Blogs > Cliopatria > Still More Noted

Jun 12, 2006 6:32 am

Still More Noted

Liel Leibovitz,"Middle East Wars Flare Up at Yale," Jewish Week, 2 June, is the fullest coverage of the internal and external struggle at Yale over Juan Cole's appointment that I've seen. It includes comments by Cole and both his supporters and detractors about the process and the result. My colleague, KC Johnson, will no doubt be disturbed that the question of" collegiality" was apparently raised as an issue; and, when an institution's financial backers have been mobilized, I think it's fair to say that the search was"sullied." Thanks to Manan Ahmed for the tip.

Eric Carlsson reviews Donald R. Kelly's Fortunes of History: Historical Inquiry from Herder to Huizinga for H-Ideas, 6 June. This is the second in Kelly's majestic three volume survey of western historiography from antiquity to the present.

On the CIA and the Nazis, see: CNN, New York Times, Le, and Rheinische Post Online; and hear: Tim Naftali on NPR's All Things Considered. Naftali argues that the CIA didn't move against Eichmann because it feared he would blow the cover of one of Konrad Adenauer's chief lieutenants. Thanks to Nathanael Robinson, who translates key graphs from the French and German stories.

Jonathan Zimmerman,"All History is ‘Revisionist'," LA Times, 7 June, responds to a new law in Florida that bans"revisionist history" from public classrooms. Taken seriously, the law would ban all history from the classroom. The use of the term"revisionist history" by politicians and, alas even some academics, has become a signal of demagoguery. I'd go further than NYU's Zimmerman does. If Jeb Bush thinks that what was taught as history in Florida between 1861 and 1865 is the same objective history he's willing to tolerate today, he's just whistling dixie. Thanks to Jeremy Boggs of ClioWeb and Revise and Dissent for the tip. If, btw, you haven't put Revise and Dissent on your list of regular reads, you need to change your behavior immediately.

At Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemee's"The Truth? You Can't Handle the Truth!" features an interview with our former colleague, Ophelia Benson, of Butterflies and Wheels. She's in usual form and provokes interesting discussion.

Stuart Taylor, Jr., and Benjamin Wittes,"Of Clerks and Perks," Atlantic Online, July/August, advocates reducing the number of clerks for Supreme Court justices. This is an argument we've heard before from David Garrow, that U. S. Supreme Court justices are increasingly dependent on clerks for their opinions. Key sentences:"The justices ... have cut their number of full decisions by more than half, from over 160 in 1945 to about 80 today. During the same period they have quadrupled their retinue of clerks. ... the eighty-six-year-old John Paul Stevens [is] the only justice who habitually writes his own first drafts ...." Thanks to Ann Althaus for the tip.

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Brian Ulrich - 6/8/2006

I thought the opening was for the modern period. That could be 19th and 20th centuries.

Manan Ahmed - 6/8/2006

"Given this, which is undeniably true (; with Cole's modern "scholarship" consisting mostly of quasi-political writings on near-contemporary events)"

No. It is not undeniably true. It is undeniably false. He has one book on Baha'is out of 6. And unless you have read his "scholarship" and know that it is "quasi-political on near-contemporary events" [whatever THAT means], you shouldn't jump to undeniable conclusions.

Robert KC Johnson - 6/8/2006

Perhaps, then, the next time Yale has a senior opening in 18th and 19th century US history, I'll apply--I could just about double my current salary. After all, according to the Cole precedent, the History Department doesn't seem to think that the era of research expertise needs to really correspond to the era of the job opening, as long as the scholar is dealing with the same region.

As a Harvard grad, I know Yale has its problems, but though I realize New Haven isn't the greatest place in the world to live, I had always thought that a university that aspires to elite status could at least attract a few candidates whose teaching and research interests coincided, especially for a topic as important to contemporary Americans as the 20th century Middle East. Apparently not.

David Silbey - 6/8/2006

You didn't disappoint me, Dr. Johnson. I had expected you to condemn it in the abstract while still finding a way to wiggle out of actually condemning the Cole situation. That's exactly what you did.

Robert KC Johnson - 6/8/2006

Sorry to disappoint you, David. Collegiality is an inherently illegitimate concept that has no place in personnel decisions for higher education, either as a sole factor or a contributing factor.

I noticed another interesting element from the Jewish Week piece.

--"According to the source, most of Cole’s scholarship pertains to the Baha’i faith and is limited to the 18th and 19th centuries, a liability for a professor charged with teaching about the contemporary Middle East."

Given this, which is undeniably true (; with Cole's modern "scholarship" consisting mostly of quasi-political writings on near-contemporary events), how could the Yale History Department (or at least 13 of its 23 senior members) have considered Cole the most qualified candidate for a position in modern Middle Eastern history, which is traditionally defined as the post-Ottoman era?

As I raised in my discussion with Ralph yesterday, I see no reason to assume that the decision in the History Department was oriented around academic standards, and the decision of the senior appointments committee was politicized. That History would have extended an offer to someone whose scholarship falls almost totally outside the era for which he was applying would, it seems to me, raise strong questions about the appropriateness of the decision.

David Silbey - 6/8/2006

"My colleague, KC Johnson, will no doubt be disturbed that the question of "collegiality" was apparently raised as an issue"

He'll find a reason not to be.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/8/2006

In fundamental ways the cultural-anecdotal history of Herodotus, the political-structural history of Thucydides, and
the various forms of “national” history of Livy, Josephus, and Eusebius set the terms of debate, providing a set of languages that define, in Gadamer’s terms, a horizon of understanding and meaning in which
historians down to the present still operate.
I'm gonna have to steal that line for my World and Historiography lectures.

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