Post-Tenure Lavender BluesHistorians/History
This article is being delivered as a paper at the annual convention of the American Historical Association on Saturday January 7 at 9:30 am. Mr. Stein is appearing on the roundtable panel,"Out There or In Here? The Chilly Climate Revisited" (Loews Philadephia Hotel, Commonwealth Hall Section B).
In 2000-01, I conducted a survey for the Committee on Lesbian and Gay History (CLGH), an affiliated society of the American Historical Association (AHA), on the graduate school and job market experiences of 44 people who had completed or were in the process of completing Ph.D. dissertations on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer topics (LGBTQ) in graduate history and history-related programs in the United States and Canada. At the time, I was a survivor of five difficult years on the academic job market, the chair of the CLGH, and on the verge of receiving tenure at York University in Toronto, so for a variety of reasons it seemed like a timely project. From my perspective, the results were profoundly depressing, revealing that almost without exception U.S. history departments were not hiring job candidates who had completed LGBTQ history dissertations.1
Because there has been confusion about what the CLGH survey examined, and because that confusion is revealing, I want to highlight what the survey did not discuss. This was not a study of historians who necessarily identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. It was not a study of historians trained outside the United States or Canada. Nor was the study restricted to those who worked on U.S. and Canadian topics. This was not a study of scholars trained in fields other than history or American studies. And the study did not examine those who research and teach LGBTQ history but who did not write dissertations on such topics. What the CLGH study examined was a self-selected group of people who had completed or were in the process of completing dissertations on LGBTQ topics in graduate history and American studies programs in the United States and Canada.
For today’s AHA convention panel titled “Out There or in Here? The Chilly Climate Revisited,”sponsored by the AHA Professional Division, the CLGH, and the Coordinating Council for Women in History, I was tempted to update my 2001 study. Anecdotally, I know of several hires by U.S. history departments in the past few years that suggest some small signs of improvement. I still may produce an update, but for a variety of reasons decided not to do so for this session. I was also tempted to discuss my own experiences of antigay prejudice and discrimination on the job market. Last year, however, I published a painfully detailed account of these experiences in the journal Left History, and I decided not to repeat that performance here.2 Instead I am taking this opportunity to reflect on a related set of troubles. I am doing this from a position of privilege, as one of the few queer historians to have been hired and granted tenure by a history department in North America, and it is likely this privilege that emboldens me to address these topics openly. I have been troubled by inequities in spousal hiring policies and practices at many colleges and universities; by resistance to thinking through the politics of affirmative action with respect to queer scholars; by the types of tokenism that lead some departments to conclude that one queer historian is enough; and by the failure of countless history textbooks, courses, journals, and conventions to address queer topics. I have been troubled by what sometimes seems to be an entire generation of scholars who pride themselves on their detailed knowledge of queer history, which it turns out is limited to knowledge of one or two gay history books. I could say more about all of these troubles, but today I have decided to go public about another type of trouble.
In 2003, I applied for an National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant with a proposal titled “The U.S. Supreme Court’s Sexual Revolution? 1965-1973.” The project examines five well-known liberalizing decisions on birth control, obscenity, interracial marriage, and abortion, along with an often-forgotten conservative decision on gay immigration, and it does so by analyzing the doctrines developed by the Court, the advocates who influenced the Court’s rulings, and the public reception that transformed the meanings of the decisions. Essentially, the argument challenges the conventional wisdom about the liberalism of the Warren and early Burger Court’s sex rulings, demonstrating that the justices developed a doctrine of heteronormative supremacy that extended special rights and privileges to heterosexual, marital, monogamous, and reproductive forms of sexual expression.3 Having been awarded a major three-year grant for the project by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, I had some hopes of a positive outcome, but knew better than to count on anything.
In December 2003, I received a letter from NEH Division of Research Acting Director Kenneth Kolson, informing me that my application had not been approved and noting that I could request copies of the expert panelists’ written evaluations of my proposal. Disappointed but not devastated, I submitted the request, and shortly thereafter received a letter from Senior Program Officer Daniel Jones, who informed me that the NEH had received 1,289 applications and made 180 awards. “The competition was very keen,” he observed, “and only the highest-rated proposals could be funded.” Jones then described the decision-making process: peer review panels were organized by discipline or discipline-cluster; panelists rated the proposals in their area; and the results were forwarded to the presidentially-appointed NEH National Council and to Bruce Cole, the presidentially-appointed NEH Chairman, “who by law is responsible for the final decisions on funding.”
The next sentences came as a pleasant and unpleasant surprise: “You will see that your proposal received five ratings of excellent from the panelists. At a later stage in the process, however, your proposal was read by members of the National Council and the Chairman, and in the end the Chairman did not approve support.” Enclosed were the five evaluations, and these proved quite affirming. One panelist stated, “The argument is very compelling and sounds right on target.” Another described the project as “ambitious” and “authoritative.” A third said the topic was “timely” and the proposal offered an “ideal combination of solid research and a topic that has a broad appeal.” The fourth stated that the project “seems truly revisionary and significant.” According to the fifth, “the project will change the way we think about the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s; about the Warren Court; and about the culture wars.” In addition, “it will be of tremendous interest to a general public.” As for the author, he “has a strong track record and is well-regarded” with “an outstanding reputation as a scholar of sexuality” and a first book that is “bold and important.” “This one will be even more so,” s/he declared.4
There were, to be sure, a few critical comments. One suggested that I add a substantive conclusion on post-1973 developments. Another asked, “Does it matter that he lives and teaches in Canada?” A third wondered “if the author will be able to complete the research.” Handwritten supplementary notes on this evaluation, however, stated: “conversation convinced me that this project’s research plan is feasible and that Stein is the right person for this project.”
Disappointed in the outcome, I was cheered up by the evaluations. The competition must have been fierce, I thought, imagining I was one of many who had received these ratings but had not been funded. Intending to revise and resubmit, I telephoned Mr. Jones to see what I could learn. Jones informed me that my proposal had been reviewed by the American History/American Studies panel, the members of which were Leslie Brown, Yong Chen, Sandra Gustafson, Alexis McGrossen, and Carla Peterson.5 Of the 45 proposals reviewed by this panel, five received five ratings of excellent, and these five and one other were recommended for funding. The final decision by the NEH, however, had been to fund three of the top five, plus the sixth. So I was one of two applicants in this group of 45 to be recommended for funding by the expert panel but rejected by the NEH Chair. The earlier claim that “only the highest-rated proposals could be funded” was apparently false.6 Jones recalled that the chief concerns were that my claims were too bold; the project might not be do-able; and the argument was whiggish. When I asked what was meant by the latter, he said the analysis was influenced by “hindsight.”7
Now my disappointment began to be displaced by another set of emotions. Around this time, I shared my story with a senior historian whose opinion I trust. “Seems pretty simple,” was the reply. “Bruce Cole and the Republicans don't want any work on homosexuality funded by the NEH.” This historian also called my attention to a story about the NEH that had just appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which reported on allegations that the NEH was “flagging” applications that dealt with sexuality, race, or gender.8 In January 2004, I wrote a letter about my situation to AHA Executive Director Arnita Jones, which I asked her to forward to the AHA’s president and two other officers. I sent a copy of the letter to CLGH chair Leisa Meyer, who immediately responded with a supportive and helpful letter, but more than a week went by without a response from Ms. Jones. After I prompted her with another message, she replied,
“As a matter of face your communication has started a substantial discussion. As to your own particular case, the practice of ‘flagging’ is perfectly legal. The NEH chair is by statute the individual who decides on which applications get funded. Everything else is advisory to him. Of course, whether this is good practice is another matter. And, of course, it weakens badly the whole notion of peer review. What the AHA officers are discussing right now is whether or not the AHA...ought to develop a statement that explains why peer review is important. And we also want to encourage our members to do what you did--get the reviews and the names of panelists. If most applicants did this I think it would affect behavior. At the very least it would offer the possibility of tracing funding patterns during different administrations there and elsewhere. Most applicants do not do what you did; yours is really the only communication of its kind I have had in my five years here. We are still trying to figure out how to proceed. I'll be back with more later.”
Despite this promise, I did not hear again from Ms. Jones or the AHA until I wrote again about a year later, although I later learned independently that in 2005 the AHA Council adopted a “Statement on Peer Review” that “strongly supports the peer reviewprocess for research and publication” funded by the NEH. The AHA statement opposes “political interference with the peer review process” and declares that “projects endorsed by peer review panels composed of competent, qualified, and unbiased reviewers...should not be denied funding because of political, religious, or other biases of political appointees in the funding agencies.” Significantly, the AHA statement did not specifically condemn sexual, gender, or racial bias, the three types highlighted in the media.9
Meanwhile, in February 2004 I wrote to the Chronicle reporter, off the record, about my story. The reporter replied,
“Your story is very interesting, and not dissimilar from what I've been hearing from other folks. During the Cheney era (and as you may have learned from my story, there are many people who were around during her tenure who are there now--both in the Chairman's office and on the council), this was very common. They did not seem inclined to finance projects dealing with sexuality, let alone homosexuality. I think this issue could become even more important as the terms of the last of Clinton scholars expire. Then, the conservatives on the council will be even more powerful. I would suggest that you talk with Bruce Craig at the Coalition for History.... He and John Hammer [the director of the National Humanities Alliance] are very plugged in to the NEH. During the Cheney years, John really took the NEH to task on this. However, he doesn't seem to be fighting back on this issue now, and I think it could be for two reasons. One, more scholars aren't coming forward. And two, humanities advocates are so happy to finally see an increase in the agency's budget that they're afraid to make waves.”
Taking up the reporter’s suggestion, I soon thereafter wrote to Bruce Craig, who replied, “I am very interested in your case and would love to talk to you about it. Many of us have been waiting for a case like yours to surface.... When can we talk?” Several helpful conversations followed, and at Craig’s suggestion I wrote another letter to Daniel Jones asking him to confirm the information he had shared on the telephone; provide the names of the members of the NEH Council who had reviewed my proposal and the nature of their comments; and indicate the subjects of the six American History/American Studies proposals recommended for funding by the panel. When Jones replied, he declined to respond to most of my questions, though he did supply me with the names of the NEH Council members who had reviewed the proposals (Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Andrew Ladis, Thomas Mallon, Stephen McKnight, and Jeffrey Wallin) and the names of the four applicants who had received funding in my group.10 A short time later, at Craig’s suggestion I asked Jones if he would read a draft of the revised proposal I intended to submit in the next funding cycle. According to Craig, NEH staff had been willing to do this in the past, but now Jones indicated that this would not be possible.
Pessimistic about my chances, I submitted a revised proposal in the spring of 2004, this time changing the title to “Inventing Rights and Wrongs: Sexuality and the Supreme Court.”11 In December 2004, I received a letter from Acting Director Kolson, informing me that in this round 14% of the proposals were funded and mine was not. Although this year’s letter did not invite requests for copies of the panel evaluations, an omission that Bruce Craig subsequently challenged, I asked for them. Later in the month I received a letter from the NEH’s Russell Wyland, who wrote that in this round the success rate had been 13%. (The minor discrepancy was never explained.) According to Wyland, “As the ratings and comments suggest, NEH panelists were favorably impressed with your project. One panelist, however, raised concerns that the context for your work was not fully developed and worried that the analysis might not be objective. Other reviewers also expressed these concerns and, noting another panelist's comment about your lack of legal training, observed that the topic might not get the full development it deserved.” Wyland also sent copies of the evaluations, three of which rated my proposal as excellent/very good and two of which rated the proposal as excellent.
In this round, one panelist described the proposal as “well written and intellectually significant” and said the author was “in an excellent position to take the project in interesting directions.” Another wrote, “This is a highly significant project due both to its thought-provoking thesis and its innovative organization and research,” adding that “Stein’s contention that while there are many good accounts on the sexual revolution, none has provided deep analysis of the Court’s role, appears correct.” This panelist also wrote that “given his previous work, the NEH can expect that he will produce a highly readable, original book that will provoke a great deal of discussion among those interested in the histories of the Court, social reform, and sexuality.” According to a third panelist, “This fellow would seem to be a major figure in the field, with an excellent publication record.... This essay features an unusually clear statement of what this proposal is attempting.... This certainly looks distinctive and important, and what he says about the historiography sounds right to me. It certainly seems that he has something important to say about the courts and sexuality in the crucial sixties and seventies. He certainly is right that this material is of considerable contemporary interest. His approach encompassing the social history of the law and legal activists looks interesting too, as is the whole issue of public misperceptions of court decisions. I’d be more comfortable if this fellow was himself a lawyer, given the study is undertaking, but he certainly seems well-situated enough in the field.” The fourth panelist wrote, “Stein’s study of the Warren Court’s decisions concerning sexuality promises to be a revisionist and possibly controversial work of scholarship. With a well-conceived and logically-organized project outline, he seems well on his way to completing the study. ‘Inventing Rights and Wrongs’ should contribute to knowledge in several areas–as legal scholarship and cultural history, for example. His research plan and chapter outline provide a clear indication of where the project is headed.” The fifth panelist rated the project as excellent/very good, but the written comments declared succinctly, “The applicant is likely to complete the project. The proposal seems to ignore the longer history and context and to be driven by a specific personal agenda.”12
Initially holding off on responding to the issue of my personal agenda, I sent a set of additional questions to Wyland. About a month later, having not heard back from Wyland, I re-sent my message, which this time elicited an apology about an earlier “screw-up” involving my email address. According to this letter, my proposal had been reviewed by an American History panel and the five panelists were Elaine Abelson, Roger Biles, Edith Blumhofer, Michael Fitzgerald, and Holly Mayer.13 Wyland indicated that, with respect to my proposal, NEH Chair Bruce Cole “decided that the negative concerns outweighed the positive.” A short time later, I wrote again to Wyland, asking him to clarify the meaning of the comments about my personal agenda and objectivity:
“What is the personal agenda invoked here? Does it refer to the fact that I am a permanent resident of Canada and that this means I have an agenda with respect to U.S. history? That I am the grandchild of immigrants and that this might affect my interpretation of the history of sexual exclusions at the border? Did the panelist infer (correctly) that I have used birth control and have had interracial sex, which could affect my interpretations of Supreme Court rulings on these matters? I don't believe my proposal had anything to say about my ‘personal’ life, so I find this terribly confusing. I also wonder if you might help me understand the criticism about my lack of legal training.... There is an entire field of legal history populated by historians without law degrees, which I know in part because I have twice attended the annual convention of the Association for the Study of Legal History. I'm sure many practitioners would find this comment troubling. I actually studied legal history while a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania (with a well-known chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission) and have presented my work at the American Bar Foundation and the University of Missouri Law School, among other locations. And I have a forthcoming article in Law and History Review.
Should I advise all legal historians without law degrees to assume that their NEH applications will be rejected? Should social historians have degrees in sociology? Should political historians have degrees in political science? What I also find puzzling about these criticisms is that they were not made by last year's panelists. When informed by NEH staff about the minor criticisms that were made of my earlier proposal (which had received five excellent ratings), I took steps to address these criticisms, and sure enough those criticisms were not repeated this year. But now I find criticisms that were not made last year, despite the fact that the proposal is largely unchanged. Could it be that the panelists were not objective, to use the term contained within your letter to me? Can you assure me that proposals dealing with sexuality studies and proposals dealing with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender studies will receive fair and equal consideration by the NEH? Or should scholars in these fields not apply for funding?”14
A few weeks later, I received a mass electronic mailing from Arnita Jones, who on behalf of the AHA invited me to participate in Humanities Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. The letter described this as “an annual event that gives grassroots advocates the opportunity to educate Members of Congress and encourage federal support for research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities.” In my response to Jones, I wrote:
“I'm prompted to write by today's invitation from you to participate in 2005 Humanities Advocacy Day (which I realize was sent to a large mailing list). The message led me to review our correspondence from last year about my encounters with the NEH; among the letters I found was ...one...which promised a follow-up from the AHA that never materialized.... I'm concerned about what, if anything, the AHA is doing to address the concerns I raised, which have only increased since the results of this year’s NEH fellowship competition were announced (a few weeks ago). Can you let me know to whom I should address my concerns? I'm willing to share information about my encounters with the NEH this year, but only if the AHA has a genuine interest in dealing with this matter. I understand the AHA's interest in promoting increased funding for the NEH, but if the AHA has reasons to believe that NEH funding practices violate AHA principles (perhaps including the new statement on professional standards [which notes that “practicing history with integrity does not mean being neutral or having no point of view”]), what will the AHA do? Is the AHA investigating? I plan at some point to ask your counterparts with the OAH [Organization of American Historians] similar questions related to the column by the NEH Chair that is published in the OAH newsletter. Meanwhile, I certainly cannot support advocating for increased NEH funding if the NEH has decided against supporting LGBT history (regardless of the quality of the proposals or the external expert evaluations of the proposals).”15
After not hearing back from Jones for several weeks, I sent another email, and in March 2005 received a reply: “We have not forgotten you. We are looking into various allegations of flagging from different quarters of the NEH while the Research Division has been working on the more general issue of peer review, because we do not think this is simply an NEH problem. We hope that by working with other disciplines that relate to other federal agencies we might have a better chance of affecting policy. NEH's chair, of course, points out correctly that flagging is not illegal and continues to defend this practice when queried in person, as one of our officers did in a meeting just a couple of weeks ago. We are encouraging our members and others, though, to take full advantage of their rights to reviewer/panelists comments and we can hold NEH's feet to the fire if they refuse to share information they are legally obliged to provide.” Jones did not express interest in learning about my experiences in the 2004 round of competition; nor did anyone else at the AHA.
Meanwhile, I heard from NEH Acting Director Kolson, who observed that “we relay panelists’ comments as written and cannot offer further interpretation.”16 Kolson wrote as well, “It is not surprising that the panelists’ substantive criticism of your proposal are not entirely consistent with the work of last year’s panel, since our policy calls for 100% turnover of NEH Fellowships panelists from one year to the next. One of the reasons for this policy is to ensure that revised and resubmitted proposals are reviewed without prejudice.”17
Shortly thereafter, I wrote to Wyland, noting that I had received Kolson’s recent letter, “which purported to respond” to my questions. “Specifically,” I noted,
“there was no answer to my questions about (1) the members of the NEH Council assigned to the subcommittee; (2) how the ratings I received compared to the ratings given to the proposals that were funded; (3) how many proposals in the American History group were funded...; (4) which of the funded proposals were considered by the panel that considered my proposal. I received answers to comparable questions last year, so in the absence of responses this year should I assume that the NEH has changed its policy or practice with respect to compliance with the Freedom of Information Act? In addition, I am confused by Mr. Kolson's claim that the NEH staff ‘relay panelists' comments as written and cannot offer further interpretation.’ I believe that one of your letters to me interpreted the comments of the panelists and now I am not certain about whether the words you used represented the words of the panelists or your interpretation of their words. Also, is this a new policy, as last year NEH staff offered their interpretation of the comments of the panelists? Finally, Mr. Kolson only indirectly replied to my question about whether proposals dealing with sexuality studies and proposals dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies will received fair and equal consideration by the NEH. Should I assume from his response that if such proposals meet all of the other standards and criteria used by the NEH they will be funded?”
My final communication from the NEH came in the form of an April letter from Acting Director Kolson. On the issue of which members of the NEH Council had reviewed the grant proposals, he indicated that the names should have been supplied to me earlier and now he provided them: Jewel Spears Brooker, Nathan Hatch, Andrew Ladis, Wilfred McClay, and Stephan Thernstrom.18 As for my questions about panel ratings and funded proposals, Kolson wrote that “the NEH does not compile or synthesize such information.” In response to my final questions, Kolson advised me that “there are no new policies with regard to the interpretation of panelist comments that are provided to applicants who request them” and insisted that “all proposals to the NEH receive fair and equal consideration.”
1. As I reported in an article published in Perspectives, “with only two exceptions, respondents who have completed history dissertations that are more than one-third lgbtq in contents are not currently employed in TTE [tenure-track or equivalent] positions in which U.S. history departments acted as the primary hiring units.” Significantly, slightly more than half of the 32 respondents with completed dissertations were in tenure-track or equivalent positions, but the vast majority were in history departments outside the United States; in women’s studies, gender studies, American Studies, or other non-history units; or in positions in which a U.S. history department had not acted as the primary initiator of the hiring. My conclusion was that “despite a significant increase in the number of lgbtq history PhDs produced over the past decade, U.S. history departments have not made a commensurate increase in hiring such scholars to tenure-track positions.” See Marc Stein, “Committee on Lesbian and Gay History Survey on LGBTQ History Careers,” Perspectives 39, no. 5 (May 2001): 29-31; Marc Stein, “Committee on Lesbian and Gay History Survey on LGBTQ History Careers,” June 2001.
2. See Marc Stein, “Crossing Borders: Memories, Dreams, Fantasies, and Nightmares of the History Job Market,” Left History 9, no. 2 (Spring/Summer 2004): 119-139.
3. For early products of the research project, see “Boutilier and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Sexual Revolution,” Law and History Review 23, no. 3 (Fall 2005): 491-536; “Forgetting and Remembering a Deported Alien,” History News Network, 3 November 2003; “Crossing the Border to Memory: In Search of Clive Michael Boutilier (1933-2003),” torquere 6 (2004): 91-115 (published 2005); “The U.S. Supreme Court’s Sexual Counter-Revolution,” OAH Magazine of History (forthcoming, 2006).
4. The complete set of comments sent to me via regular mail were as follows: Panelist 1: “This is not my area of expertise so I can’t assess the originality of the proposal. But the argument is very compelling and sounds right on target to me. I would like to see Stein write a substantive conclusion on post 1973 developments that would include a discussion of the sodomy cases (1985 [sic], 2003) and also ‘Roe’s’ reversal of her prior stance on adoption [sic].” Panelist 2: “Ambitious, authoritative.” Panelist 3: “Timely topic. Solid research design - likely to complete on time. Ideal combination of solid research and a topic that has a broad appeal.” Panelist 4: “Does it matter that he lives and teaches in Canada? 2000 book on gay history in Philadelphia. This project is conceptually broader (despite short time horizon). Seems truly revisionary and significant. A very timely topic, given debates about same sex marriage. Emphasizes history of Supreme Court decisions privileging monogamous heterosexuality.” Panelist 5: “The project will change the way we think about the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s; about the Warren Court; and about the culture wars of the last forty years. Furthermore, it will be of tremendous interest to a general public. Stein has an outstanding reputation as a scholar of sexuality. His first book is bold and important. This one will be even more so. The project’s juxtaposition of landmark court cases relating to sexuality serves to bring into the mainstream issues that are often ghettoized, especially the history of homosexuality in the U.S. It makes a great deal of sense to study the Supreme Court’s decisions and the responses to them, but I wonder if the author will be able to complete the research in that it is an overwhelming amount of material to plow through. His research design, however, is sensible. This is a project worth funding in that Stein will need a great deal of time to complete it, and if he does, it will be an important book. In time Stein will complete the project. He has a strong track record and is well-regarded. He has already given papers on the subject and the clamor for the book will drive him.” Handwritten notes on this evaluation stated, “Conversation convinced me that this project’s research plan is feasible and that Stein is the right person for this project.”
The query about my living and teaching in Canada (which incidentally is not supposed to disqualify me) is interesting in light of the findings of the CLGH study, which suggested that a disproportionate number of LGBTQ historians trained in the United States have obtained tenure-track positions outside the United States.
5. The panelists’ institutional affiliations are as follows: Leslie Brown (Washington University), Yong Chen (University of California, Irvine), Sandra Gustafson (Notre Dame), Alexis McGrossen (Southern Methodist University), and Carla Peterson (University of Maryland).
6. Note that the overall success rate was 14%, whereas the American History/American Studies success rate was 9%. Had the American History/American Studies success rate been 14%, six proposals would have been funded in this category.
7 . This was a curious choice of words for a project that has little to say about the visual or the anal.
8. Anne Marie Borrego, “Humanities Endowment Returns to ‘Flagging’ Nontraditional Projects,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 16 Jan. 2004, A1, A20-A21. According to the article, “The practice [of flagging], which is as old as the agency itself, allows NEH officials to identify specific grant applications–often, these days, projects dealing with sexuality, race, or gender–for extra review. In some cases, flagged proposals that receive high marks from peer-review panels are rejected, while those with low marks receive funds.” See also Kelly Field, “Humanities Endowment Opens Inquiry Into Alleged Leak to a Reporter,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 May 2004; Mary Jacoby, “Madame Cheney’s Cultural Revolution,” Salon.com, 26 Aug. 2004.
It is difficult to know with certainty whether any of the NEH 2004 faculty research awards or fellowships funded projects dealing with same-sex, intersex, or transgender sexualities. None of the titles contain the words “bisexual,” “gay,” “homosexual, “intersex,” “lesbian,” “queer,” “transgender,” or “transsexual.” Three contain the words “sexual” or “sexuality”: “Roman Imperial Family Values and Earl Christian and Jewish Sexual Politics,” “Sexuality, Illegitimacy, and Family in the Hispanic World,” and “Sexuality, Medicine, and American Society: Dr. Mary Calderone and the Politics of Sex.” Two invoke the term “love” and one uses the term “marriage.” If gender and race are defined broadly, many of the projects appear to deal with these topics; a smaller group invoke specific terms such as fatherhood (1), gender (2), matriarchal (1), men (1), race (5), and women (5). The funding of these projects does not mean that projects dealing with gender and race are not subject to heightened scrutiny (to borrow a term from legal discourse).
In 2003, no project title contained the words sex, sexual, or sexuality and I am not able to identify any LGBTQ studies scholars among the fellowship recipients. In 2002 no project title contained the words sex, sexual, or sexuality, but James N. Green, author of Beyond Carnival: Male Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Brazil, was awarded a fellowship for a project titled “Crossroads of Sin and the Collision of Cultures: Pleasure and Popular Entertainment in Rio de Janeiro (1860-1920)”; Lisa Merrill, author of When Romeo Was a Woman: Charlotte Cushman and Her Circle of Female Spectators, was awarded a fellowship for a project titled A Volume of the Selected Letters of Charlotte Cushman, 1816-1876; and Gregory M. Pflugfelder, author of Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600-1950, was awarded a fellowship for a project titled Japanese Gender and Sexuality, 1100-2000.
Of the projects that received NEH fellowship awards in 2005, with the possible exception of one that refers to eunuchs and another that refers to “singlewomen,” none have titles suggesting a focus on same-sex, intersex, or transgender sexualities. One title contains the word “sexual”: “Legal Narratives of Sexual Consent and Coercion in the Early Twentieth Century.” I can identify two LGBTQ studies scholar among the recipients: Judith Bennett, an expert on lesbian sexuality in medieval and early modern Europe, was awarded a fellowship for “Singlewomen” and the History of Late Medieval England, c 1300-1550, and Licia Fiol-Matta, author of A Queer Mother for the Nation: The State and Gabriela Mistral, was awarded a fellowship for a project titled Remembering Cuba: Memory and Loss in Lydia Cabrera’s Writings. If gender and race are defined broadly, many of the projects appear to deal with these topics; a smaller group invoke specific terms such as female (1), gender (4), girl (1), race (3), racial (1), and women (4).
9. “Statement on Peer Review,” Perspectives, Sep. 2005, 64.
10. Jones’s letter included the following statement: “You should be aware that I often speak with unsuccessful applicants on the telephone and give them a better idea of where their proposals finished in comparison with the total number of applications evaluated in their respective panels. I also give them an idea of the feasibility of being successful next time and of their need to address the criticisms of the panelists. Such advice is best given on the telephone, and for that reason I will not repeat this advice here or officially confirm or correct your understanding of our conversation in writing.” For comments on Fox-Genovese’s appointment to the NEH Council, see Jon Wiener, Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud, and Politics in the Ivory Tower (New York: New Press, 2005), 13-30.
11. A short time later, I spoke off the record with another Chronicle reporter investigating flagging and related troubles at the NEH.
12 . The comments forwarded to me electronically were as follows. Panelist 1 (Rating E/VG): “Sexuality and the Supreme Court -- an unlikely combination -- but this project on court rulings betwen [sic] 1965-1973 on the issues that still consume Americans seems to link the two with ease. Stein challenges liberal interpretations of rulings on sexual freedom and sexual citizenship and points to many conservative elements in these decisions. He seems to blame the ‘media’ for misleading the public in the area of ‘rights’ broadly defined. This project, which is well written and intellectually significant, builds upon Stein's earlier work. Looking at what he sees as the disconnect between law and public opinion and social movement activism, he is in an excellent position to take the project in interesting directions.” Panelist 2 (Rating E/VG): “The applicant is likely to complete the project. The proposal seems to ignore the longer history and context and to be driven by a specific personal agenda.” Panelist 3 (Rating E/VG): “Stein ‘juxtoposes [sic] liberalizing rulings on abortion, birth control, interracial marriage, and obscenity with conservative decisions on homosexuality.’ The fact that he says liberalizing rather than liberal is key here. He argues that the Supreme Court did not establish a broadly libertarian or egalitarian doctrine of sexual freedom and citizenship in the 1960s-70s as some have claimed in examing [sic] the decision in the 2003 Lawrence case. Stein argues that the Court actually privileged more traditional forms of sexual expression. Furthermore, he states that liberals and conservatives worked together on this, and finally the mass media misrepresented the development of the new legal regime. In other words, we have to get the history right so as to understand properly current legal and legislative decisions. This is a highly significant project due both to its thought-provoking thesis and its innovative organization and research. Stein's contention that while there are many good accounts on the sexual revolution, none has provided deep analysis of the Court's role, appears correct. Thus this examination of the state's (specifically, a particular institution of the state) role in social reform is valuable. Stein introduces a good argument about the essentially conservative foundations of some of the reforms touted as liberal. That becomes clear when one accepts the argument/evidence that they were not about sexual freedom. That is something that appears confirmed by the Boutilier case. There seems to have been an emphasis on balancing social order and individual rights in these cases. That is born out by the focus on the right to privacy. One thing that may complicate the comparison of the Boutilier case to the others, however, and something which may explain why the Court could dismiss privacy argument in this, was the contemporary interpretation of homosexuality as a pyschological [sic] disorder. If homosexuality was defined as mental as well as social deviancy (and lawyers and judges accepted that), then the Court may have categorized the case differently from the others. That is my off-the-cuff (and maybe off-the-wall) speculation. I am sure Stein answers that in his work by incorporating social context that he could not fit in this proposal. In some ways the issue of the media's role in all this is more significant than the Court's. The media translates court rulings and law for most citizens, thus if it does not do so accurately or puts its own spin on decisions then we have a major problem. And that is what Stein suggests. Stein has done a tremendous amount of research already. His proposal indicates that he intends to do much more. That suggests that he plans to use most of the fellowship year for that; yet it appears that he has finished most of the research and that majority of the year will be spent writing. My conclusion is that he will be moving between the two and that he will be able to draft most of the manuscript. He does present a logical outline of chapters that should make the argument clear to readers. Given his previous work, the NEH can expect that he will produce a highly readable, original book that will provoke a great deal of discussion among those interested in the histories of the Court, social reform, and sexuality.” Panelist 4 (Rating E): “This fellow would seem to be a major figure in the field, with an excellent publication record in the last few years in particular, one recent book. Excellent publications for this stage of his career. This essay features an unusually clear statement of what this proposal is attempting. I’m not that knowledgeable on this specific literature, so I’d defer to better placed people on this, but this certainly looks distinctive and important, and what he says about the historiography sounds right to me. It certainly seems that he has something important to say about the courts and sexuality in the crucial sixties and seventies. He certainly is right that this material is of considerable contemporary interest. His approach encompassing the social history of the law and legal activists looks interesting too, as is the whole issue of public misperceptions of court decisions. I’d be more comfortable if this fellow was himself a lawyer, given the study he is undertaking, but he certainly seems well-situated enough in the field. It isn’t quite clear to me how far along this is, but everything else looks in order.” Panelist 5 (Rating E): “Marc Stein's study of the Warren Court's decisions concerning sexuality promises to be a revisionist and possibly controversial work of scholarship. With a well-conceived and logically-organized project outline, he seems well on his way to completing the study. ‘Inventing Rights and Wrongs’ should contribute to knowledge in several areas -- as legal scholarship and cultural history, for example. His research plan and chapter outline provide a clear indication of where the project is headed.”
13. The panelists’ institutional affiliations are as follows: Elaine Abelson (New School University), Roger Biles (East Carolina University), Edith Blumhofer (Wheaton College), Michael Fitzgerald (St. Olaf College), and Holly Mayer (Duquesne University).
14. The comment about my “personal agenda” is also interesting in the context of my concerns about the potentially conservative uses of my argument about the Supreme Court’s privileging of heterosexual, marital, monogamous, and reproductive sex.
15. The AHA “Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct” (2005) can be found at http://www.historians.org/pubs/Free/ProfessionalStandards.cfm. Among the relevant passages are the following: “Among the core principles of the historical profession that can seem counterintuitive to non-historians is the conviction, very widely if not universally shared among historians since the nineteenth century, that practicing history with integrity does not mean being neutral or having no point of view. Every work of history articulates a particular, limited perspective on the past. Historians hold this view not because they believe that all interpretations are equally valid, or that nothing can ever be known about the past, or that facts do not matter. Quite the contrary. History would be pointless if such claims were true, since its most basic premise is that within certain limits we can indeed know and make sense of past worlds and former times that now exist only as remembered traces in the present. But the very nature of our discipline means that historians also understand that all knowledge is situated in time and place, that all interpretations express a point of view, and that no mortal mind can ever aspire to omniscience. Because the record of the past is so fragmentary, absolute historical knowledge is denied us....
What is true of history is also true of historians. Everyone who comes to the study of history brings with them a host of identities, experiences, and interests that cannot help but affect the questions they ask of the past and the answers they wish to know. When applied with integrity and self-critical fair-mindedness, the political, social, and religious beliefs of historians can appropriately inform their historical practice. Because the questions we ask profoundly shape everything we do——the topics we investigate, the evidence we gather, the arguments we construct, the stories we tell——it is inevitable that different historians will produce different histories.
For this reason, historians often disagree and argue with each other. That historians can sometimes differ quite vehemently not just about interpretations but even about the basic facts of what happened in the past is sometimes troubling to non-historians, especially if they imagine that history consists of a universally agreed-upon accounting of stable facts and known certainties. But universal agreement is not a condition to which historians typically aspire. Instead, we understand that interpretive disagreements are vital to the creative ferment of our profession, and can in fact contribute to some of our most original and valuable insights.
Frustrating as these disagreements and uncertainties may be even for historians, they are an irreducible feature of the discipline. In contesting each other’s interpretations, professional historians recognize that the resulting disagreements can deepen and enrich historical understanding by generating new questions, new arguments, and new lines of investigation. This crucial insight underpins some of the most important shared values that define the professional conduct of historians. They believe in vigorous debate, but they also believe in civility. They rely on their own perspectives as they probe the past for meaning, but they also subject those perspectives to critical scrutiny by testing them against the views of others.
Historians celebrate intellectual communities governed by mutual respect and constructive criticism. The preeminent value of such communities is reasoned discourse——the continuous colloquy among historians holding diverse points of view who learn from each other as they pursue topics of mutual interest. A commitment to such discourse——balancing fair and honest criticism with tolerance and openness to different ideas——makes possible the fruitful exchange of views, opinions, and knowledge.
This being the case, it is worth repeating that a great many dilemmas associated with the professional practice of history can be resolved by returning to the core values that the preceding paragraphs have sought to sketch. Historians should practice their craft with integrity. They should honor the historical record. They should document their sources. They should acknowledge their debts to the work of other scholars. They should respect and welcome divergent points of view even as they argue and subject those views to critical scrutiny. They should remember that our collective enterprise depends on mutual trust. And they should never betray that trust.”
See also the recent column by the president of the AHA: “James J. Sheehan, “How History Can Be a Moral Science,” Perspectives, Oct. 2005, 3-4.
16 . This not true insofar as the comment about my objectivity was an NEH staff member’s interpretation of the meaning of the panelists’ comment about my personal agenda.
17 . Was Kolson suggesting, intentionally or not, that my proposal had been reviewed with favorable prejudice in the first year and with neutral objectivity in the subsequent one? Was he thinking of proposals that might be disadvantaged by coming before panelists who had rejected earlier iterations, which did not seem to apply in my case since in the earlier case the panel had recommended funding for my project?
18 . On Thernstrom’s appointment to the NEH Council, see Wiener, Historians in Trouble, 58-69.
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