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Mar 19, 2005 4:25 am

Some Noted Things ...

Objectivity: In the Chronicle of Higher Education (scroll down), Robert J. Norell of the History Department at the University of Tennessee argues that"objectivity" is the most misunderstood concept in history. The difference between the historians' understandings of it and the public's understandings of it, he argues, feed the distrust between academic historians and the public and limit our capacity to influence perceptions of the past outside the academy. See also: Alan Allport at Horizon. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit for the tip.

Slavery: You may have heard that the government of Niger called off the emancipation of 7,000 slaves there because its official position is that slavery does not exist in Niger. See:"Still with Us," The Economist, 9 March 2005. Thanks to Steve Goddard's History Wire for the tip.

Bancrofts and Articles: I hesitate even to mention this year's Bancroft Prize awards. The last time the subject of the Bancrofts came up here, Cliopatria had one of her periodic bar fights. That one was over whether the Pulitzer Prize or the Bancroft Prize had been more debased by awards to deeply flawed books. It was one of Clio's most foolish arguments ever. By now, that's beginning to look like a pretty impressive claim. Maybe we should start giving out"Clios" for the most foolish argument of the month. [ed to self:"As if you hadn't participated in most of them!"] Er, yes I participated in that one, too. Citing Bellesiles's Arming America and Christine Heyrman's Southern Cross, I bet the Bancrofts were more debased. Someone thought that my opinion insulted the whole community of historians. I thought we'd been caught with our skirts hiked a little too high on some busy street corner. Well, whoring is an older profession than historing and we're reasserting the distinction between the two of them.

The Bancroft for 2005 contributes to that distinction. As has become common in recent years, the Bancroft Prize goes to three books: Melvin Patrick Ely's Israel on the Appomatox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf), Michael J. Klarman, From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality (Oxford University Press), and Michael O'Brien, Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860 (two volumes, University of North Carolina Press).

My heart skipped a beat when I saw the list because each of them points to my own current work. O'Brien is the series editor for the University of Georgia Press which will publish The Man Who Started Freedom: The Essays, Sermons, and Speeches of Vernon Johns whenever I get that difficult introductory essay finished and Michael's been looking pretty hard in my direction about that. Ely's Israel on the Appomattox tells the story of an unusual community of freed slaves in ante-bellum Prince Edward County, Virginia, where Vernon Johns was born and raised; and Klarman's From Jim Crow to Civil Rights tells a story to which Johns made unique contributions.

So, yes, Ralph, when are you going to scale back on the blogging and get the hard work done? Well, most of it is done. A major piece of it,"Murder and Biblical Memory: The Legend of Vernon Johns" is in the current Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Here's the abstract of it. Like Caleb McDaniel's"The Fourth and the First: Abolitionist Holidays, Respectability, and Race" which appears in the current American Quarterly, it's an article that is the fruition of years of work and reworking. So, while they are current, congratulations to Caleb and to me! Still, his dissertation director says to him and Michael O'Brien says to me:"Good. Now where's the next big piece of it?"

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Caleb McDaniel - 3/18/2005

"Good. Now where's the next big piece of it?"

The question is especially relevant for me considering that the AQ article really has very little to do with my dissertation, other than the fact that doing research for it turned up the inspiration for my thesis topic.

Your article abstract looks really interesting, Ralph. I'll look forward to reading it!

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