Blogs > Cliopatria > Some Things I Hadn't Yet Noted ...

Jul 12, 2005 8:53 pm

Some Things I Hadn't Yet Noted ...

Women's Review: The Women's Review of Books was founded in 1983, won considerable respect and a peak circulation of 12,000. Circulation declined to 5,500 by December 2004, however, when rising debt forced it to cease publication. The Boston Globe reports that Wellesley College has reached an agreement with Old City Publishing that will allow the WRB to renew publication. The revived WRB will have a visual redesign and will appear every other month, rather than monthly. Thanks to Moby Lives for the tip.

On Theory: Led by John Holbo, The Valve is sponsoring its first book event. This one is on Daphni Patai and Will H. Corral, eds., Theory's Empire: An Anthology of Dissent. The book's table of contents lists many distinguished contributors, including K. Anthony Appiah, Mark Bauerlein, Noam Chomsky, Frederick Crews, Dennis Donoghue, Morris Dickstein, Todd Gitlin, Russell Jacoby, Frank Kermode, Erin O'Connor, John Searle, Alan Sokal, and Rene Wellek. Holbo introduces the book event here. Already, Mark Bauerlein at Butterflies and Wheels, Michael Berube at his blog, John McGowan at Public Intelligence, and Scott Eric Kaufman at The Valve have published their contributions to the book event. It will continue over the next two weeks and occur at many different sites on the net. When it is concluded, the folks at The Valve will bundle all of the contributions and make them available at one site on the net under a Creative Commons license. Cliopatricians and other history bloggers are invited to join the discussion of theory, either here or on their own blogs. As we say in the classroom, it won't hurt if you've done the reading and be sure to notify John Holbo of your post, so that he will know to link to it.

On Self-Knowledge: Clayton Cramer is holding a pity party. Exposing Michael Bellesiles's errors destroyed his own career in academe, he says. And, now, an editor of a university press objects to his submitting his manuscript to its review for publication and, concurrently, hiring a literary agent to shop the manuscript around. Well, no, Clayton. You're wrong on both scores. On the first one, you didn't destroy your career in academe by exposing Michael Bellesiles's errors in Arming America. You chose not to do the hard work of earning a doctorate. You have a Master's degree from Sonoma State. Yes, Ward Churchill has only a Master's degree from Sangamon State. Need I say more? Do you expect academic communities to make the exception for you that one of them made for him? If you do, please refrain from complaining about him. Do you have any idea how many people with doctorates from much more prestigious institutions than Salgamon State or Sonoma State go unhired in any given academic year? On the second one, you broke the rule: No dual submissions. Now you are complaining because of a rule they explained to you right up front. The argument that academic presses won't publish controversial work is nonsense. Witness Beyond Chutzpah. My intuition is that the manuscript is a dog. I know it may be hard to admit that, but you've been shopping it around for a long time and haven't found any takers, even in the world of conservative trade publishers. Take a hint.

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Tomas Kaldor - 7/18/2005

Many interesting issues have been raised in these exchanges. Certainly, the proposition that Cramer's fate has been adversely affected by his dismantling of Bellesiles is, to put it charitably, under-determined by the evidence. So to is the invocation of a general rule of thumb to pronounce that Cramer has violated a particular press' policy on dual submissions. Disturbing too is the JER editor's credulous acceptance of Bellesiles' claims, as well as the editor's readiness to lay blame at the feet of NRA membership. The reluctance to publish simply critical articles is understandable. Why then the excursion into what can't be known to be true?

Still, the profession of historian, to the extent that it is a profession, would have profited from a careful reconsideration of the merits of Bellesiles' writing, had the "profession", in its professional capacity, actually paid some attention to Cramer's Dec. 1997 letter in the JAH. The Bancroft committee would have profited, at the least. So too would have Knopf. To be fair, all parties would have been better served if Cramer's 1997 letter had pointed out the methodological flaws of not providing sample size, nor citing particular archives and file numbers. As Lindgren has put it, it's astonishing that both Bellesiles' paper and book were published, and awarded prizes, with such a glaring error. I applaud the fact that the JAH, in a demonstration of professionalism, published Cramer's letter, to the extent it actually cited evidence. But why didn't it insist that drawing possible conclusions about the probate records, based on deficiencies in narrative accounts, was beyond the standards one would allow? Professionalism seems a hit-and-miss proposition, even at organs which should be setting the highest standards for the profession.

Prof. Luker does raise interesting questions about professionalization. The highly professionalized occupations have national examination standards for admission, as well as continuing education requirements. They also don't rely on individual academic institutions for professional discipline of wayward members.

Jonathan Dresner - 7/15/2005

Hah! Well, at least I have an abbreviation, now.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 7/15/2005

I'm only "fixated" on it because it appears as though I'm subject to retaliation for having raised the issue--and even worse, for not being part of the club with the secret handshake.

If you think that I'm paranoid about retaliation, you read this snotty note from the editor of the Journal of the Early Republic (in response to this paper that I submitted), and tell me if you can detect what a lot of others read into it. Also, see this examination of how Robert Ireland attacked my book Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic. Hint: he attacked me for using a theory of causation that Ireland first advanced. I cited his work and made it clear that he was the originator of that theory, and that I thought it was correct. You would think if you were going to attack a theory that you came up with, that you would at least acknowledge that you were the originator of the theory that you now find implausible.

But it is all about retaliation for poor Michael Bellesiles, isn't it?

Clayton Earl Cramer - 7/15/2005

Jonathan, usually. It is okay to be embarrassed on this, because colonial Americans are notorious for quirky spellings and occasionally quirk abbreviations.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 7/15/2005

Actually, no, I don't believe that. The problem was that a lot of people who should have been concerned enough to look into this matter refused to do so. I wasn't asking Emory to fire Bellesiles, at least initially. My upset was that no one in the academic community was prepared to even seriously look at the charges of fraud--and it was easy to demonstrate it. There was no need for a detailed knowledge of the subject to see how gross of a fraud this was--and it was impossible to get anyone to look at it.

Jonathan Dresner - 7/15/2005

Well, the first mention of a dog is in the dedication. I'm pretty sure that's not what you meant, though.

Quick question: what name is "Jno." (29) an abbreviation for? I'm familiar with some of the old shortcuts (Wm., Jos.). If you tell me it's "Jonathan" I'll be a bit embarassed....

Ralph E. Luker - 7/15/2005

Nobody is claiming to be "god-like" and the Bellesiles episode is an embarrassment to all American historians. Most of us are trying to learn its lessons, apply them, and move on. Some few of us are fixated on it.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 7/15/2005

"Would you be happy to have the book published and then withdrawn? Would you like to have the Bancroft, only to have it rescended?"

No, but it tells me a lot about how gullible the historical profession is that Arming America was widely accepted--and only after non-historians raised a stink in the popular press was there any serious examination of its claims. Anyone who has studied colonial or early Republic America should have been at least skeptical of Bellesiles's claims--especially since they were often so bizarrely over-the-top, and his claims on one page often contradicted his claims on another page. I had just an MA, barely fit to clean the toilet of you god-like PhDs, and it was obviously wrong in the first 80 pages, and obviously massively fraudulent by page 190.

When Arming America first started, I briefly toyed with the idea that Bellesiles wrote it as something like Sokal's article in Social Text--an attempt to demonstrate how willingly historians would buy an obviously absurd claim because it conformed to their politics (which are about 90% left of center). But Bellesiles never did what Sokal did--and try to shame the American historians with their ignorance of the documents and time.

Ralph E. Luker - 7/15/2005

Oh, I see. You believe that a tenured member of the faculty of a major research university should be dismissed without any process. His rights would be outlined in the faculty handbook and any violation of them would, rightly, be grounds for the outrage of all faculty members and for civil litigation -- in which the University's violation of his rights as a faculty member, not the credibility of his publications, was the primary issue.

Ralph E. Luker - 7/15/2005

Thanks, Clayton. I'll be happy to take a look at it and, if I think I'm wrong, I'll eat those words. Really, tho, those last words on #64776 are a bit much. Would you be happy to have the book published and then withdrawn? Would you like to have the Bancroft, only to have it rescended?

Clayton Earl Cramer - 7/15/2005

"My intuition is that the manuscript is a dog."

Okay, the first five chapters are visible at Tell me why it's a dog--give me a detailed, page number description of where it starts to bark. I look forward to your detailed explanation of why it doesn't deserve publication--while outright frauds such as Michael Bellesiles's book did.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 7/15/2005

Due process rights? I wasn't aware that Emory University was going to send him to prison. Certainly I wasn't in any position to do so.

Ralph E. Luker - 7/14/2005

Since my only remarks in re Bellesiles were a defense of his due process rights against those who would deny him that, your parenthetical note suggests that you believe that, unlike accused murderers, rapists, terrorists, and child molesters, Michael Bellesiles deserved no due process. That's an odd position for a flag-waving and constitution-defending patriot like yourself to take.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 7/14/2005

"As I've told you before, it isn't that I don't like you. But look at your own explanation here for why you're career took the turn that it did. If what you say here is true, then whatever you did in re Bellesiles doesn't have explanatory power. Beyond that, you've also said that you didn't pursue a doctorate because you couldn't afford to take the income cut that it would entail."

There were several reasons. It is difficult to justify the investment of time and money to take a huge cut in pay--especially if the odds are excellent that you won't be employable anyway.

"but your generalizations about historians closing ranks... are crap"

It was pretty impressive at the time. It was only after the popular press started to make an issue of it that any serious discussion took place. You were on some of the mailing lists when the controversy started (and you did your part to defend Bellesiles).

Clayton Earl Cramer - 7/13/2005

"Clayton, No dual submissions is a rule of thumb in history publication."

Some university presses have that rule; most that I have contacted do not. And I made that point in the blog entry that you linked to--but you seemed to have missed that point.

"It may be frustrating, but it is understandable that no journal or press is interested in investing time and money in a text, only to be told that another venue has accepted it."

And I made that point in the blog entry to which you linked. Why is that you missed it?

Ralph E. Luker - 7/13/2005

Clayton, No dual submissions is a rule of thumb in history publication. It may be frustrating, but it is understandable that no journal or press is interested in investing time and money in a text, only to be told that another venue has accepted it.
As I've told you before, it isn't that I don't like you. But look at your own explanation here for why you're career took the turn that it did. If what you say here is true, then whatever you did in re Bellesiles doesn't have explanatory power. Beyond that, you've also said that you didn't pursue a doctorate because you couldn't afford to take the income cut that it would entail.
As you well know, it was the three historians on Emory's external review committee who made the decisive recommendation in the Bellesiles case. Behind that were the articles by historians in the Wm & Mary Quarterly symposium. Jim Lindgren and you made important contributions, but your generalizations about historians closing ranks, "as long as they could, to protect a fraud" are crap, Clayton. Historians don't speak with a single voice and you know it.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 7/13/2005

"What has Cramer ever done to supercede the work of those who went and received their PhD?"

I didn't engage in massive fabrication, like Michael Bellesiles, Ph.D., nor did I defend that massive fabrication long after it was obvious that there were serious problems.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 7/13/2005

"who are as worthless in terms of intelligence and scholarship as Cramer is."

Would you care to defend your position in attacking my intelligence and scholarship? Can you?

Clayton Earl Cramer - 7/13/2005

"On the second one, you broke the rule: No dual submissions."

No, that was NOT the rule of the press in question. It wasn't their rule when I submitted the original manuscript, or when I submitted the revised manuscript. There are presses that have such rules; this wasn't one of them.

"The argument that academic presses won't publish controversial work is nonsense."

I agree that it is nonsense. Do you recognize when someone (the new editor) is making an escuse?

"My intuition is that the manuscript is a dog."

Hmmm. Why did the previous editor request that I revise and resubmit? Is that what you do with a dog?

"You chose not to do the hard work of earning a doctorate."

Do you know why I haven't pursued a doctorate in history? Because I've seen the way that a lot of historians closed ranks, as long as they could, to protect a fraud.

Tell you what, Mr. Self-Righteous: I'll email you the manuscript. Put it under the microsocope of your dislike of me, and you tell me what's wrong. I know that this isn't your area of specialization, but I also know that if it is the dog that you claim, you will be able to immediately be able to tell me in what ways it is a dog.

Derek Charles Catsam - 7/12/2005

Even in relatively less populated subject areas, a job search will have dozens of applicants. Out of those applicants, ten will make the next stage and 3-4 will be shortlisted. In sum, the credential is just the first step of an extensive evaluation, not, as the implication of Mr. Lederer would indicate, something more nefarious.

Mr. Lederer's comment does not actually say anything -- note the lack of specificity, the implication of an accusation without actually making one, a level of generalization that makes it worthless. Most historians I know enjoy our work, and yes, find it fun. I would aver that we have no more incompetents than any area of endeavor and maybe fewer. Further, there are many exceptional practitioners, including young ones recently drawn to the field, and they are producing great work. Basically, I have no idea what he is talking about in his comment and would welcome clarification.


Oscar Chamberlain - 7/12/2005

John, I sympathize with part of your point. Ideally, any and every hire, in and out of academia, should be by a personal, extensive and fair evaluation. Degrees seem less reliable, but there are realities beyond the control of universities that make it hard not to rely on them.

The market for professional jobs in both the private and public sectors is world wide. Universities often take 100s of applications from all 50 states and a number of foreign countries for a single job. Much of the hiring is of younger scholars who have some output, but not a lot. That's one of the reasons that the interview is so important. Yet, as we have been discussing at length around here, interviews have their own imperfections.

The problem is not limited to the humanities. In the hard sciences, because of specialization, it is often the case that the people on the search committee cannot fully evaluate the scholarship of all the applicants.

In this context, degrees, rather like a credit rating, provide evidence of a certain level of competence. The source of the degrees also provides some evidence. Taking the economic metaphor farther, letters of recommendations are like the old letters of credit. Where the recipient knows and respects the sender, recommendations have great weight. If they do not know each other, then the credentials of the sender become key to the value that the recipient gives the letter.

In short, the reliance on degrees reflects, in part, the necessary "impersonalization" that a worldwide market demands because in such a large market, the range of choices outstrips our ability to evaluate everyone in depth. And, in defense of higher ed hiring, in many respects university hires are more personal--for better and for worse--than you will find in the private sector.

PS Are you saying that I'm not exceptional? :)

Ralph E. Luker - 7/12/2005

Mr. Lederer, I think this is interesting and provocative. There's considerable interest among American historians, at least, in the process of professionalization. I wonder if you would extend your generalizations to other professionals: lawyers, doctors, etc. The generalizations' implied antidote, I suppose, would be "de-professionalization," a move in the direction of free market practice in which anyone could simply hang up whatever shingle they chose and either survive or don't as clients gather around them or don't. I do find this comment by you a little strange because, as a commenter at HNN, you have rather consistently been critical of the partial professionalization of historians, as for example our abandon of formal processes of adjudicating charges of malpractice and attempting to impose formal sanctions by our professional organizations. Which is it? Do you want us thoroughly free-marketized? Or do you want us more systematically bureaucratized and professionalized?

Derek Charles Catsam - 7/12/2005

Chris --
What you have to understand is that the PhD is the union card in our profession. It is easy to talk about letters after our names as if they are meaningless. But to be a historian takes many years of reading and mastering and getting to know a literature, and if you want to be compettive in this job market, you may need to be able to speak to more than one. A PhD indicates that you have done at least three things, each more sigfnificant than the last, that take lots of time and effort -- 1)Get through a set amount of coursework in a reasonable time period and with tremendous success. 2) Pass a comprehensive exam proocess that in many cases is the single hardest thing most of us had to do. The reason for this? There is an enormous literature out there that historians need to know. Going through this process is vitally important. Being a historian means knowing books. Comps are a part of that process and one that really is crucial. 3) The dissertation. being a histroian means that you can actually research and write history. It does not require a PhD, of course, to write, and many fine books are written every year by those without this step. But if you want a position in academia, this is something you need to prove you can do and do it reasonably well. Furthermore, while we all know those who write fine history books and do not have a PhD, as a general rule, history written by historians is almost universally better qua history.

In my main area of modern US, it is so competitive as not to be funny. Each year there will be literally hundreds more PhD's than jobs. This is why if someone mocks the institution at which a person is a professor, especially in US history, they are pretty much either ignorant or just a jerk -- having a job in this market is incredibly tough. If I had not picked up Africa early on and worked hard to become reasonably adept at it and even then largely by finding the comparative framework of race, politics, and social movements in the US and South Africa, the odds are decent that I'd be one of those adjuncts who never break in or the folks who do not even get that far. In some subdisciplines, such people are the exception and not the rule.

And so back to your point, but especially to Cramer's: mentors matter, sure. But there are lots of fine mentors out there who we may not know all that well but who produce fantastic students. But even if that is the case, if you do not have the PhD, then how can you seriously claim that mentorship is the key? Cramer does not warrant a place in academia. And the marketplace will dictate whether or not he deserves a book contract. (one would think that someone from his side of the aisle would especially celebrate the marketplace; apparently that is a stance of convenience.) And this idea that a controversial book is what is holding him back is utter nonsense -- controversial books are at the top of the list of every publisher's desires. I cannot speak to the quality of Cramer's book. I thought he did a decent job of providing a wedge during the Bellisles case, but that the dam actually broke when better historians than he took up the charge and put together the case. Be that as it may -- I always find the argument that someone is being conspired against to be pretty dubious. It could be one of two things -- the market is oversaturated, or else people are not finding your work compelling. Again, I cannot speak to his work. I have not read it and in any case, colonial era gun ownership is far from anything I would even claim to be my ambit. If the book truly is good, it will find a market somewhere. But I can speak to the fact that every profession has standards. What has Cramer ever done to supercede the work of those who went and received their PhD? After all, two chapters of my dissertation and manuscript deal with legal history. Does that mean I deserve to be called a lawyer if I raise enough of a stink and, using your standard, can name a list of respected legal scholars who have supported my work? Of course not. Now don't let me put words in your mouth -- perhaps you do not think that alwyers ought to have to have those letters after their name or pass some silly test. That is between you and your profession. But I would have no right to try to come in through the back door and tell you that it is ridiculous and more than a bit childish for lawyers to be so proprietary about their profession. As a general rule, professionals have a right to be proprietary about their profession. That would seem to be a truism. Apparently not.

No one says that a PhD has to mean everything. But most of us who have them are not going to be told silly things about "letters after our names" as if the letters exist in some independent world separate from the one in which those letters are earned. Those kletters indicate a process and a series of accomplishments, not simply some sort of secret knock and handshake that someone has learned to perform. (Though the handshake really is cool . . .)


John H. Lederer - 7/12/2005

When any endeavour has reached the mass and complexity where people are no longer able to judge the competency of the actors and must use credentials:

1. It is no longer fun
2. It has a considerable number of incompetents engaged in it.
3. It will no longer attract exceptional practitioners.
4. It will rarely, if ever, produce important or great things.

Ralph E. Luker - 7/12/2005

Sorry, Chris, if I struck some kind of chord with you. Your point is obviously correct. It simply is the case, however, that many people who are better prepared intellectually and have done the hard work of the credentialing process have gone unemployed in a difficult marketplace. I was merely reminding Brother Cramer of that fact. There's nothing "childish" about a dissertation, so far as I can tell. Cramer assumes that his lack of credentials is overcome by his high level of intellectual sophistication. I think not.

chris l pettit - 7/12/2005

While I share in the disdain of Cramer, this whole "letters after your name are important" bit is rather ridiculous and more than a bit childish. I know plenty of people who have advanced degrees from schools one would probably trumpet who are as worthless in terms of intelligence and scholarship as Cramer is. Experience and education do not automatically mean intelligence or wisdom...or a lack of an ignorant ideology for that matter. I would submit that it is who you do your work under, who your mentors are, and the way in which your scholarship develops that makes you a worthy scholar or not. Letters after ones name are earns you neither respect or the label of an authority on a matter...except maybe in the eyes of a few sheep unable to critically think for themselves.


Andrew Ackerman - 7/12/2005

Poor Clayton.