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Apr 5, 2004 9:36 pm


Pulitzer Prizes ...



Matt Drudge has the Pulitzer Prize awards for this year. Among those particularly noteworthy and well earned: Anne Applebaum's Gulag: A History for general nonfiction, Steven Hahn's A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South From Slavery to the Great Migration for history, Edward P. Jones's The Known World for fiction; William Taubman's Khruschev: The Man and His Era for biography; and The (Toledo, Ohio) Blade for investigative journalism. Pardon my source. You caught me slumming again, but he is fast.
Update: In case you think Drudge has koodies, here's the New York Times list of the Pulitzers.
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Ralph E. Luker - 4/7/2004

I've answered this off-line. There seems to be some confusion here about the importance of subject and the quality of posts.


Derek Charles Catsam - 4/7/2004

Hmmm, you'd like to see "more work of that quality on Cliopatria" from me. Interesting. I mean, my recent posts on issues like Rwanda, MLK's assassination, Mandela, Sullivan's Comments on Dodd/Byrd, and even Bob Jones University may not quite reach the substance level of what's on the bookshelves at your local Barnes and Noble or naval-gazing about what other blogs seem to like Cliopatria, but they seem to have sufficed so far, periodical spelling errors aside. But I guess I just don't have an eye for what's really important.
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Ralph E. Luker - 4/7/2004

I'm not _pretending_ anything. The best work I've seen of yours was in the H-Net review of McWhorter. I'd like to see more work of that quality from you on Cliopatria. I could also show you my e-mail files in re McWhorter long before the Bass review and well before the Pulitzer award, tho we both know that it stoked the fires of the innuendo. I don't claim authority if I can't back it up. The fact that we continue to look askance on McWhorter's book without being able to make a formal charge against it is one of the real problems in our writing of history. There is, so far as I can tell, no reason why her kind of offense might not be repeated and as equally rewarded in the future. That's a problem.


Derek Charles Catsam - 4/7/2004

Ralph --
Ooohh, and we top it off with argument by authority. On the McWhorter thing, I have to say, I don't know how long you have been in on this conversation, but from a very early stage (pre Pulitzer Prize) I had talked with, well, we know who we are talking about and no sense naming names, but I think we have a pretty good idea -- one is in your fair city in fact, and I too had been privy to the potential machinations. Bass provided a more solid framework for discussions I had with others for more than a year prior to his AR piece. Further, we are of course not talking about what will or will not stand up in court. These things rarely make it that far. I do think McWhorter at best pushed the envelope, and in fact I think she pretty well borrowed liberally without attribution from Eskew, Bass, Manis, and others. You probably read my H-Net review a while back, which got pretty good coverage for one of those things, so let's not pretend I am a naif on this book. Further, I have handed in a manuscript where Birmingham plays a little role, so I am ever more acquainted with her book and its shortcomings. And as my review said, I even think the quality of her writing is overblown. (We also both know that McWhorter won for nonfiction and not history -- I believe Menand's Metaphysical Club won that year). Finally -- seriously, stop setting yourself up as the final arbiter for all things decorous. This is an argument you started, an attack you began, so let's stop this trope about how I am somehow responsible for all of this. remember, this all began with the "superior judgment of historians" comment you made. Enough of your sanctimony. We share responsibility. That's as far as I'm going.
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Ralph E. Luker - 4/7/2004

A) I am fully aware that the Bancroft and Pulitzers are differently controlled at Columbia.
B) I am fully aware of Jonathan Bass's review.
C) No formal allegation of plagiarism has been made against McWhorter because there is no proof that will stand up in court, Bass to the contrary notwithstanding. Take my word for it, I was in on this discussion long before you became aware of it by publication of Bass's review.
D) Why not have a discussion in which the person you're talking with is not under attack? It's possible. I've even seen you do it. I can stand here and trade blow for blow with you for as long as you wish.


Derek Charles Catsam - 4/7/2004

Ralph --
First off, I made reference to both the Pulitzer and Bancroft coming from Columbia earlier, so I am well awqare, which is whay I said, tongue in cheek, that "maybe it is a Columbia thing" though I suppose you are aware that the Pulitzer and Bancroft committees are not the same thing, that Columbia is no monolith. Second, on point C, when you put "proof" in scare quotes you reveal at the minimum that you are not familiar with S. Jonathan Bass's review essay on McWhorter in the July 2003 Alabama review where there isn't much disputing the facts. She did borrow liberally and did not cite. There is no serious doubt about that. Read the review. Then see who is "bothered" with what. You might want to know the literature before telling me what I am and am not bothered with. It is clear you do not. On point D -- rather audacious of you, since my rather anodyne first comment was received with your initial attacks, and we've gone from there. Cut the crap -- you don't have the high road on this any more than I. I see you don't bother responding to the fact that the 90s are not that long ago when you try to parse timetables. Get over yourself, yourself, Ralph
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Ralph E. Luker - 4/7/2004

Derek, This is quite overblown:
A) I _agree_ with the point of your initial comment, for g_d's sake -- that it's nice that Bancroft & Pulitzer commmittees concur on Hahn's book. It gives more confidence.
B) Did you misconstrue my position in re Bellesiles or not? You did. Thanks for that. This is all rather tedious. You don't need to smear me by association with Bellesiles. Under other circumstances, you would eschew guilt by association. You need to avoid it when you are referring to a friend and colleague.
C) Believe me, authors from whom she may have "borrowed" considered the possibility of an allegation of plagiarism, but they wisely chose not to make it. There's a minor problem there called "proof." You don't seem to be bothered with it.
D) You need to find a conversational mode other than "attack." It doesn't serve your professional purposes well.
E) Both the Bancroft and the Pulitzer are controlled at Columbia, btw, -- a fact you appear not to have known -- and I suspect that both Prizes will survive despite you fevered defense of the former and denigration of the latter.
F) Get over yourself.


Derek Charles Catsam - 4/7/2004

Ralph --
Showing a Bellislian respect for chronology, you claim hat you "corrected me" about your stance v. Bellisles, yet my initial post had nothing related to your stance v. Bellisles. You "corrected" my list of fine winners? No, you did not. You made an assertion about that list. My list was both factually correct (are you asserting different?) and consisted of fine books. That they did not fit into your preconceived chronology does not make for a correction. Words have meaning Ralph, "correction" included, and if you need help, I imagine there are dictionaries in the Luker household. In any case, sure, my fine list was from ther whole spectrum of Bancroft winners (was Foner's that long ago (1989!)? Jordan's (1994!!!)? Morgan's (Edmund 1989, Philip 1999!!!!!)? -- hint -- no, no, no. But asserting as much fits your argument. Nice regard for what some of us like to call "facts". 1989, 1994, 1999 as "quite a long time ago." Talk about your ideologicaly driven arguments . . .) You gave no "correction" but rather made a different argument. By referring to "the greybeards" and willfully choosing not to acknowledge the good recent winners of the prize you diminish them. You do so further in your alleged corrections above (1989, 1994, 1999 . . .). My stance: Ed Ayers' and Stephen Hahn's book are more representative of the Bancroft and good history than Bellisles'.
In any case "ideally one should trace sources back to their original"? Sure. Seems a rather low bar. But beyond that, how about McWhorter just showing the common courtesy of citing the authors from which she "borrows"? Errors of fact in a big book are almost inevitable. Anyone who says different has never tried to reconstruct events over a broad space of time. But that does not absolve us of certain responsibilities.
In any case, since you never bothered to engage my actual point from the getgo -- that it is nice when the Pulitzer and Bancroft intersect -- and instead set yourself up as the defender of the Pulitzer Prize committee as a bastion of historical wisdon cis a vis the Bancroft committee I'll leave you to pick your nits (and declare books that are five years old as not worthy of our commentary).
(Pop Quiz: For which of the following did C. Vann Woodward win the Pulitzer?: Origins of the New South; Strange Career of Jim Crow; Mary Chesnutt's Civil War. If you know the answer, you know all you need to about my thoughts on Pulitzer v. Bancroft re: prizes on works of history.)
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Richard Henry Morgan - 4/7/2004

You're right, Ralph. And in this case, the British manuscripts are available on microfiche at most US research libraries. Since nobody has taken me up yet (perhaps because the answer is too obvious?), Benjamin Thompson was Count Rumford, purged from the New Hampshire militia for being a Tory, who operated as a spy for Gage, and who commanded a BRITISH battalion in New York. Continental soldier indeed.


Ralph E. Luker - 4/7/2004

Yes, of course, ideally one should track cited sources back to their original. Those who don't always leave themselves subject to the likely possibility that they are merely repeating erroneous use of it by the author from whom they filched it. If the original is in some archive on the other side of the earth, it isn't always possible to do that.


Ralph E. Luker - 4/7/2004

That opening sentence did seem to call attention.


Richard Henry Morgan - 4/7/2004

It seems to me that grace and style should be icing, not a substitute for accuracy (and I'm not here saying that we're in dispute).

As for accuracy, I just reread a bit of Wills' A Necessary Evil. On p.30 he has a quote he lifts from M.L. Brown, who got it from Scheer and Rankin, who got it from the Great Britain Manuscript Commission. Wills says it was from a Continental soldier, but neither Brown, nor Scheer and Rankin, nor the Commission say so (and why would the Commission have a Continental soldier's manuscript?). Wills deduced his "Contineental soldier" from the content and subject matter of the quoted material itself. Now here's the fun part. The original source (and Wills cites the guy correctly by name) is one Benjamin Thompson. Kudos to the first guy (or gal) who can tell me who the guy is, and why the idea that he was a Continental soldier is, well, inaccurate, to say the least (I almost fell out of my chair). Whatever happened to running cited material all the way back to the original source? Don't they teach that anymore?

Wills even quotes Scheer and Rankin to the effect (in the course of Wills disparaging the rifle as a military instrument) that the riflemen at Boston were "more noisy than useful", when the actual words are "more noisome than useful" (which doesn't so much reflect on the rifle, but on the men, who were given to brawling, mutiny, and wasting powder, and who arrived after the Battle of Breed's Hill). Simple accuracy should be the bare minimum for a history.


Arthur D. Hlavaty - 4/6/2004

I'm just glad Drudge doesn't have one or more of his very own, as your opening sentence briefly suggested.


Ralph E. Luker - 4/6/2004

I don't think that I've made a case here for inaccuracy. I've even beaten up on a historian or two for carelessness. But if you give no weight to literary grace and style, you might as well limit the field to city directories.


Richard Henry Morgan - 4/6/2004

Ralph, don't you think that "scrupulously accurate" is the starting point for pushing a book for a prize?


Ralph E. Luker - 4/6/2004

Van, That may be correct. Both Diane McWhorter's _Carry Me Home_ and Taylor Branch's _Parting the Waters_ won Pulitzer Prizes. Both of them are remarkable well conceived and beautifully written books. Derek speaks rather contemptuously of _Carry Me Home_ as a work of history and I would tell you that if you open up _Parting the Waters_ to _any_ page, I can find you the errors on it. There is a way of telling grand stories that tells them the way they ought to have been. Branch and McWhorter tend to do that. On the other hand, David Garrow's _Bearing the Cross_ also won a Pulitzer Prize. It is relentlessly, tediously, eye-crossingly, scrupulously accurate. It has all the literary grace and style of a telephone directory.


Van L. Hayhow - 4/6/2004

Someone told me some years ago, that he had read that the Pulitzer was, more than the other awards, a writer's award, and not an analyst's or researcher's award. In other words, if there were two books, each with their own high merit, the better written would get the award. As I am not a specialist but more of a general or common reader, I tend to buy pulitzer winning books if one is available in the area. (Yes, I have enjoyed some Bancroft winners, also). It hasn't let me down yet. Does anyone know if this information I was given is accurate? It does seem to work. McCullough is a better writer than almost anyone in American history that I have read.


Ralph E. Luker - 4/6/2004

a) You were wrong about my position in the affaire Bellesiles. I corrected you. That is called a correction. I am disappointed that you would have misrepresented my position in the first place.
b) I pointed out that all the fine Bancroft Prize winning books listed in your original post were winners quite a long time ago and that the real bummers were of recent vintage. That is called a correction.
c) There is nothing whatsoever in anything I have said to diminish Hahn's work -- read my post -- or do I have to read it to you? Misinterpreting and misreading what I say doesn't cause you to win a debate.


Derek Charles Catsam - 4/6/2004

Corrected about what, precisely, Ralph? What about my first post was wrong and needed correcting? We are disagreeing, but you have yet to point out a single question of fact or, really, even interpretation, in my posts. I think the overwhelming majority of good books (I'll tell my colleague next door, Bill Freehling, about your non sequiters about the old bearded historians) that have won Bancrofts outweighs the mistakes of two that you have explicitly mentioned thus far. If you actually, you know, read my first post here, you might even notice that it was intended to praise the confluence that awarded Hahn's book both prizes. Now maybe you think that diminishing Hahn is part of the process here, I don't know, but perhaps that is part of your much ballyhooed but nonetheless substanceless "correction" of me. I'm sure you probably doubt Ed Ayers' book is worthy too, him being a post-Bellisles recipient and all.
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Ralph E. Luker - 4/6/2004

No, Derek. One man's nuance is not another man's sloppy argumentation. You just have a problem with being corrected. Your bearded Bancroft Prize winners to the contrary notwithstanding, the Bancroft's recent history is something from which the field needs recovery.


Derek Charles Catsam - 4/6/2004

One man's nuance is another man's sloppy argumentation.
I believe in due process too, but I also believe in expedited hearings when someone is caught with the bloody knife in hand over the corpse. Lots and lots of people saw Bellisles for what he was earlier than I did, and they were brushed off. There were a lot who jumped on the bandwagon, the be sure, and many argued pretty poorly.
That said, let's keep in mind, Mr. Nuance, that it was you who wrote the highly nuanced sentence "What does that say about the superior judgment of historians and what is great work in their field?" What it says to this apparently less than nuanced thinker and writer is that sometimes historians make mistakes. Name a field that does not. But forgive me if I am not about to yield the judgments of our profession to journalists (maybe it is just a Columbia thing?) who believe McCullough to be the best biographer of Truman and McWhorter to be a first- rate civil rights historian. But then that's just me lacking nuance.
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Ralph E. Luker - 4/6/2004

You are having a little trouble with nuance here. A) I never published a defense of Bellesiles in OAH publications or anywhere else. I published a defense of due process in the Bellesiles case on HNN. For defending due process, I am remembered as a defender of Bellesiles. I'd defend due process for the devil himself. B) The Bancroft has been a little tarnished in more recent years. That's why I once wrote about Genovese's _Roll, Jordan, Roll_ having won a Bancroft when a Bancroft was worth winning. Christine Heyrman's _Southern Cross_ recently won a Bancroft. Read my article about that. The books of the many authors you cite in your piling on of evidence all have very long gray beards. Not that there's anything wrong with long gray beards, you understand. C) And wouldn't you suspect that I gave you the fact that it was a historian who kept _AA_ from getting a Pulitzer because I'm looking for all the evidence I can find that the practice of history isn't thoroughly debauched in our time? Nuance.


Derek Charles Catsam - 4/5/2004

Ralph --
The Bellisles affair surely had a big effect on me, (I was criticising him long after you were still writing defenses of him in OAH publications) but here is the question: look through all of the books that have won the Bancroft. Which are the outliers, books like Woodward's (or Nevins' or Degler's, or Ulrich's, or de Voto's, or Morison's, or Dangerfield's or Boorstin's, or Freehling's, or Middlekauf's, or Genovese's, or Davis', or Demos' or Foner's or Jordan's, or Morgan's . . . .) or Bellisles'? Too many who have taken pleasure in this have used Bellisles sins to tarnish the entire academy. I'll take the overwhelming majority of Bancroft books as legitimate and wonderful and understand that a liar of almost unprecedented scale took advantage of the fact that we all go under an assumption that historians do not make up and lie about their evidence. Furthermore, you first ask "what does that say about the superior judgment of historians about what is great work in their field" as if only historians were duped (and as if a good many historians were not part of the unmasking) and then you point out that a, um, tough minded female (was she a groundskeeper? a plumber? a geisha? no, she was in fact a . . .) historian "almost single handedly kept _AA_ from getting the Pulitzer." Maybe the profession is not in as dire straits as those who would caricature it would lead us to believe. And maybe this is why the gist of my post was to celebrate the confluence.
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Ralph E. Luker - 4/5/2004

I suppose your sense about prizes to works in history was not so deeply affected by the affaire Bellesiles as mine was. I remind you that _AA_ won the Bancroft Prize. It narrowly missed winning a Pulitzer. What does that say about the superior judgment of historians about what is great work in their field? Fortunately, it was the conviction of one very tough minded female historian who almost single handedly kept _AA_ from getting the Pulitzer.


Derek Charles Catsam - 4/5/2004

When it comes to works of history, I sometimes think the Pulitzer committee, to be charitable, is out of their depths. But it is worth noting that Hahn's work won the Bancroft Prize as well. Not that the Bancroft Prize is inherently better, or the Pulitzer Prize somehow bad -- I'll be happy with either down the road -- but it is nice when the professional awards and the more popular awards meet in agreement.
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