Blogs > Cliopatria > Noted Here and There ...

May 20, 2004 12:01 am


Noted Here and There ...



Hmmm. Bob McElvaine at Millsaps has an interesting article, "Historians vs. George W. Bush", over on the HNN mainpage. It examines a finding that about 80% of American historians believe that George W. Bush's presidency is a failure. Stephen at Big Tent says that the article might better be entitled: "Historians, on Balance, Remarkably Stupid". Ah, a young, outspoken, conservative historian, who has come along just in time to save the profession from its follies. One-liners are good enough for stand-up comedians, but Stephen needs to develop an argument if he's to be a historian.

Our colleague, Tom Palaima, has a splendid op-ed, "The Difference Between Homer's Troy and Hollywood's", on the HNN mainpage. Perhaps he'll follow it up with a full review of the film.

On the other hand, the Cliopatriarchs have taken no position, missionary or otherwise, on this story. We do wish the couple well and thank Derek Catsam for bringing their plight to our attention.

Speaking of reproduction, Belle Waring has discovered siphonophores. I tried to think about how they might illuminate Adam Kotsko's dismissal of community, but it made my head hurt.

And speaking of reproduction, Bandolier refers to "The Problem of Multiple Publication". David Beito of Liberty & Power says"What problem?" He and Linda Royster Beito published"Why It's Unlikely the Emmett Till Murder Mystery Will Ever Be Solved" at HNN on 26 April. Two weeks later, it turned up in NYAge. Another ten days pass. Darned if I didn't open the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this morning and find: David and Linda Royster Beito, "New Probe in Till Case Unlikely to Bear Fruit". Nice pictures, too. Well, I've done the same thing, myself; but you've gotta admire Beito's enterprising spirit.

Brian Ulrich of Brian's Study Breaks is"Off on the Road to Morocco" and the Cranky One plans to be ocean-hopping all summer. Bon Voyage!

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Derek Charles Catsam - 5/23/2004

Mmmmmmmmmm, panties. I'll see you at Steve's wedding.


Jonathan Dresner - 5/21/2004

Mr. Bruscino,

My initial (defensible) impression of your group blog developed into an apparently incorrect impression of the bloggers. Apologies for any offense.

Actually, I have no problem with anonymity: I actually support its responsible use by vulnerable individuals (Invisible Adjunct being the most obvious example) as a means of maintaining a discourse without identity becoming a problem. Nor do I insist on degrees and qualifications; though I do think having them means something, their absence doesn't necessarily mean the opposite. My complaint was with Dr. Catsam's assumption that I should have known who the Big Tent bloggers are and respected them because of that, when that's nearly impossible.

Nor do I dismiss people because I disagree with them: I dismiss people if they don't have anything substantive or interesting to say. I'm actually more likely to read a Jeff Jacoby and Instapundit than Atrios, for example (for the record, I don't read either Instapundit or Atrios with any regularity, and when I do read one, I usually look over the other one for something resembling balance; but the fact is that I prefer more commentary and analysis to less). I believe in engagement, and I've said so publicly and engaged quite frequently with commenters on HNN who disagreed with me.

Your comments on Cliopatria have been interesting and substantive, and yes, there are a few longer posts at Big Tent which contain thoughtful commentaries (though I noticed the ironic sycophancy quotient has gone up some recently).

Thanks for the clarification on Roosevelt's New Nationalism: I went and looked up the 1910 speech (http://www.edheritage.org/1910/pridocs/1910roosevelt.htm) and really enjoyed myself. It's easy to forget, these days, just how much of a progressive he was, but lines like "I believe that the officers, and, especially, the directors, of corporations should be held personally responsible when any corporation breaks the law." and his railing against the influence of money in politics are as fresh today. Not much there about military affairs, but what was there certainly seems sound and relevant. Perhaps you should be pushing the Roosevelt connection more than the Mahan connection?

I don't know much about the historiography of military history, but it seems to me that the great legacy of Mahan is his interest in the interaction between changing national interests and changing military technologies. That's something worth pursuing. But by emphasizing Mahan rather than Roosevelt, it seems to me that you are putting means before ends. At least a little.


Thomas Bruscino - 5/21/2004

Professor Dresner:

Perfectly understandable. We're nearing the end of our spring quarter here and all running on fumes. We can pick up this specifics of this discussion later (perhaps on a rumored new HNN blog?).

Two quick notes in our defense:

1) Let me put it this way, the anonymity of the contributors to Big Tent could not be avoided. I broke my anonymity because I respect the contributors and readers of Cliopatria and think they might want to know a bit more about us. I'll let the other guys fend for themselves, but as for me, I'm a Ph.D. student in American Military History finishing up my dissertation. Anyone who would like a sample of my writing can try to get a copy (no small task) of the latest Journal of America's Military Past for an article on the aftermath of the Doolittle Raid in China. I would link to my c.v., but it is not online as yet. I suppose we should be somewhat bothered that qualifications often seem to matter more than content, but that is the world in which we live. (Another discussion, another day.)

2) The Big Tent began as a device to save friends from sending hundreds of emails linking to articles we thought were interesting. As such, most of our posts are links to other articles on the web, usually with a comment or two from the individual who posted. Usually the comment is meant to illustrate the particular bit of information or argument in the link that we found interesting or compelling or horrifying. Sometimes the comments succeed at being witty, sometimes they do not--although I suspect that often depends on the biases of the reader. By its nature, the Big Tent is a synthesis of a bunch of ideas that either fuel or reflect who we are. I like to think of the 'aphoristic links' as building blocks in our intellectual foundation. Victor Davis Hanson, like him or not, has provided his fair share of blocks, as has Jonah Goldberg (but mostly for his writing style, which we generally find amusing). Our style is not for everyone, but we get by.

All that said, I stand by my contention that our independent thinking and skepticism is clear from a close reading of the blog, especially the longer, more essay-like posts (see, for example, my open letter to President Bush). Not everyone will agree with us--god I hope not--but disagreement should not lead to outright dismissal.


Jonathan Dresner - 5/21/2004

Ralph,

There are times when a simple reference is enough (and for that I read Anne Zook, who is very much the master of what you call aphoristic links; I like the term, by the way); there are times when a reference and comment are plenty (sort of an epigrammatic style, to the shorter aphoristic model, though often substantial quotation is involved; and you do that quite well; I do it at times myself); there are times when an essay, in other words, an argument, is called for, and that's what I think contributes most to the discussion. I'm very proud of the fact that Cliopatria features people who make claims and argue them and back them up, who apply the critical thinking and knowledge of the profession to contemporary affairs, historiography and other matters. Maybe I'm just too traditional, but that's the way I see it.


Greg Robinson - 5/21/2004

Panties would have been a little better.


Derek Charles Catsam - 5/21/2004

Greag --
So what, precisely, is your point? As long as you are quoting someone, it is ok to use "stupid" but not "sycophant"? Meanwhile you conflated your criticisms of me with your criticisms of Dresner. your inability to distinguish is your own fault. The rest of it is nonsense. I should have said "panties," though it wouldn't have made you less hypocritical. in any case, I look forward to more of your lessons on what your grad school years taught you about propriety. Way to foist your argument back to Steve by the way -- very intellectually courageous.
dc


Greg Robinson - 5/21/2004

You are a vituoso of the written word, my friend. Touche, indeed. If you re-read my posts carefully (job of historian, no?) you will find that I never accused you of saying the things you think I said you did. This is getting confusing. Regardless, I also never said I was offended by the use of the word undies. I just get a kick out of the fact that someone who is so obviously enjoying flexing his intellectual muscles and admiring his own writing ability should use such a word. I really did laugh out loud. I think the last time I heard the word was from my 3 year old niece. Anyway, I would expect someone of your obvious mental power to find a better way to try to get a rise out of someone. And to clarify, using the word undies certainly does not a stronger arm make. And to further clarify, it WAS Stephen who first used the word stupid, I was just backing him up. Pick on him for a while. Just don't sell yourself short by using undies again.


Greg Robinson - 5/21/2004

You are a vituoso of the written word, my friend. Touche, indeed. If you re-read my posts carefully (job of historian, no?) you will find that I never accused you of saying the things you think I said you did. This is getting confusing. Regardless, I also never said I was offended by the use of the word undies. I just get a kick out of the fact that someone who is so obviously enjoying flexing his intellectual muscles and admiring his own writing ability should use such a word. I really did laugh out loud. I think the last time I heard the word was from my 3 year old niece. Anyway, I would expect someone of your obvious mental power to find a better way to try to get a rise out of someone. And to clarify, using the word undies certainly does not a stronger arm make. And to further clarify, it WAS Stephen who first used the word stupid, I was just backing him up. Pick on him for a while. Just don't sell yourself short by using undies again.


Derek Charles Catsam - 5/21/2004

Greag --
Which criticism did you most like? That your argument was hypocritical? That it was logically flawed? That it was poorly written? In any case, thanks. You are right in acknowldeging any or all of them.
My defense of my friends was not adequate? I defended my friends. That's all I need to do. That you would attack me for defending them and for doing so before anyone else but you reveals an odd sense of perspective and propriety. That it doesn't reach your standard (the Greg Robinson standard!) is not of much moment. Meanwhile I certainly did not use "drooling, slavish, or sycophant" and in fact the post that used those terms was the post I was criticizing, but if you actually went to grad school in history and never saw or read harsh criticism, (never saw anyone use the word sycophant!)your professors did not expose you to much in the world of reviews. Shame. But the fact that you conflated someone else's criticisms and use of those words with mine makes me think that your assessments of what you read and who said what is marginal at best. Perhaps rather than shield you from words like "undies" your professors really ought to have taught you to differentiate between what one person says and what another one does. I also want to clarify -- using, say, sycophant wasn't done at Greg Robinson university, but calling other peopls's ideas "stupid" was? Hmmmm. More hypocrisy, eh? As for never reading a term like "undies" you've got to be kidding me -- you cannot on the one hand defend the Big Tenters and on the other pretend to be pollyanna. Just in the last couple of days one of the Big Tenters wrote, in a title to a post, that Ted Kennedy had been drunk for twenty years (or was it thirty? You're the decorum expert -- remind me please.) It was the Tootle post that started all this that blanketly cposited that historians are "stupid." In one post they call someone a "lightweight." In another they refer to a sitting Senator as a 'lunatic." I do not necessarily see strong language, even invective, as above the fray. Than again, I'm not the one preaching. Don't lecture me, Greg. You haven't earned it, especially when you whine about the profligate use of the term "undies" on the one hand and then use the term "stupid" to refer to others, including those who are established scholars, on the other. Have it one way or the other -- you are the pristine standard of virtue in the historical profession. In which case, calling others, either their ideas or their person, "stupid" undermines your cause, makes you a hypocrite, in fact. Otherwise don't whine when you are in a mudfight and someone has a stronger arm. Otherwise it's just simply unbecoming. But again, those of us in the profession appreciate being told what is and is not apropos by someone with such a sliding scale (and someone who elsewhere has said, by the way, that ranking presidents is not the job of historians).
dc


Jonathan Dresner - 5/20/2004

Dr. Catsam,

You might wait a day or two before you chide me for not engaging in a substantive methodological discussion. Some of us had finals to grade and meetings to participate in. Come to think of it, that might also account for my unwillingness to delve into the Big Tent archive in search of substance.

Two references to Hanson in fifty-two posts. Seems like a lot to me. Your mileage may vary.

And I don't engage in these discussions for your amusement, I'm afraid.


Greg Robinson - 5/20/2004

Thanks again for the wonderful and constructive criticism; it is taken to heart I assure you. I guess I didn't feel your defense of your friends (and my good friend, Stephen) was adequate. I don't recall taking a course in grad school that encouraged us to use terms, when referring to other students, like drooling, slavish or sycophant. Nor do I EVER remember being able to use the word "undies" in a discussion, grad school or not (hint--if your argument wasn't a meager attempt to belittle me by insulting my writing and character you wouldn't have to use cute little words like "undies"). Historians certainly need not grant sainthood to each of their subjects; I simply find no use in a random polling of historians about a contemporary president. I would like to be able to turn to HNN for useable, relevant information; the poll makes me believe I can't.

As far as Mr. Luker's posit, yes I think it would reveal a bias and no I wouldn't find it relevant or useful. Furthermore, in none of my posts have I stated that I was offended. I just think that an informal poll amongst historians about a current president is about as useful as a poll of Laker fans about the Kobe Bryant trial. Trust me, I'm not that easily offended, not even if you were talk about my "undies".


Derek Charles Catsam - 5/20/2004

Jonathan --
I'll assure you that I'd love to see the verbal or written sparring match with you challenging Tom about military history. I'd get a chuckle out of that. I don't generally support anonymity, but I cannot help but notice that here, where it is not ananymous, you don't respond substantively either to Tom's discussion of Mahan or to the fact that in 52 posts he found two references to Hanson. You are being dismissive, which is your right, but pride in that dismissiveness isn't something I'd be displaying.
dc


Derek Charles Catsam - 5/20/2004

Greg -- Suggest away. But maybe contribute something to the site for a while rather than come in and profess that the whole endeavor is beneath you. But your undies are all wadded up about dismissing a group of conservative historians (all friends and grad school colleagues of mine by the way, who I defended in the same argument that I went after your silly little post)even as you dismiss the opinions of another group of historians whose views you don't agree with. Your hypocrisy is as rampant as your writing is bad (hint -- if your writing is clear, you won't need the superfluous capitalization). By the way, is opposing a historian or thinking them bad prima facie cause for dismissing what they write? And is opposing someone's policies any less grounds to write about them than supporting those policies would be? I guess I missed the class in grad school that told me that we were supposed to be hagiographers.
dc


Ralph E. Luker - 5/20/2004

Mr. Robinson, If an American political historian recommended a poll of his colleagues about the stature of American presidents and he compiled the results and reported them, would it offend you if they showed that those historians regarded George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as having been our greatest presidents? Would that reveal their "bias"? If their judgment confirms your own in that regard, why would you not regard their judgment regarding GWB worthy of consideration?


Greg Robinson - 5/20/2004

Thanks for the clarifying the concept of historical vs. contemporary context, I WAS a little confused (the capital letters are placed there to emphasize the word; not a typo). I'm quite sure that I did not dismiss the views of anyone. What I DID do (see note about capitalization above) was express my overwhelming disdain for articles disguised as real, useful information, especially in light of the constant bastardization of news we are bombarded with about the current situation in Iraq. The point of my comment, since it is obviously quite elusive to the untrained eye, is that dismissing a group of historians (who happen to have a bit more conservative views than others, expressed on a website that is designed for the sole purpose of discussing those views) as drooling sycophants is extremely myopic for a profession that is supposed to be objective and fair. Historians are allowed to have opinions, yes; however polling a bunch of them and submitting it to an historical organization as "news-worhty" does not seem to me to have any use what soever, contemporary or historical. All it tells me is that these same historians who will be writing the history books about George W. Bush's administration have self-declared biases that will certainly appear in their scholarship years from now. Dissenting opinions of current and/or historical events I welcome; useless information I reject. Could I suggest a name change if this is the type of information to be found in the future at HNN? How about Meaningless Contemporary Opinions of Historians Network?


Richard Henry Morgan - 5/20/2004

First, the poll is not (as Ralph loosely put it) a poll of historians (as a class). It's not even a random sample of HNN readers. You're right, Derek, it says something about some historians' "feelings" about Bush -- the poll question being so vague as to permit not much else. Now what does the poll tell us about other than the feelings of a small subset of historians? Nothing. Not that the feelings of a small subset of historians aren't of contemporary interest ... Their feelings might even have a cognitive component. The poll leaves that to our imaginations.


Ralph E. Luker - 5/20/2004

Jonathan, I suspect that we're still in a sort of exploratory phase about how to best use the net for historical dialogue. Big Tent uses the aphoristic style and a quick link for referral. I often do a bit of that in "Noted Here and There" posts. Fortunately, you and other Cliopatriarchs are good enough to develop short essays as posts here. I suspect Tom Bruscino and other Tenters need a venue for such longer posts. Still, I wonder about their name and their hero. It suggests something like: "You'll come into my g d tent and make it big whether you want to or not."


Jonathan Dresner - 5/20/2004

Derek,

I agree with your defense of HNN.

In defense of my own comments, I'll just say that it is very difficult (I found it impossible, but I might just not have found the key yet) to identify the Big Tent bloggers beyond their first names. And I didn't dismiss them "out of hand"; I read the blog, at least what was posted; I tried to find identifying information; I followed a few links; I just didn't find much.


Jonathan Dresner - 5/20/2004

Of course there are historians whose scholarship I admire and emulate (the best known of which is the French social/cultural historian Marc Bloch; most of the rest are in the field of Asian history). But I don't refer to myself as a disciple. I'm not an ideologue, methodologically: a terribly unfaithful syncretic, more like. I suspect that I and the "Big Tent" crowd share more, epistemologically and methodologically, than we disagree.

As far as the poll goes, I'm still waiting for someone who agrees with the poll's political conclusions to say that it was useless, or for someone who disagrees with the poll's political conclusions to say that it was useful. And I don't mean in a David Horowitz kind of "see, see, see" sort of way.


Jonathan Dresner - 5/20/2004

"read closely"? I looked at everything on the front page and I saw an awful lot of links with minimal comment. I made my best guess, based on what I saw. If you want to be credited with independent thinking and skepticism, fine, but it'd be nice if the blog reflected it. What I saw does not.


Richard Henry Morgan - 5/20/2004

Fair enough, except that I haven't sent my bit off to the printer's yet, and won't until I track down every last footnote -- which will have to wait until next summer, when I'll have access to a research library. Of course, I could rush it into print right now ...

The rest is just a five-finger exercise, immunized by the prefatory comment "I don't get the impression ..." I hope I didn't accidentally hit on a larger truth there.


Derek Charles Catsam - 5/20/2004

As a good friend of his, I assure you that Stephen Tootle is an aspiring historian. Indeed, he is a historian. What was that about cataloging errors, Mr. Morgan? I could not quite hear you over the shattering of windows in that glass house.
dc


Derek Charles Catsam - 5/20/2004

While I generally support the views (or at least his right to state those views and not be dismissed out of hand by Jonathan Dresner) of my friend Tom, I take issue with Greg Robinson's assertion that the poll "WAS" (nice use of capital letters -- in case we didn't get the tone) -- "stupid and of absolutely no historical relevance or use." Here's the thing: it was not intended to be of "historical relevance or use." (Well articulated argument, by the way -- brings us right back to Ralph's original point.) It was supposed to be of contemporary relevance or use.
It's not a complex idea, but I guess I'll try to explain the concept of "History News Network" since some people self evidently do not get it: while we are historians and some of the writing here deals with largely historical events, it also serves to give historians the chance to think, write and comment on current events through a historical lens, thus the word "news." The concept of "relevance" can only exist within a context. At HNN, an article about historians' feelings about President Bush, however right, wrong, or misguided you might see those views to be, is absolutely on the point. That some people miss this seemingly obvious point is not the fault of historians, whether they agree or disagree with Bush. Historians can and do have opinions, and it is hard to take someone seriously who on the one hands huzzahs a young group of conservative historians but then who dismisses the views of liberal ones.
dc


Greg Robinson - 5/20/2004

Let me get this straight: in a profession dominated by postmodern, marxist, deconstructionist mentality a group of young historians with the audacity (!) to subscribe to a more moderate, open-minded perspective of American history are automatically dismissed as "slavish, drooling", un-original, blindly optimistic, "sycophants"? As an historian you have no one person, historian or otherwise, that you share a point of view with; admire their stance or scholarship? For an historian there sure are some close-minded accusations being being tossed around blindly in this exchange. I think the Big Tenters know the meaning of hard work, have an original sense of humor and provide a refreshing alternative and balanced viewpoint of current and historical events.

And to echo what Stephen concluded about that poll: it WAS stupid and of absolutely no historical relevance or use.


Richard Henry Morgan - 5/20/2004

It is the most complete record, just as the local McDonald's is the tallest building in Possum Trot. But Rakove goes beyond calling them the most complete. Referring to what he calls "the actual discussion", rather than Madison's notes, he then goes on to say that the notes "conclusively demonstrate" that the "entire discussion explicitly recognized" that ...

Color me stupid, but doesn't that imply that the notes are an accurate and complete record? And didn't Madison himself admit that he augmented his notes with later memories and reports? And hasn't Hutson rather well demonstrated that the reports simply couldn't be complete?

I remember reading somewhere the comments of the philosopher Harold Brown, who said that academic publishing has very little to do with the production and dissemination of knowledge, and everything to do with institutional imperatives. At the better schools now, it can take up to three published books to get tenure. Is there any wonder what that does to quality? I'm also reminded of Zuckerman's study that demonstrated that Nobel laureates in physics, before they won their prize, had published at a lower rate than their peers. No mystery there.

I read historians for the bibliographies. Then I go back and catalog their errors.


Thomas Bruscino - 5/20/2004

Thanks for the interest. Some rather strong conclusions about the Big Tent and its contributors (of which I am one) have been made with what could only be superficial glances at our weblog. Whatever the merits of Stephen's specific post--and I'm sure he is perfectly willing to debate them--the Big Tent and the various ideas it espouses deserve more than outright dismissal.

For example, there is certainly room for discussion of the ideas of Alfred Thayer Mahan. There are many specifics to Mahan's thinking with which we, individually and collectively, disagree, but our nod to the naval thinker is more in the vein of our general belief in the ideas of Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism. Mahan represented one aspect of that thinking, the projection of naval power to protect U.S. interests (strategic, economic, ideological) overseas, and for that we chose him as the ideological symbol, of sorts, of the Big Tent. That does not mean we want to ignore coastal defense, dismiss commerse raiding, scrap carriers for battleships, or create colonies for coaling stations. Mahan's ideas are just one part of who we are.

As far as Victor Davis Hanson goes, we have exactly two links in the last fifty-two posts to his articles, opinion pieces, and responses to readers. That said, I think it is unfair to reduce everything Professor Hanson writes to "bell-ringing." He has been unflagging in his support of the military aspects of the war on terror, and for that we read his work and support him. Hanson is a complex and original thinker, and though I do not agree with everything he has to say--for example I think he credits William Sherman too much at the expense of U.S. Grant for the strategies and tactics that won the Civil War, and more generally he has not yet made the whole case for how his Western way of war made its way from Greece and Rome to the present--I still pay attention when he says it. I would hope that my skepticism will be made evident by my upcoming comparitive review of Hanson's Ripples of Battle and John Lynn's Battle this summer.

In any case, I think our independent thinking and skepticism will be made evident to anyone who reads closely what we write and link at the Big Tent. And we certainly appreciate the opinions of people who seriously question those writings and links.

And who knows, in the midst of one of those debates we might just find a new guru (kidding).


Jonathan Dresner - 5/20/2004

I was quite struck by the devoted certainty of the Big Tent bloggers: between their open avowal of discipleship to a thinker who is less relevant now, thematically, methodologically or factually, than ever before, or the slavish drooling to V.D. Hanson's bell-ringing, I am starting to feel like independent thinking and skepticism are just not worth the effort.

Wait, no. I take it back. I'd rather be right or wrong on my own initiative than play sycophant. It's harder work, though, so they may not be up to it.


Ralph E. Luker - 5/20/2004

Well, Richard, Stephen _is_ a freshly minted history ph.d. It's been a long time since I was fresh on the constitutional convention, but aren't Madison's notes the most complete single record that we have? I think that your scorn for historians is one Stephen shares, but it makes you wonder why he chose to become one and why you choose to read them.


Richard Henry Morgan - 5/20/2004

I don't get the impression that Stephen at Big Tent aspires to the status of historian. But if you mean 'argument' without honorific import, that seems a weak condition on the application of the term 'historian'. Bad arguments, in my recent readings certainly abound -- and from otherwise competent historians. Witness Wills offering the views of Count Rumford, who commanded a British battalion in NY, as those of a Continental soldier. Or maybe this gem from another Pulitzer Prize-winner, Jack Rakove (pp88-89, from The Second Amendment in Law and History):

"Whatever else might be said of this problematic definition of the militia, it does not comport with the actual discussion of the subject at Philadelphia. For as Madison's notes of debates conclusively demonstrate, the entire discussion explicitly recognized that the militia was to be the joint object of congressional and state legislation."

Now tell me this. Is there anybody out there, with the possible exception of Rakove and a handful of truly dim undergrads, that believes that Madison's notes are a complete and accurate record of what was said at the Philadelphia Convention? Of the tripe from historians that gets published, there is apparently no end.

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