The Bancroft and Bellesiles

Historians/History




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Below is an official announcement released Friday, December 13, 2002, by the Columbia University Board of Trustees.

Columbia University's Trustees have voted to rescind the Bancroft Prize awarded last year to Michael Bellesiles for his book Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture. The Trustees made the decision. Based on a review of an investigation of charges of scholarly misconduct against Professor Bellesiles by Emory University and other assessments by professional historians. They concluded that he had violated basic norms of scholarship and the high standards expected of Bancroft Prize winners. The Trustees voted to rescind the Prize during their regularly scheduled meeting on December 7, 2002 and have notified Professor Bellesiles of their decision.

The Bancroft Prize, which was first offered in 1948, is to be awarded for works in American history of "distinguished merit and distinction." The selection criteria for the Prize specify that it "should honor only books of enduring worth and impeccable scholarship that make a major contribution to our understanding of the American past." Professor Bellesiles' book seemed to fulfill these criteria at the time of selection. However, it has since been the subject of substantial debate within the community of American historians that included charges that Professor Bellesiles had committed scholarly misconduct in the use of some of his primary source materials.

In response to these charges, Emory University, where Professor Bellesiles holds an appointment, established a panel of three distinguished scholars from other universities to conduct a review. On October 25, 2002, following this review, the panel issued a report. In it, the panel members found "evidence of falsification" with respect to one of the questions they were asked to consider; spoke of "serious failures of and carelessness in the gathering and presentation of archival records and the use of quantitative analysis" on two others; and questioned "his veracity" with respect to a fourth. They also concluded that he had "contravened" the norms of historical scholarship both "as expressed in the Committee charge and in the American Historical Association's definition of scholarly 'integrity.'"

Columbia's Trustees considered the report of the Emory investigating committee and Professor Bellesiles' response to it. They also considered assessments by professional historians of the subject matter of that report.

After considering all of these materials, the Trustees concurred with the three distinguished scholars who reviewed the case for Emory University that Professor Bellesiles had violated basic norms of acceptable scholarly conduct. They consequently concluded that his book had not and does not meet the standards they had established for the Bancroft Prize.

In making their decision, the Trustees emphasized that the judgment to rescind the Bancroft Prize was based solely on the evaluation of the questionable scholarship of the work and had nothing to do with the book's content or the author's point of view.



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David Peterson - 9/20/2003

"America's gun culture is an invented tradition. It was not present at the nation's creation.... Rather, it developed in a single generation [following] the Civil War."
--- Michael Bellesiles, Arming America, 2000.
So I guess those Colonial riflemen that devastated the British at Saratoga could not have been using long rifles, they must have had slings and rocks, or mabey they just picked up those long rifles from the nearest army depot and started picking off officers with their first shots and luck.But wait, the Colonial army was using smoothbore muskets, so where did the long rifles come from? And I guess the same goes for the men thet fought with Andrew Jackson at New Orleans. I guess that those shooting skills were nothing but beginers luck. And Davy Crockett must not have ever learned to shoot, so I guess he became an accomplished hunter and fighter by just beating someone with his hands every time, I wonder how the Alamo held out for so long then? Nevermind that one of the most popular types of get togethers during that time was to have a shooting match. Do you think that mabey Davy learned to shoot there? The truth is that Bellesiles was trying to rewrite history and even the most novice historian can pick up on what he was trying to do.


Bob Andrews - 12/21/2002

urge everyone to print copies of the following notice on small slips of paper and insert them into copies of the book at all libraries and book stores.

You might also print up the notice on stickers and seek permission to paste them into the books. But seek permission or you will be committing vandalism.


NOTICE REGARDING ARMING AMERICA

In October of 2002, Michael Bellesiles resigned from Emory University after an independent panel of PhDs wrote that his work "does move into the realm of falsification" and Emory deemed him to be "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work."

In December of 2002, Columbia University rescinded the Bancroft Prize for his work, saying "his book had not and does not meet the standards ... established for the Bancroft Prize"

Mr. Bellesiles' research fraud ranged from selectively editing source materials to citing non-existent San Francisco probate records that actually were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

source: AP Wire: 12/13/02


Ted Asregadoo - 12/18/2002

Mr. Damm,

Here are the two footnotes from the Court of Appeals' (9th Circuit) decision that mention Bellesiles' work. I don't know where you get the idea that the recent decision the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was based (in part) on information in Arming America -- if by "information based on Bellesiles' book" you mean Arming America, that is. Perhaps Bellesiles referenced his earlier work in Arming America, but you'll notice that the justice who wrote the opinion used information that was either technical (distinctions between semi-automatic weapons and automatic weapons), or historical (George Washington's "Sentiments On A Peace Establishment") that Bellesiles published prior to Arming America.

And as far as information being made public goes: The 9th Circuit posts PDF files of their decisions on their website (See, SILVEIRA v. LOCKYER in the "Opinions" section).

Oh, and the first time I read about Bellesiles' work being used in the 9th Circuit decision was in the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times.

FOOTNOTES
1Semiautomatic weapons differ from fully automatic machine guns in
the following respects: Automatic weapons feed ammunition into the
gun’s chamber immediately after the firing of each bullet, so that the
weapon will continue to reload and fire continuously so long as the trigger
is depressed. Purchase and ownership of automatic weapons has been
restricted by the federal government since the days of Al Capone and the
machine gun violence associated with the Prohibition Era. See Michael A.
Bellesiles, Gun Control: A Historical Overview, 28 CRIME & JUST. 137,
174-76 (2001) (discussing the enactment of the National Firearms Act of
1934, ch. 757, 48 Stat. 1236 (1934) (current version codified as 26 U.S.C.
§§ 5801-72)), as a reaction to the use of machine guns by mobsters and
the depiction of such violence in films such as Scarface).
In contrast to automatic weapons, only one bullet is fired when the user
of a semi-automatic weapon depresses the trigger, but another is automatically
reloaded into the gun’s chamber. 27 C.F.R. § 178.11 (defining semiautomatic
weapons). Thus, by squeezing the trigger repeatedly and rapidly,
the user can release many rounds of ammunition in a brief period of
time — certainly many more than the user of a standard, manually-loaded
weapon. Moreover, the semi-automatic weapons known as assault weapons
contain large-capacity magazines, which require the user of the
weapon to cease firing to reload relatively infrequently because the magazines
contain so much ammunition. Consequently, users of such weapons
can “spray-fire” multiple rounds of ammunition, with potentially devastating
effects. Michael G. Lennett, Taking A Bite Out of Violent Crime, 20
U. DAYTON L. REV. 573, 609 (1995).


37 During the period that the Articles were in effect, both George Washington
and Henry Knox, who was to become the nation’s first Secretary
of War in the Washington Administration, urged the creation of a standing
national military force, to no avail. H. Richard Uviller & William G. Merkel,
The Second Amendment in Context: The Case of the Vanishing Predicate,
76 CHI.-KENT L. REV. 403, 411-13 (2000). Washington in particular
felt that the need was acute; in 1783 he wrote a document entitled Sentiments
On A Peace Establishment, in which he recommended establishing
a national militia that would exist along with those maintained by the individual
states. Subsequently, he wrote to John Adams in the wake of
Shays’s Rebellion that because of the lack of a unified national military
force, “[w]e are fast verging to anarchy and confusion!” Letter from
George Washington to James Madison (Nov. 5, 1786), in 29 THE WRITINGS
OF GEORGE WASHINGTON, 1745-1799, at 51 (John Clement Fitzpatrick ed.,
1931) (quoted in Michael A. Bellesiles, The Second Amendment in Action,
76 CHI.-KENT L. REV. 61, 65 (2000)).


Dave LaCourse - 12/17/2002

The last paragraph was a cowardly way of saying that, yes, Bellesiles does horrid work, but we will not make a decision if the book is wrong. Nor did it endorse the book either, however. Read it again:

"In making their decision, the Trustees emphasized that the judgment to rescind the Bancroft Prize was based solely on the evaluation of the questionable scholarship of the work and had nothing to do with the book's content or the author's point of view."

This was a neutral response of non-commitment either way. Can't prove bias from this paragraph alone.

The real question is why Bellesiles got the Award to begin with such an extreme premise without the awards committee checking his findings? Cramer already had raised serious issues by then, as had others.

Can't prove bias there, either, but certainly a dumb move finally corrected this week.


John Gillette - 12/16/2002

No, they didn't. Read the last paragraph. They apparently still support the books conclusions even if they were a result of falsification. The ends justified the means, they just have to find somebody else that can come to the same conclusion, but do it in not so sloppy a manner.


Eric Warren - 12/16/2002

So typical; I observe that an ever increasing number of college & university types are in denial of the basics of our heritage. If they could be cast down out of their ivory towers, and made to work like the rest of us, they just might see that the liberal pap they smear the rest of us with is just a bunch of socialist garbage! They cant handle the truth!


D F Bonnett - 12/16/2002

Amazing! In rescinding the Bancroft prize,Columbia University has demonstrated that it actually places academic integrity above political correctness. If this action is not an anomaly, there is hope for them yet.


Dave LaCourse - 12/16/2002

Mr. Zecker is real, and he has ties to the Columbia University, as well as a few interesting pages describing himself and his background.

Could the huge embarrassment Bellesiles caused Columbia University be a motive for Mr. Zecker? After all, Columbia did the right thing revoking the prize, but only to cover up giving an award to an author known to have grave concerns about his work at the time of the award. Clayton Cramer spoke at the University the week Bellesiles received the Bancroft award, complete with a slide show highlighting key problems in Arming America.

http://www.claytoncramer.com/columbia.18apr01.htm

Maybe Benny Smith could look into this Zecker matter further? Examine both sides for bias as the objective observer Mr. Smith claims to be, full of credentials untold.

Bottom line is that Mr. Zecker is not an expert in the field of flat earthers, Second Amendment, nor of probate records or anything else related to Arming America. But his website is telling.

http://www.stfx.ca/people/rzecker/

http://www.stfx.ca/people/rzecker/Page%20Five.htm

Some of his links also show bias, as well:

http://www.stfx.ca/people/rzecker/PageSix.htm

I am biased too, but at least I can admit it and question my beliefs by verifying facts and questioning my presumptions. If others had done this, Bellesiles would have never made it this far. Nobody did Bellesiles any favors handing out Awards (and early praise) without questioning his extreme premise first.

Peer review might not have been possible to quickly confirm probate records and obscure archive-type things, but the obvious non-probate problems commonly available (like travel records) should have been an early warning to all.

Maybe the next time--when an author claims something both surprising and politically correct--those with serious questions will be heard and their claims checked out sooner. We can only hope.


Dave LaCourse - 12/16/2002

Mr. Zecker is real, and he has ties to the Columbia University, as well as a few interesting pages describing himself and his background.

Could the huge embarrassment Bellesiles caused Columbia University be a motive for Mr. Zecker? After all, Columbia did the right thing revoking the prize, but only to cover up giving an award to an author known to have grave concerns about his work at the time of the award. Clayton Cramer spoke at the University the week Bellesiles received the Bancroft award, complete with a slide show highlighting key problems in Arming America.

http://www.claytoncramer.com/columbia.18apr01.htm

Maybe Benny Smith could look into this Zecker matter further? Examine both sides for bias as the objective observer Mr. Smith claims to be, full of credentials untold.

Bottom line is that Mr. Zecker is not an expert in the field of flat earthers, Second Amendment, nor of probate records or anything else related to Arming America. But his website is telling.

http://www.stfx.ca/people/rzecker/

http://www.stfx.ca/people/rzecker/Page%20Five.htm

Some of his links also show bias, as well:

http://www.stfx.ca/people/rzecker/PageSix.htm

I am biased too, but at least I can admit it and question my beliefs by verifying facts and questioning my presumptions. If others had done this, Bellesiles would have never made it this far. Nobody did Bellesiles any favors handing out Awards (and early praise) without questioning his extreme premise first.

Peer review might not have been possible to quickly confirm probate records and obscure archive-type things, but the obvious non-probate problems commonly available (like travel records) should have been an early warning to all.

Maybe the next time--when an author claims something both surprising and politically correct--those with serious questions will be heard and their claims checked out sooner. We can only hope.


Osgood Gadson - 12/16/2002

I write in my capacity as President Pro-Tem and Corresponding Secretary of the Citizens' Committee for Truth in Cosmology (CCTIC)(sometimes jocularly referred to as the "Flat-Earthers.")

Mr. Zecker's sly attempt to paint our association with the same broad brush with which he attacks the NRA and the anti-Bellesiles crowd is singularly ill-considered.

In the first place, the CCTIC is opposed to all shooting sports for a simple but grave reason. If a firearm of sufficient power is discharged close enough to the edge of our "planet," the projectile will be lost forever, sailing off into the ether. Over time, the ejection of dense matter from Earth will significantly lighten the Earth, resulting in weather disturbances, and more seriously potential derangement of the Sun in its to-and-fro shuttling overhead.

In the second place, and more important from an academic standpoint, the CCTIC has been the object of the same sort of despicable attacks faced by Mr. Bellesiles and, one assumes, Mr. Zecker. We too find ourselves marginalized by so-called "scholars" who assail us with "facts" and "evidence" which admittedly, on their face, refute our organizing principle. However we of the CCTIC, like Bellesile and Zecker, are in service to an ideal much more important than mere literal truth or the "objective evidence" rationalists so prize. We, like them, keep alive the dream of a faith which not only transcends facts, but makes us feel warm and fuzzy and special inside.

Mr. Zecker: I DEMAND THAT YOU RETRACT YOUR FALLACIOUS ASSOCIATION OF FLAT-EARTHERS WITH THE NRA!!!


Dave LaCourse - 12/16/2002

I have read Mr. Smith's comments with great interest on several boards for some time before finally commenting on them. I always doubted his claims of only being concerned about the bias in those accusing Bellesiles of everything from poor quoting to fraud.

As more evidence against Bellesiles poured in, I kept wondering when Mr. Smith would explain all his scholarly qualifications and data in support of Bellesiles' theory while discounting all the evidence against Arming America. He never did.

Now, he wants to know:

“Who are those anonymous "professional historians" who now believe the scholarship is flawed to the extent that a major award must be rescinded. What are their credentials, relevant scholarship and motives?”

Again, I must ask Mr. Smith, Who the hell are you? What are your credentials, relevant scholarship and motives? Others have shown theirs to you, now provide yours!

This is why I recently commented, mostly in jest, that Benny Smith must be Bellesiles. Mr. Smith's explanations in supporting Bellesiles are just as baffling as Bellesiles' excuses on where he found probate records and why he missed clear passages in travel records, and ignored other travel guides over the ones he hand picked.

Now that the Columbia University (NRA controlled?? Get real) has withdrawn the Bancroft Award, and asked for their money back, Mr. Smith's destruction as a relevant "objective" observer are finally complete.

His continued posts should now be ignored, and replaced with the discussion on the many travel records supporting an Armed America, including during the first Thanksgiving, and numerous sources Bellesiles cited, but ignored key passages.

Good examples are available here:

http://hnn.us/comments/5300.html

And while VERY dated, and from a gun-control-leaning individual, this posting also highlights Bellesiles’ travel journal problem:

http://www.saf.org/pub/rkba/general/BellesilesBookReviewOld.htm

Heck, Cramer's canned "slide speech" showed Bellesiles' bias in a quick format long ago, and still in a great format:

http://www.claytoncramer.com/columbia.18apr01.htm

Expert Smith, where are the mistakes in these posts?

In short, Benny might not be Bellesiles, but his undying devotion to the fallen professor in the face of all the evidence removes him from any serious debate. No serious discussion can continue with him responding by simply blaming the NRA or gun-huggers for all of Bellesiles' mess.

Bellesiles did this to himself, and he made his supporters look foolish in the process. Maybe if the OAH withdraws the Binkley-Stephenson Award from Bellesiles for the earlier journal article, even Mr. Smith will get the hint. Until then, I recommend against responding to Mr. Smith with any logical arguments. It is a waste of time.

At most, just remind Mr. Smith that he is far more biased than all the gun-huggers combined when it comes to Bellesiles. After all, at least they have some facts on their side. And credentials? Put up or shut up, Mr. Smith.

Sure he will be on the Emory Board next, without any supporting evidence to back up his position.


david schnyer - 12/16/2002

Mr. Zecker,
Professor Bellesiles was caught perpetrating a willful fraud upon both academia and the public at large, grossly falsifying evidence and misrepresenting fact. Lying about his sources and when confronted and when caught in those lies lying yet again. What tripped him up was that the field he was dabbling in has been studied in great detail by both professionals and dedicated amateurs for many years, myself in a small way among them. He has brought his misfortunes upon his head all by himself in his desire to "make a name for himself" by rewriting history to suit the desires of a shrill minority, flying in the face of a large body of provable evidence contrary to his thesis and not all of your attempts to demonise the N.R.A. or compare his detractors to the likes of the Flat Earth Society will change the fact that he lied and was caught at it.


Jay Michaels - 12/15/2002

Besides being one of the "New Puritans", (a 'taker', as opposed to a 'giver'), Bellesiles, through his intentional distortions of history and culture, can well be maligned as a liar, cheat and thief.


Kurt Jahnke - 12/15/2002

I am quite sure that Robert Zecker, from the Department of History at Saint Francis Xavier University will both to come back and read even what he said.
His example of temper and wording is the reason guns should be banned from him, not the rest of society. Hopefully someone will see these posts and send them to his 'fellows' at Xavier.
Hopefully the government will also read his temper tantrum remarks and place marks appropriately on his computer chip.


John - 12/15/2002

Typical of gun grabbers, liars, liars,liars.
.


Byron Quick - 12/15/2002

Mr. Zecker,
Do you condone Mr. Bellesiles' research methods as a historian?

I pity your students if you do.

Byron Quick


Ronald L. Damm - 12/14/2002

It seems as if California Judicial System is ignoring the falsehoods of Bellesiles book. The 9th circuit court of appeals just made a decision claiming "the Second Amendment does not confer an individual right to own or possess arms" based on information from Bellesiles' book. I am just in shock that this information never makes it to any television news or even a commonly read newspaper. Is there any possibility of making this information more available to the public?


Randall N. Herrst, J.D. - 12/14/2002

Mr. Zecker has engaged in an intellectually dishonest attack since he has no facts to support his position. There is no rational reason to equate the lies of Bellesiles to the facts of Gallileo. Anyone who has been following this controversy knows that the NRA was neither the initiator of the examination of Bellesiles' work, nor was it even a major factor.

As one who had a bit part in this controversy and was demonized as a Nazi skinhead thug, I can assure Mr. Zecker that it was the Bellesiles faction that wanted to persecute truth-seeking opponents in order to promote some politically correct, but non-factual agenda. You can see my other posts on related threads.

If Bellesiles had been left alone, as Mr. Zecker apparently would have preferred, it would have signalled the widespread acceptance of the "1984" version of history. Media-approved history would be inventable at a whim and other versions would be consigned to the memory hole of public non-person status. Whenever anyone tells you that "everything you have seen and heard for hundreds of years is wrong", you better start looking at the supporting evidence very, very carefully. Many people did look at Bellesiles evidence, including a lot of historians who were on the left or who personally favored firearms prohibitions, and the conclusion was inescapable.

There is nothing wrong with conflicting interpretations of history, but it is almost always wrong to invent a new set of facts in order to promote a political viewpoint.

The really unfortunate aspect of this controversy is the fact that it took so much time and effort to convince the history profession to seriously examine one of its members. Had it not been for the persistent efforts of people like Clayton Cramer and James Lindgren, there is no doubt that this whole affair would have been quietly covered up.


Paul Milligan - 12/14/2002

This was a university level investigation, but the moral is one that even the junior high students that I teach can understand: Cheaters never prosper.

Paul Milligan
Science Teacher
Mark Twain Junior High Modesto CA
Who's Who of America's Teachers 1994


Michael R. Davidson - 12/14/2002

>Now maybe the NRA and the rest of the Flat-Earthers can set to
>work banning Galileo from the public schools, too!

I am amazed that anyone could write a sentence with so many implicit non-sequiturs. To those not up on the matter, Galileo's work had absolutely nothing to do with disproving a 'belief' in a flat earth - the 'Flat Earth Myth' is that there were ever more than a couple loonies in the medieval world that thought there was a flat earth.

Cheers,
Mike Davidson


Albert Pierce - 12/14/2002

Yes, I am sure that the NRA controls Columbia, Emory, the Bancroft Committee, and notable historians as well. I have a good friend who is a published historian. Maybe this move will restore some faith in the field of History.


Will J. Richardson - 12/14/2002

I did not know that the "NRA and the rest of the Flat-Earthers" ran Columbia University! Thank you for enlightening us.


Robert Zecker - 12/14/2002

Terrific! Now maybe the NRA and the rest of the Flat-Earthers can set to work banning Galileo from the public schools, too!

Robert M. Zecker
Department of History
Saint Francis Xavier University