So, as I say, it's dog days in Atlanta and I'm sweating in my pj's as I write this. I take consolation in the fact that it's also dog days in Bloomington and dog days at UC, Irvine. Actually, I don't take much consolation in dog days at UC, Irvine, and I offer apologies in advance to myfriendsthere. I don't mean so much to point an accusatory finger as to ask some questions.
Where to begin? Well, first off, Vicki Ruiz hasn't answered my"Offences Are Honored: An Open Letter to Vicki Ruiz and Lee Formwalt." I suspect that Van Hayhow is right: she probably won't. But I have questions for her both in her role as President of the Organization of American Historians and for her and her colleagues in the history department at UC, Irvine. I doubt that she will answer me in either capacity. In fact, I suspect that her being in the department at UC, Irvine, and president of the OAH is one of the reasons that the OAH will not address the questions I raised in"Offences Are Honored: An Open Letter to Vicki Ruiz and Lee Formwalt."
At the root of my concern is the fact that Christine Heyrman directed Michael Bellesiles's dissertation at UC, Irvine, in the late 1980s. Now, I've read both Michael's two volume dissertation and the subsequent book, Revolutionary Outlaws: Ethan Allen and the Struggle for Independence on the Early American Frontier, and I don't know that they are problematic. But I do know that Christine's subsequent Bancroft Prize winning Southern Cross is problematic and that her protege's Bancroft Prize winning Arming America was fall-over-the-cliff problematic.
Now, if you know those things, as UC, Irvine's Jon Wiener does, there are basically two possible responses to it. One would be to ask yourself:"Does our graduate program in American history bear any responsibility for this largest embarrassment to the doing of American history in recent memory? Are we doing something wrong? What change of course do we need to make?" That, I think, would be the appropriate thing to do. That, obviously, has not been Jon's attitude. First, Jon distinguished himself by becoming Michael Bellesiles's foremost and longest-standing defender. I suspect that his instinct to defend the graduate program in American history at UC, Irvine, was a significant factor is his doing so. Secondly, Jon's recent book, Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud, and Politics in the Ivory Tower, took the position that, at bottom, all the cases that he considered (Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Allen Weinstein, Stephen Thernstrom, David Abraham, Mike Davis, Edward Pearson, John Lott, Dino Cinel, Joseph Ellis, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Stephen Ambrose) are best understood as political. His argument is that the accused on the Right had somehow survived scandal, while the accused on the Left had paid heavy penalties.
It would be absurd to deny that the charges against these historians have had no political context, but the argument that the history scandals should be understood primarily as political is incorrect on a number of levels. Did Edward Pearson survive extraordinary blunders because of his Rightist politics? I don't think anyone has identified what his politics are. Dino Cinel didn't loose his position because he was a Left winger. He lost his job because he was a sexual predator. To argue, as Jon does, that the history scandals are best understood as a side-show in the culture wars is to be in denial. Michael Bellesiles didn't lose his job because the Right wingers came after him. As it has been most colorfully put, Michael lost his job because he made shit up (M.S.U.). That puts it very well. Sources aren't to be treated reverentially. They are a kind of excretia of human experience, to be shaped and reshaped for the convenient moment.
I'm concerned about Jon's being in denial because that has implications for how you shape the future of a graduate program in history. For example, maybe if you're Jon Wiener and your major published work has been on John Lennon, then maybe you think it would be cool to hire a historian of the middle east whose major claim to fame is that he's played backup to rock stars for much of his life and claims expertise in" culture jamming and critical theory." That might be unfair to the historian in question, but the self-promotion on that site is a whole lot closer to hard rock glam than earnest scholarship. But, it's dog days in Atlanta and at UC, Irvine, and I'm just asking questions, not pointing fingers.
Or, maybe, if you still argue that Michael Bellesiles did nothing wrong and you frame the historians' scandals as"historians in trouble," you hire one of them as an act of just compensation. Take the case of Mike Davis. His is a long and complicated story. If you don't have the chapter from Jon's book at hand, you can read about Davis here. What Jon and Mark and Mike have in common is an engaged left-wing activism. It's more impressive than their scholarship. In Davis's case, activism intruded so heavily on his graduate work at UCLA that he took years away from it after finishing his course work and was told that he'd have to start over to get a degree. The department refused to accept his first book as his dissertation and Davis left UCLA without a graduate degree.
That story and more is told at greater length in Lewis McAdams,"Jeremiah Among the Palms: The Lives and Dark Prophecies of Mike Davis," LA Weekly, 26 Nov-3 Dec 1998. It is an excellent journalist's report of a tempestuous life. Now, I am willing to believe that there are those rare people for whom one should suspend the normal expectations of the credentialing process. I've argued that here at Cliopatria and there's no doubt but what there are signs of remarkable genius in Mike Davis. He is a MacArthur Fellow, after all. But there are two things that disturb me in the LA Weekly's story. One is that, even if he doesn't have a Ph.D., we know that Mike Davis has an M.S.U.; and the other is his own admission to being surprised, after the fact, to learn that one of his claims was correct. If you believe that Michael Bellesiles did nothing essentially wrong in Arming America, then, of course, you hire Mike Davis. Maybe you should also hire Michael Bellesiles. Doing history by intuition and M.S.U. In Historians in Trouble, Jon Wiener consistently misspelled Lewis McAdams' name. It's no wonder, then, that he writes:"As with any 484-page book with 831 footnotes, [Davis's book,] Ecology of Fear contains some mistakes." Flip a few numbers and the title. It's the same argument Wiener has made about Arming America. My point there makes the same mistake that Wiener does. It flattens out all flaws and treats one as if it is just like another.
I guess my question to Jon Wiener and Vicki Ruiz on these dog days in Atlanta and at UC, Irvine, is this: Given the state of the history market, are hires like these the way to build a great graduate program in history? Given the state of the history market, it is hires like these that give substance to KC Johnson's grievances about intellectual balance in history departments. And, btw, welcome home from Israel, KC.