Nixon tapes and documents.) On HNN, see the posting of Stanely Kutler's November 8, 2003 op ed from the Boston Globe, The Nixon Papers: The Latest Ugly Turn in an Old Story, at http://www.hnn.us/articles/1788.html .


Maarja - 1/18/2004

P.S. When I say in the above posting that I worked at the National Archives from 1976-1990, I mean, of course, that I was employed as an archivist by the National Archives, an agency of the federal government. (I now work as a historian at another federal agency.)

For more on the Nixon issues, see my Letter to the Editor published in the New York Times, December 28, 2003. If any readers of HNN are aware of discussion during AHA of the proposed transfer of Nixon's tapes and records from Washington to the private Nixon Library in California, please post here. I did not attend AHA and have not heard whether this important but complex and arcane issue was discussed or not. Thanks!

Maarja - 1/18/2004

Court historians? I wonder how you drew such a conclusion from my post! No one who knows anything about me would look at my post that way. Let me explain some of that.

I don't care what positions historians take--historians run the gamut from conservatives to liberals and all are welcome to their varied opinions. (Given the nature of our profession, one would hope that, whatever their positions on issues, they be articulated with a civil, fact based approach.) I merely suggested that historians should consider how they may be viewed in Washington. Having listened to thousands of hours of Richard Nixon's tapes, I have a better understanding than most observers of how Presidents may come to view critics as enemies, however unfair that may be.

Consider the concerns expressed by Michael Beschloss about diminished record keeping in his article in Presidential Studies Quarterly. Beschloss believes that after Watergate, Iran Contra, the Clinton investigations, etc., officials have come to perceive danger in leaving a paper trail. Yet we historians depend on contemporaneous documentation.

I have asked my fellow historians during the last year or two to articulate arguments for good record keeping which would resonate with modern day officials. If what Beschloss says is true, then historians need to offer arguments that will counter the imperatives not to create records.

I threw out a challenge on the H-diplo List this past spring--"If you had a chance to meet with George W. Bush, how would you persuade him to create and keep good records which will enable historians to get a good picture of his Presidency?" Remember, this is the President who stated when he came to the White House that he would not use a personal e-mail account as such records could be sought "by those out to embarrass." Not a single historian posted a response to my challenge, perhaps because it is hard to come up with affirmative arguments that will resonate with officials in washington.

Finally, as regards court historians -- perhaps you're not familiar with some of my other posts on H-diplo, Archives & Archivists, and other listservs. From 1976 to 1990, I worked for 14 years at the National Archives, screening the Nixon tapes to see which segments required restriction for privacy, national security, etc. and what could be released to the public. In 1992, I testified in Dr. Kutler's public access litigation, in which he sought release of the Nixon tapes. (See Seymour Hersh, "Nixon's Last Coverup," New Yorker, 12/14/92). My testimony did not comport with the position taken by the Bush Justice Department, which "represented" NARA in court. The Justice Department's lawyers often seemed to march in lockstep with Nixon, who entered the litigation as an "intervenor" and sought to delay disclosures from his tapes and documents.

By testifying as I did--in support of the position taken by Dr. Kutler--I sacrificed the chance of ever returning to work at the National Archives. I broke the message discipline which George H. W. Bush's administration looked for from Archives employees. Hardly the action of someone who advocates being a court historian, LOL! Soooooo, no indeed, I do not advocate being a court historian, only that historians apply contextual sophistication. They should not assume that politicians view issues the same way they do or that the National Archives has a firewall around it to protect it from political pressure within the executive branch.

There are many communications gaps in Washington, not the least of which are the ones between academic historians and those of us who are federal employees. We work in such different environments, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that misunderstandings, such as your reaction to my posting, arise from time to time. No offense taken, however, and I hope this lenghty explanation clarifies my prior post.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/17/2004

I wonder if you would mind to spin this out a bit further. Do you, then, urge that we become court historians? There have been some very successful ones. Do you not believe that intellectuals in general and historians in particular have a vocation which calls for a critical distance from the centers of power?

Maarja - 1/17/2004

This posting addresses historians'image problem, which may be more serious than some members of our profession would like to admit.

In “Lessons We May Be Doomed To Repeat,” (Washington Post, 01/11/04), Bob Thompson described historians’ laments over not having their voices heard. The same day, Jonathan Yardley of the Post reviewed Kevin Phillips’ book about a Bush family with a “penchant for secrecy and apparent elimination of records and documents.”

This points to problems that go beyond those iscussed at AHA or in the Post column. History is an increasingly difficult sell these days. Presidential scholar Michael Beschloss believes that concerns about investigations and early disclosure have led public figures to stop writing thoughtful, discursive letters and revealing memos.

Writing in Presidential Studies Quarterly, Beschloss pointed out that "People in Washington are more public relations savvy than in earlier times and, thus, more adept at drafting memos and other records that conceal their motives and can fool the historian."

He conclued, "The result of all of this is that a historian of the years of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or their successors may not have the kind of sources needed to understand who did what to whom and why as well as a scholar might for, say, the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. The result of this could be that historical scholarship on future presidents may become, of necessity, more speculative.”

Instead of arguing amongst themselves, historians need to step back and consider how they may be viewed by politicians. Look at how history typically makes the news. Controversies surrounding the Smithsonian Institute's "Enola Gay" and Western history exhibits. Debates over history standards and "culture wars." Sensational news stories on releases from Presidential records. Resolutions passed by history organizations, often taking stands against a President’s policies.

Based on such stories, it would be easy for many political leaders to conclude that historians as a class are their ideological opponents, part and parcel with "gotcha" journalists. Richard Nixon, who was demonized beyond belief by some of his political opponents, famously distrusted historians whom he believed to be mostly “liberals.” Are current officials also writing off historians as "not our people," and turning to other outlets (television and talk radio) to craft their images now, rather than risking creation of candid records for history's later judgment?

To survive, politicians must focus on fending off mud slinging by opponents. In the world they operate in, they may easily lose sight of the value of objective analysis. And screening out sycophancy among one's advisers always is a challenge in the halls of power. Not all who analyze history’s lessons are a White House's “enemies,” but, unfortunately, a sitting President, whether Democrat or Republican, often comes to view them as such.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/16/2004

You know that you are welcomed to attend.

John Moser - 1/16/2004

"HNN peaked inside the rooms of about a dozen panels. In almost everyone of them there were only a few women each and almost no minorities. In honesty, the panels didn't look very much like America."

And indeed, given that those in attendance were overwhelmingly left-wingers, it no doubt _sounded_ even less like America.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/15/2004

I am ending this discussion now. Recall these points:
a) You began it, not me, with a gratuitous insult in the subject line;
b) I can show that my references to Drudge were earlier than your insult;
c) I made no accusation. I asked a question.
d) How do you think these discussion boards can most helpfully be used? For trading insults -- a process you initiated -- or for discussing issues reasonably and intelligently?
e) I'll have nothing more to say to you.
(spelling lesson: its "plagiarize," not "plagerize."

ThinkTank - 1/15/2004

Drudge A)is the most often wrong pseudojournalist on the internet, B)he's a puppet of the GOP, and C)he rarely ever does any of his own work prefering instead to cut and paste from newswire services and give inflammatory and usually false headlines to stories he had no part in writting.

ThinkTank - 1/15/2004

its sadly lacking. I don't have to prove that I didn't plagerize you because its not on me to prove it. Its on YOU as the accuser to prove I plagerized you. If you can't do that basic LOGIC and downright DECENCY says you shouldn't make the accusation. Of course it wouldn't be the first time you made an illogical and indecent accusaton against someone with no proof.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/14/2004

It wasn't intended as a compliment. My initial point to TT was that he was merely repeating something I had said in jest about myself. My second point is that I can prove that I said it before TT did. He can't prove that he didn't plagiarize it from me.

Suetonius - 1/14/2004

What's wrong with calling someone Matt Drudge? He's no worse than any of the other online news outlets...CNN, MSNBC, ABC, etc etc etc and his site is a wonderful place to start when looking at the news. It certainly became pretty legitimate when the Clinton White House became his biggest subscriber.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/14/2004

ThinkTank - 1/14/2004

excuse me but I beleive Senator Byrd long ago disclosed to the entire public that he had once been a member of the klan when he was young. I've never once heard anywhere that he attained any high rank. Frankly I find your criticism of his long ago past disingenuous when there are real racists like Daniel Pipes allowed to write at HNN.

ThinkTank - 1/14/2004

of course it wouldn't be the 1st time you were wrong about what someone wrote.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/13/2004

There were others who thought that Rick's treatment of the Byrd award was too hard on Byrd. I'm afraid that you'll just have to live with the fact that HNN and Rick define what is civil for HNN purposes.

John Brennan - 1/13/2004

It was not an attack. It was harsh criticism of Shenkman's puff piece on Byrd (and those historians who stood by soaking up his stentorianism).

It appears that C-SPAN's coverage of British' Parliament's QandA would be blue screened if HNN was in charge of judging the "civility" of its content.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/13/2004

I suppose that the editor who you attacked is the only person authorized to do that at HNN. There are ways of disagreeing with and criticizing what he says and how he says it that don't need to be deleted. I replied to your deleted post. My reply was also deleted. I don't complain about that. Also, please do not post subject lines in caps. We don't need to be yelled at and it won't get you a larger hearing.

John Brennan - 1/13/2004

I stand corrected on the content of the AHR. I'll eat my crow.

However, I did not state that Byrd IS venomous. If you read closely, I referred to his past and speculated on the present. Any person who donned the white hood had to harbor venomous hatred. His current stentorian status, bequeathed upon him by a political party in whiggian denial, has enabled him to shield his past from those who dare not venture to find.

In any case, the deletion of my post had nothing to do with eloquence, only opinionated content--again, none of which was libelous, scurrilous, or vulgar (as Dresner implied). Who defines "civil"?

Ralph E. Luker - 1/13/2004

Mr. Brennan, You may confuse the AHA with the OAH. The AHA is for all American historians of all areas of history. Take your own advice and look at the American Historical Review, its journal. It doesn't concentrate on American history.
I've spent a good bit of time criticizing the AHA myself for the award to Byrd, but really you are over the top. He isn't venomous; stentorious, yes; venomous, no.
Once deleted, a post cannot be reposted. You'll just
have to be more eloquent and well informed next time.

John Brennan - 1/13/2004

Your rationale is comical. Who defines civil? Sarcasm and biting wit are not civil? My comments contained no profanity, where not libelous nor scurrilous (nor vulgar as you maintain)--they contained only severe criticism. When this type of debate is censored, you and your minions are nothing more than propagandists. Your definition of civil--whatever it is--seriously limits the scope of scholarly and public discourse. Repost my critique and let the other readers decide.

Of course, the larger point of the post was that Byrd, a former member of the KKK, was a racist of the most venomous kind--and based on not so distant public statements, much of this racism remains in his heart. My critique of those historians present who refused to challenge his AHA acceptance by award was indeed a blanket condemnation and quite appropriate.

As to the mission and construct of the AHA, you are SOMEWHAT disengenous. Read the incorporation charter for intent of the organization, read it's official journal, THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW, examine it's past and present proceedings, examine the scholarly attributes of its past presidents--U.S. History is without question the dominant focus. Indeed, the specialist organizations are, by far, for American historians practicing non-American history--not otherwise as you state.

Marianne - 1/12/2004

oops, I posted before writing...Is this meant to mean the Civil War ended 109 years ago...or is it another conflict being referred to? All I can think is...139 years...in April... Does that make enough time to finish those books?

Editor's Note: It was a typo. 139 years, not 109 years. The text has now been corrected. Thank you.

Marianne - 1/12/2004

"The news was revealed by panelist Drew Gilpin Faust, who also informed the audience that there have been so many books published about the Civil War that if you had read one every day since the conflict ended 109 years ago there would still be some left over."

Jonathan Dresner - 1/12/2004

The AHA is for historians in America; there are specialist organizations for US historians.

HNN reserves the right to limit uncivil comments: if you can make your point without being vulgar and impolite, then make it. I've never found the debates on HNN to be anything but improved after deleting posts such as yours.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/12/2004

Ralph Luker has the courage to use his own name and to spell it correctly when he does. "Think Tank" picks up this snide comment from one of my own self-deprecating posts. That's called plagiarism "TT."

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/12/2004

Although the Post by Bob Thompson was critical of historians communication's skills, it was rather more balanced--and interesting--than Rick suggests.

Thompson goes on to discuss what he considered the richness of information and thought in the War sessions. As much if not more of the article is devoted to the difficulty of communicating that richness in a world of soundbites--and the awareness of historians of this problem--than is devoted to criticizing the speaking powers of historians.

John Brennan - 1/12/2004

Avoid the U.S. History panels? Whatever. It is the American Historical Association.

By the way, a very critical remark by me regarding Shenkman's weak post regarding the presence of Grand Wizard Byrd was deleted from this thread.

People without arguments usually resort to censorship if the option is available. HNN is no exception.

ThinkTank - 1/12/2004

Jonathan Dresner - 1/12/2004


As an Asianist, I found that the Asian and other non-Western panels were usually well attended because there were so few of them relative to the number of us there (OK, mostly killing time between interviews, but there nonetheless). As someone with only a passing interest in US history, and very little interest in the majority of European history research (I'm a social history junkie, but otherwise it just doesn't deal with subjects I'm that interested in), I found a lot of time to wander the book exhibits.

But the read-spoken dichotomy is a little false. I generally read my presentations, but only after reading them aloud to myself a few times, carefully editing the longer printed version down to a complete, comprehensible and listenable presentation which comes in under the allotted time. Yes, we should be able to speak extemporaneously about our research, but a carefully planned presentation is more effective than an unplanned one, no matter how it's delivered.

Sima Qian - 1/11/2004

The "World History for the Twenty-first Century" session on Saturday afternoon seems to have done a better job of "looking like America" than the average panel except perhaps for the age representation (older). The speakers were all quite engaging. I recommend that Mr. Shenkman avoid the U.S. history panels in future.

Michael Meo - 1/11/2004

My comment is that it sure is interesting to see that both Robert Byrd and HNN seem to believe that Edward Gibbon wrote about the rise of the Roman Empire.

Editor: The title has been corrected. Thank you for bringing this to our attyention. The editor wrote the entry at 2am. He was tired. He messed up.

Irfan Khawaja - 1/11/2004

I'm not a historian, but I got back from the American Philosophical Association's (APA) Eastern Division meeting in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago, and in reading Rick's account, I can't help noting the similarities between the AHA and APA meetings. For one thing, the "monotonous droning" of badly-written papers seems to be an interdisciplinary specialty.

Incidentally, I saw James McPherson lecture in Princeton just a few weeks after 9/11, and my experience of listening to him was very similar to Rick's description of him here. So maybe I'm out of line, but what Rick says here has the distinct "ring of truth."

Bill Bailey - 1/11/2004

"Institutional racism" in university History Departments (which means what exactly ? -not "affirmative" action, I suppose) is not something men or women of good will should in any way condone, but I fail to see how which textbook a Washington senator used over half a century ago has anything substantive to do with it.

Melissa Stuckey - 1/11/2004

It's not up to me alone and in my opinon the power to make changes lies in collective action, but I don't and won't shirk away from my part. To date, my union has arranged a panel which I spoke on, released a report about the status of graduate students of color on our campus and staged an antiracist and antisexist act of civil disobedience. I can't predict what happens post graduate school, but I believe the skills I'm acquiring here will help me figure out what I want to do to address racism in my workplace and how to see it through.

John O'Connell Burkitt - 1/11/2004

Happy New Year to the members!
As a 58-yr. old amateur history buff, who WILL BE LEARNING until my heart stops beating, I am fascinated by the HNN website. I was an American major in college and wrote my thesis on the JFK campaign in South Carolina! Ancient history to most Americans who are so shamefully ignorant of the past. Best wishes to the AHA convention---no matter how elitist you may be.
John "Big Bear" Burkitt

John O'Connell Burkitt - 1/11/2004

Happy New Year to the members!
As a 58-yr. old amateur history buff, who WILL BE LEARNING until my heart stops beating, I am fascinated by the HNN website. I was an American major in college and wrote my thesis on the JFK campaign in South Carolina! Ancient history to most Americans who are so shamefully ignorant of the past. Best wishes to the AHA convention---no matter how elitist you may be.
John "Big Bear" Burkitt

Another Damned Medievalist - 1/10/2004

Dunno -- there were plenty of women at the meetings I went to, but then I'm a medievalist and we tend to have lots of women in our group. Stopped by the minority reception, and there weren't all that many people there. Very annoying.

Barbara Cornett - 1/10/2004

MS Stuckey, you are saying there is institutional racism in Academics and you were told that you just had to accept it and be quite about it??

By your own admission being quite won't grarantee you any sort of professional security. So are you going to expose it? Its up to you isn't it?

What about the historians at HNN? Would you support people like Melissa Stuckey if they try to expose racism. Talk is cheap so how about doing something positive about racism instead of endlessly going after Robert Bryd?

For my part I am going to contact Senator Byrd's office and speak with his staff about his comments. I have contacted them many times before to thank them for Byrd's speeches on the Senate floor and they are very nice and helpful. I will let you know how they respond to HNN's comments.

Claire Morris Stern - 1/10/2004

Thank you for the coverage of the conference, and the commentary. For those of us unable to attend, this report kept us reasonably well informed.

perhaps AHA should pay more attention to history from the perspective of a women's research, i.e. get away from the sterotypical male domeinance.

Suggest students of history and of any other discipline that will entail PRESENTING, learning to speak be imposed.

Melissa Stuckey - 1/10/2004

One man's "few politically incorrect remarks" is this woman's example of the institutionalized racism of the academy. In a panel HNN's reporter did not mention, it was suggested that scholars of color must accomodate to or work around this type of racism, which will rarely be blatant, in order to find success, meaning tenure, somewhere in the academy...maybe. If we choose to speak out, we should prepare to be consigned to the lowest ranking positions in our profession. As one of the people who helped get the resolution regarding Yale and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization at Yale on the business meeting agenda, I find it increasing difficult to quietly accept injustice in the academy, especially when doing so not only does not guarantee any kind of professional security (how could it?) but it also means that the problems remain for another generation to deal with.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/9/2004

I think the "hypocrisy" accusation aimed at Rick's comments is a bit overboard.

However, it does sometimes seem that the AHA is the conference that the people love to say they hat-- just before they make their reservations.

When I was at the one last year in Chicago, I rather enjoyed it, and it would be nice to hear from people about sessions this year that they liked (or at least were ueful).

Concerning Senator Byrd,

I suspect that Byrd got enthusiastic applause for 1) his firm stance against Gulf War II and 2) his role in buttering a lot of historians bread (full disclosure, mine included) with the DOE grant program.

Peter K. Clarke - 1/9/2004

Hate to go on beating the same drum, but here goes HNN again. AHA is criticized now, not for any of its many substantive failings, but because of a few politically incorrect remarks made by the big name guest at its annual event. Meanwhile, HNN rolls out the red carpet, over and over, month after month, for the fanatically politically incorrect likes of Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/9/2004

Mr. Brennan, I'm unclear about whether it is more important to you to attack HNN's Rick Shenkman, AHA "eggheads," or the Klan's Robert Byrd. Or did you just get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?Could you clarify that for me? Is it the event or the report of the event that you are reacting to?