Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
Glenn Reynolds points out that the 700 Club host, Pat Robertson was one of the original examples of an"idiotarian." If it is possible, he just gets loopier with time. I haven't commented about it since he was last praising Liberia's brutal and corrupt warlord, Charles Taylor. Now he is arguing that some federal judges are a greater national menace than al quaeda, a more serious threat to national security than Confederate rebellion or the Axis powers in World War II. At what point does someone take note of the loopiness of his claims and graciously intervene with a little white suit with straps?
At Rhode Island's Roger Williams University, the costume of the obscure Greek playwright, Testaclese, has been confiscated and his The Penis Monologues, a spoof of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, has been suppressed. Thanks to Tom at Big Tent for the tip.
Our colleague, Mariam Burstein, has been taking her grading of student papers too seriously again. Alas, she says,"the semi-colon. Has any other punctuation mark ever caused so many dark nights of the soul?"
Mr. Sun! calls our attention to this 1877 print of a child-birthing on the frontier. Do you share my impression that the artist was never present at the birthing of a child? I've been present at the creation twice and, frankly, it's hard to imagine doing it, or even assisting in it, sidesaddle with your hat and boots on.
I don't think any of us can be objective about our own claimed objectivity. -- Daniel Okrent, NYTimes, 4/24/05
There are three categories of common arguments in blogspace:
Obviously, very few actual arguments will fit neatly and purely into any of these categories; most, in fact, are combinations of two:
- Principles + Facts: policy, history, social and natural science
- Facts + Tone: Identity, Insults and offenses, literature
- Principles + Tone: Religion, politics, philosophy
I'm not going to say that one category is greater or lesser than the others, but I will say that different people and different disciplines do handle the categories differently. It is important, though, to be aware of what kind of argument is at hand, because rhetorical strategy and substantive issues within and between each differ greatly.
Dr. Thomas Bruscino wrote that, in the process of discussing the recent Papal election, I made"profoundly insulting statements" based on my" clear personal hostility toward the Catholic Church." He asks me"not to qualify, but to back away from such profoundly insulting statements." If he were correct that I bear a personal animus towards the Roman Catholic establishment, then I would have no reason to do so aside from a weak-kneed desire to retain my reputation as a"nice guy." If he is wrong, then I have no way to prove it except to retract statements that were fundamentally correct, as he himself acknowledges.
For those of you who haven't been following this, the"telling" evidence in the charge of bigotry, doesn't actually come from my case against providential history -- I have made similar arguments against other faiths including my own, when matters of faith and reliable history conflict -- but apparently from the fact that I am not just a secularist historian but also a Jew. From a statement of fact, a statement of interest and a statement of profound uncertainty, Dr. Bruscino concludes not only that I am hostile, but that my hostility is unwarranted:"Nevertheless, I'm not sure the church's mistakes or arrogant attitude somehow grant its critics the power Professor Dresner assumes in his comments." I would strongly urge Dr. Bruscino to examine the ambiguities in his statements --"mistakes","I'm not sure","somehow","assumes" -- and consider whether he is entirely honest with himself when he writes"What Professor Dresner wrote was specifically problematic to historian Catholics, but it wasn't wrong because the target was the Catholic church."
Whether or not"Pope Benedict is not about to dispatch an army of robot Torquemadas on an unwitting world" is beside the point (though I note that Dr. Bruscino has to"assume" this, because he can't prove it): I am a Jew in a free society, beyond any authority of the Catholic Church. But the Roman Catholic Church represents, as Dr. Bruscino notes, the affiliation of a billion human beings, and if there are schisms or serious disruptions or vibrant growth or lingering stagnation in that body of faith, it is of interest to me as an historian, as a friend of Catholics, as a citizen of the world which will be affected in unforeseeable ways. Just as what happens in China or India matters well beyond the confines of Asia, the Roman Catholic Church is a significant component of world history. I'm not afraid of projecting and predicting when I feel that there is a good case to be made: in this case I specifically refused to do so, and I reject the conclusions Dr. Bruscino draws about me.I did offer this clarification
I was being flip -- not hostile -- and I shouldn't have said that I wasn't. But, I was really trying to create an opening for anyone else to offer an alternative metric by which a faithful (faith-full) history could be in some way reconciled with the evidentiary demands of historical epistemology. That challenge remains fundamentally unanswered and, by Dr. Bruscino's own admission, unanswerable.I'm not sure if this constitutes sufficient backing away without qualification: Dr. Bruscino responded simply:
If it was a challenge, it was a poorly worded one that became offensive in its tone. But if you were being flip, then I do not have much of a problem with what you wrote.It appears that Dr. Bruscino doesn't care if I am personally hostile to his Church -- there's no indication that he has reconsidered or retracted his personal attacks -- simply that he was afraid my apparent hostility would lead me to apply to the Catholic Church the same evidentiary standard I insist from any historian.
Dr. Bruscino, in comments, tries to articulate his personal belief in a deity beyond simple understanding. We don't disagree on that, either. But I wasn't taking issue with an ineffable divine presence; I was taking issue with an attempt to justify evidence-free historical narrative. He wouldn't tolerate it from any other faith, I don't believe it is evidence of malice that I reject it from Roman Catholicism.
Dr. Bruscino, to his credit, articulates a mostly sound version of how matters of faith should be handled in the writing of history. We don't actually disagree on that, as he admits. In the course of his attack, though, he tries to create a separate category of"supernatural" factors separate from matters of human faith, and that is where my manifest failure of humility lay. I don't see that as any different from studying anything else that transcends individuals and requires accumulations of data -- social history, economics, discourses, ideology, etc. You must define it by its effects, by interactions, by sources: you articulate the evidence necessary to prove your claims and then you find that evidence and offer up your argument and evidence for critical review.
Nationalism is a good analogy to faith, in this regard: we identify statements and individuals as being nationalistic, we discuss the manifest and subtle effects of nationalism (and anti-nationalism, and competing nationalisms) but these are entirely separate from whether the nation is a"true thing" with an essence and agency all its own. As with nationalism, it may even be possible to assert the reality of the nation, but only in terms which acknowledges the reality of other nations: similarly, I see no way to write providential history which privileges one faith over others that is not a logical tautology. That's fine, in matters of faith, but it's unacceptable historical practice.
Unfortunately, there have been inflammatory reports and graphics, such as this, which trace to David Horowitz's intervention in the case. They have sent some extra-ordinarily viscious e-mail to Bean's colleagues at SIU. If you write or call SIU, be civil!
But the article corrects some errors that I've made in posts at Cliopatria and I want to correct them. Several months ago, I reported that Horowitz was paying himself $179,000 a year to do what he does. I thought then that, given his limitations, $179,000 was way beyond his due. Given the unreliability of information posted at his site, I suggested that he give himself a salary cut and hire some fact-checkers to give what is published at Front Page Rag some credibility. Well, I apparently vastly understated David's self-generosity. Jacobson reports Horowitz's salary in 2003 at $310,167. Add to that the $5,000 he charges for each of 30 to 40 demogogic speeches a year and you're closer to his annual income. The book royalties would be modest and, apparently, he hasn't seen anything yet on film rights to his life story.
But, incidentally, I want to add a note about the poison Horowitz and Front Page Rag are to well-meaning academics who give them any credibility. I have defended and will continue to defend Jonathan Bean's prerogative of assigning James Lubinskas's article,"Remembering the Zebra Killings," from Horowitz's Front Page Rag as supplementary reading in his class at Southern Illinois University. As the discussions here at Cliopatria and at Inside Higher Ed have made clear, Lubinskas's article exaggerated the number of killings by a factor of 5. You could have a very smart discussion with undergraduates about the necessity of interrogating lies of that magnitude. But, for g_d sakes, David, give yourself a salary cut and hire some fact checkers!
Southern Slavery: As it Was, a booklet defending slavery as biblically viable, has roused considerable controversy since its release in 1996. Critics of co-authors Douglas Wilson and Steve Wilkins have added to their content-driven charges of racism and shoddy history one more accusation: plagiarism.*By"Tracie McKenzie", the author means Robert Tracy McKenzie, the University of Washington's specialist in the 19th century South, who also publishes in the evangelical historians' Fides et Historia.
The text failed 24 times to attribute word-for-word quotations pulled from the 1974 book Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery by Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman. University of Washington history professor Tracie McKenzie,* who attends a Seattle-area church connected to Mr. Wilson's Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, easily recognized the stolen sections because he teaches on the work of Mr. Fogel and Mr. Engerman.
Concerned with both plagiarism and the content of Southern Slavery, Mr. McKenzie drafted a response pointing out what he saw as poor historical conclusions and detailing the plagiarized sections.
After reviewing Mr. McKenzie's document, Mr. Wilson pulled Southern Slavery from the shelves in 2003 with the intent of correcting attribution oversights for a second edition. Now set for publication in the coming months under the title Black and Tan, the 150-page new edition reduces Southern Slavery to a single chapter and adds other essays on slavery, culture war, and Scripture in America. Mr. Wilson told WORLD the original thesis that slavery wasn't bad enough to justify violent abolitionism remains prominent.
The absence of plagiarism may not quiet opposition. University of Idaho philosophy professor Nick Gier collected the endorsements of 45 local academics for a widely circulated flier condemning the plagiarism. Steve Wilkins, pastor of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, La., admits to authoring every plagiarized section:"It wasn't [Mr. Wilson's] doing. It was my fault, not his fault."
Nevertheless, Mr. Wilson, who edited the booklet, has taken the brunt of the criticism. The charges fuel an ongoing spat between Christ Church and the Moscow community, a quarrel to which Mr. Wilson admits his blunt style has contributed, but one he blames more heavily on community intolerance:"This is the first issue where we deserve the lump on our head. There's no question it was wrong and inappropriate."
Canon Press, a ministry of Christ Church and publisher of Southern Slavery, issued a letter of apology to the publisher of Time on the Cross, and no legal action appears imminent.
World Magazine is the creation of Marvin Olasky. Born and raised in a Jewish family, Olasky joined the Communist Party in 1972, only to repudiate it later in the decade. His conversion to Christianity and conservatism were concurrent. Olasky earned a doctorate in history from the University of Michigan in the mid-1970s. He is now a professor of journalism at the University of Texas, a conservative Presbyterian, and has been given some credit for teaching George Bush about" compassionate conservatism."
When the note appended to Vieth's article appeared in World Magazine, civil warfare broke out among conservative American Calvinists. Doug Wilson directed his defense from his Blog and Mablog, but the battlefield was at World Magazine Blog, where 379 comments were posted at last count. Scrolling through them gives new meaning to the words"Christian education." Such g_dly vituperation!
It is re-assuring that the plagiarism was flagged by a professional historian who is in communion with Doug Wilson's congregation. Unfortunately, Wilson still insists that the" carelessness" is not plagiarism. At last report, a revised version of Southern Slavery as It Was will appear in his new book, Regenerate, But Unreconstructed, a revision of his working title, Black and Tan. The book will carry an endorsing blurb by Eugene Genovese.
As a member of the NEA through my faculty union, I get the NEA Higher Education Advocate, a goofy little monthly newsletter left over from the heyday of desktop publishing, which features mostly really short clips of news about academic economics and highly predictable, rarely applicable, career advice. The only part of this thing that's actually worth reading is"The Dialogue," a pro/con column featuring -- in highly abbreviated form -- both sides of a burning question about academic institutions and practices. And, if you remember what the question is from last month, there's a few very short responses from readers in the letters column on the back page.
This month's question is"Should untenured faculty vote on tenure and promotion?" and both respondents manage to raise decent issues, but without actually making strong points. Frankly, I haven't been so entertained by this publication in the two years I've been getting it.
Robert Sanford's"No" raises the question of the risks which participating in the process would pose for junior faculty (most of us would accept those risks, by the way; describing it as"no-win" presumes the worst possible result), but concludes with hoary old platitudes about tenured faculty as"the guardians of university culture and department values" (are things going so well that we could say they're doing a good job, overall?) and untenured faculty as"unproven" (well, you hired us) and"not yet in a position to vet the qualifications of others" (but we sit on hiring committees all the time!) and lacking the"experience and authority" to participate in these grown-up decisions (though junior faculty are often better versed in the current literature and disciplinary standards than senior faculty). It's the most unapologetic public defense of the medieval guild nature of the profession I've seen in a while.
The"Yes" from Paula Pedersen lands a bit closer to the mark, but completely ignores the issue of untenured tenure-track faculty (as well as the specific issues of tenure and promotion votes) to focus on the issue of non-tenure track instructors' (which she calls" contract faculty"; I've got a contract, too, but OK) integration with departmental decision-making. She points out, correctly, that non-tenure track instructors are often quite productive and integral to departmental operations and that they have stakes in the department and institution which are no less than that held by tenured and tenure-track faculty. Particularly in the case of departments which are, as she describes her own, fully one-third staffed by adjuncts (probably more, if you count student hours or even just classes, since most full-time adjuncts don't get the"research release" and teach more sections/courses than tenure/tenure-track faculty). She invokes and rejects"separate but equal" at the beginning of the piece and concludes with a jarring reference to Dr. Seuss's"Star-Belly Sneetches" and while I sympathize with her need to find shorthands and shortcuts in a short piece, neither of these really help her much.
(I'm not holding the misspellings in the headline against her personally ["star-bellied sneeches"], but the implications of applying that story to academia as a metaphor boggle the imagination: I didn't get my Ph.D. from Sylvester McMonkey McBean, if you know what I mean. Feel free to use the comments section to discuss which Seuss story is the best metaphor for academic life: I'm leaning towards"The Zax" myself).
My answer to the question? Why not? It's tenure-track junior faculty who have the highest stake in tenure decisions: we're going to be working with these people for a long, long time. I'm very sympathetic to Pedersen's argument about including non-tenure-track instructors in departmental matters, but since many departments use ABDs or MA holders as adjunct faculty, I'm less sanguine about a blanket endorsement of including them on hiring, tenure and promotion committees. I'm not a huge fan of guild-master Sanford's satisfaction with things as they currently sit, however, and I think including untenured faculty in these decisions might considerably improve mentorship and other working conditions under which junior faculty labor. I'm on record supporting greater accountability for tenured faculty, and widening the decision-making pool would, I think, lessen the"generation gap" problem and bring more of the rigor we're increasingly applying to graduate programs and hiring to the internal workings of the departments and universities themselves.
At University Diaries, Margaret Soltan gives us a run-down on last week's hoaxes. Are we gullible or what?
It's Ladies Nite Out in a poetry grudge match to end National Poetry Month. Sharon's Donne and Marlowe meets Another Damned Medievalist's Andrew Marvell and Ancarett's Walter Raleigh. Metaphysical Poets, anyone? Graham Lester at Point2Point poses a challenge: see if you can re-arrange these lines of a Shakespearean sonnet back into their correct order.
Congratulations to our colleague, Alan Allport, and everyone at Horizon. They're celebrating their first anniversary over there.
The next host will be:
Saint Nate on/about 15 May. Email: saint_nate AT hotmail DOT com
And don't forget Carnivalesque, the blog carnival for all things related to the early modern world (c.1450-1800), coming up on Friday 6 May. Suggestions to the host, Nathanael Robinson at Rhine River: rhineriver AT earthlink DOT net