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Aug 23, 2007 3:03 am

Thursday Notes

One of our colleagues sent me a link to this. I trust you've seen it. It's the sort of thing one's glad about having nothing to do. I hadn't known that Dierdre McCloskey has an appointment in history at UIC. She's one of those economists who've thought economic history too important to be left to the historians.

For our purposes, it underscores a point that Eric Rauchway made some time ago: that economic history is alive and well, but it's being done by economists. If so, and I think Eric's essentially correct, there seems to be a sort of disconnect in attempted conversations between those of us trained as historians and those economists who are now doing the economic history. Two cases in point: Cliopatria's symposium on Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms and the conversation that ranges between Brad deLong's"Slouching Towards Utopia: The Economic World of the Twentieth Century, Pre-World War I China," 13 August, and Alan Baumler's"Was China Stagnant for 700 Years?" Frog in a Well/China, 14 August.

My friend, Eric Scott Kaufman, would like to have a link to or, at least, an acknowledgment of his post at Acephalous. It renews a demand by the minions of Michael Bérubé in the midst of a blog war that ranged over four blogs two years ago. I want to be very clear with Kaufman: you have every right to criticize KC Johnson's work as much as you please. Hold it up to parody and scorn, even, if you will. None of us is immune to criticism. But beware of that fact. Your own modest contributions to scholarship are nothing, yet, by comparison with KC's (scroll down). And your presumptuous demand about who should and who should not be a member of Cliopatria only gives credence to the claims of those who see a totalitarian instinct in the academic left. O.K.?

Andrew Sullivan,"Victor Davis Hanson, Fabulist," Daily Dish, 22 August. I hesitate to harsh on Hanson because he untangled a Vernon Johns knot of mixed and mangled classical references that I would never have untangled on my own. But, really, Victor, you're such a fine classicist ....

Niall Ferguson,"Dollar Diplomacy," New Yorker, 27 August, reviews Greg Behrman's The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and the Time When America Helped Save Europe.

Scott McLemee's"Oh, Canada," IHE, 22 August, on"American" and"Canadian" identity, draws a lively discussion.

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Gareth Evans Jones - 8/25/2007

Adam Kotsko - 8/25/2007

Scott, like many others, is criticizing KC qua blogger, not qua historical scholar. I've actually enjoyed KC's posts when he talked about areas within his specialty, such as the history of congress, etc.

But, you know, point taken: in this case, the tenured academic definitely has a better CV than the grad student.

Nonpartisan - 8/25/2007

"Finally, I'm a bit amused by the Howoritzian argument, as I have been publicly denounced by Horowitz"

Hey, me too! Being publicly denounced by Horowitz is coming to be seen as a rite of passage in the profession, I think.

Robert KC Johnson - 8/24/2007

I replied to Scott Kaufman's post on his blog; I thought I would reproduce my reply here.


Many thanks for the link to DIW; and also for your suggestions on how to manage Cliopatria.

To respond to your two general criticisms:

1.) If I were planning to keep DIW open for the next 73 weeks, I probably would do a Group profile for all 88 members. I am not, however: the blog will have active posst only through next week, and then a few ending posts in September. For the series, then, I tried to choose people who had been active in the lacrosse case (neither Hardt for Wald, to my knowledge, have commented on the case other than signing their statements), with posts somewhat evenly distributed between the departments that included most of the ad's signatories.

Lest your readers misunderstand the focus of DIW: the Group profile series has featured 15 posts (after Monday's concluding post on Bill Chafe). To date, the blog has had 971 posts.

2.) On Harris' "corporate" claim for the academy: your post, in fact, proves the weak nature of Harris' analysis. In any "corporate" environment, Wahneema Lubiano would have been fired long ago. Here's a professor who received tenure without a scholarly monograph, has been claiming to have two monographs forthcoming and under contract for 10 years(!), and in the last eight years, according to her CV, has produced four pages of scholarship. Yet she has a lifetime job, at a salary of probably $100,000. Whatever that arrangement is, it's surely not "corporate."

Moroever, for someone so convinced that the academy is structured in a "corporate" way, Harris didn't seem to behave that way when it came to his own actions. As the head of the University Writing Program and thus "manager" of "contingent labor," Harris should have recognized the dilemma that he presented to his "subordinates" by signing the Group of 88's ad. To maintain employment in the ruthless "corporate" world, surely they would feel some pressure--implicit or explicit--to sign the ad themselves, and thus remain in the good graces of their "boss."

And, indeed, five did so.

Finally, I'm a bit amused by the Howoritzian argument, as I have been publicly denounced by Horowitz and have publicly opposed (through an AHA amendment) the ABOR. In any event, Until Proven Innocent has received strong words of praise from ACLU president Nadine Strossen; former Crossfire co-host and LA Times editorial page editor Mike Kinsley; defense attorney and author John Grisham; and Kirkus Reviews. It would strike me as rather unlikely that such figures would endorse a book that was "positively Horowitzian in tenor and substance."

Jonathan Dresner - 8/23/2007

I wouldn't say that historians are "less honest" about counterfactuals -- I've been telling students for years that causality implies counterfactuals -- but that they're (generally) considerably more careful about how they construct them, and more aware -- at least more aware than economists -- that there is a multi-causal explanation for most events.

Scott Eric Kaufman - 8/23/2007

A thousand word post is its own reward, in my book. I did grant that he got it right, that in this case, unlike so many others, the rape allegations were false, the rush to judgment a tragedy.

So yes, you can argue with KC, and he presents arguments enough for substantial debate. His work on the case itself speaks to this. But there's something thin about his work on the Group of 88 that bothers me, since it's bound to make a splash in conservative circles. I suppose the reason I equated it with Horowitz -- without knowing that KC's published there, actually -- is that he's reading benign statements about the necessity of teaching critical thinking as proof of liberal indoctrination. Bauerlein wouldn't have a problem with Harris's phrasing -- although he might with how it's implemented -- which is why it struck me as dishonest.

I didn't know that's there's case law about the catalog copy. (Granted, there's case law about everything, so I should've.) I've heard syllabi challenged in this respect, but never catalog descriptions. So I stand corrected.

"I don't expect all of my colleagues to do just *only* as I do."

It's the methodology that bothers me more than the conclusions drawn from it, since his methodology seems determinative. Had I my wits more about me yesterday, I'd have noted that he's doing to those professors what the Duke community did to those students: seeing them as exemplars of a stereotype they already revile. Evidence that's counter-indicated will be ignored and/or twisted to conform with the accepted narrative.

What I mean is, methodologically speaking, there are some norms in the historical community: don't invent "facts," don't willfully misconstrue, &c. KC's work on the Group of 88 -- or, shall I say, the remaining Group of 74, whether excised or ignored -- doesn't seem to meet those standards. And some solid, responsible scholars may be tarred by the national media because of it.

I don't think we're fundamentally disagreeing here.

Ralph E. Luker - 8/23/2007

KC was a founding member of Cliopatria and we've always been very clear that no one of us speaks for the others. I think it's refreshing that there is offense for some of us in what others of us might say -- because I find that offense (not incivility, but intellectual offense) challenges me to *think*. KC has challenged you to *think* about what's wrong with what he does. You haven't said "thank you."
I do occasionally wince at some of the things KC writes. And I wouldn't publish at *Front Page Rag*, as he has. But then such other distinguished luminaries as Michael Berube and Tim Burke have appeared at *Front Page Rag* -- something that I wouldn't do. I don't expect all of my colleagues to do just *only* as I do.
And I'm not an attorney, but there is case law about catalog copy being contractual. Others have complained about KC's use of syllabi and of catalogue copy to make an argument -- cherry-picking they've called it -- but if a case were to go to court, evidence that's cherry-picked is still evidence.

Alan Allport - 8/23/2007

I think historians are a good deal less honest about their use of counterfactuals than they ought to be. Any causal explanation implicitly invokes a counterfactual claim - if an outcome is caused by a certain condition then the absence of that condition must necessarily have produced a different outcome.

Scott Eric Kaufman - 8/23/2007

I didn't say KC should be barred from posting, merely that his presence here does you and the other contributors a disservice. As for why I'm holding him up to higher standards: he wrote that the blog was the boilerplate for his contributions to the book, and the posts are substantially researched even when they're fundamentally wrong.

I suppose the brunt of my complaint's based on what's sure to follow the publication of his book: national media attention, a (virtual) tour of right-wing talk shows, &c. They're going to take what he says seriously, and that solid, responsible scholars like Harris are going to be maligned because, well, because KC's willfully misreading his CV and course descriptions.

There was another instance of this that I didn't include: he links to course description in a general catalog, then claims it's a contract between the teacher and a student. That's patently absurd: catalog descriptions aren't written by the professor in question; they're the general departmental guidelines. You know this, I know this, and because KC seems competent, I've got to assume he does too. Which makes his transformation of a catalog description into a syllabus all the more odious.

Barry DeCicco - 8/23/2007

Ralph: "I hesitate to harsh on Hanson because he untangled a Vernon Johns knot of mixed and mangled classical references that I would never have untangled on my own. But, really, Victor, you're such a fine classicist ...."

Who, outside of peer-reviewed writings, is a combination of depraved warmonger and liar. He's a disgrace to historians.

If somebody asked you 'Why study history? It's all stuff in the past, with no relevance to the future?', one might say that knowing the past gives one valuable skill in examining the present, and anticipating the future. Under that theory, VDH is either a colossal moral disgrace to the profession (stone liar for whom historical facts count for little) or colossal fool (see how well his writings from the past few years have aged).

david maclaren mcdonald - 8/23/2007

As a Canadian expatriate of long-time residence in the States, I could punch out an exhaustive and exhausting response to McLemee's piece, that, paved though it is with good intentions, proceeds inevitably to the destination indicated in the proverb. I won't touch on his curious semantic linguistics, which pretzel Canadian objections to being called "American" into a form of political correctness. And, I won't belabour other points, for instance the reliance on conservative commentators in a discussion of Canadian identity.

What I would suggest, however, is that my compatriots and commentators like McLemee indulge in a set of shared oversights when discussing "national identity" and trying to link it to whether or not there is a "Canada" capable of commanding "true patriot love" like "real" countries. First, in the forty years since the celebration of Confederation's centenary, successive generations of Canadian leaders--most notably Pierre Trudeau--have sought to define some stable and positive "Canadian" identity. This in a country that originally joined together colonies and Hudson Bay Country divided by very different historical experience, ethnic makeup and religious affiliation, enshrined in the metaphor of the mosaic--versus the melting pot--first coined in the 1930's.

To be sure, being "not American" long served as a bedrock notion of Canadianism among the Dominion's inhabitants, particularly those descended from United Empire Loyalists or who immigrated from the British Isles. This strain has weakened somewhat with the remarkable and admirable diversification of Canada's ethnic composition since the late 1960's, but persists in a widely-shared pride in differences ranging from health-care and social services, tolerant policies on sexuality and multiculturalism, or the instrinsic superiority of Canada's international profile [cf. American students' backpacks, Canadian flags on] or Tim Horton's doughnuts.

Second, this long--chronic?--search for a Canadian identity has been bedevilled by at least two other factors. One of these is the notion that there is some stable form of identity able to accommodate the enormously multi-faceted ingredients that make up Canada's population and historical experience, something vividly reflected, for instance, in the emailed responses to McLemee's observations on the IHE page, not least from those interested in the fate of First Nations populations in Canada. Surely, after three decades of post-annaliste reflection on mentalite, self-representation, identity, etc., we can come up with a model or rhetoric that incorporates and acknowledges the dynamic and unstable interaction of certain core concepts, discourses or whatever you want to call them [Here, cf. the NYT link and the writings of the putatively versatile McCloskey, who appears not to have absorbed this lesson]. Could "American" stand up to similar scrutiny? I'd suggest that the flourishing state of various "studies" departments and the new strains of social and cultural history among Americanists at least problematizes this issue.

But even more important is the fact universally unacknowledged that, in constructing a "national" identity,Canadians have only had access experientially to two such traditions, both imperial or "grand" in their way--British and American. As inhabitants of a settler colony, on the notional periphery of "mother" Britain's consciousness--McLemee should know that many Brits group Canadians under the rubric of "American--and jammed up against a culturally robust, self-confident and economically powerful United States, Canadians have for generations been steeped in two discourses of nationhood grossly incommensurate with the scale, resources, and traditions of their national history.

In this sense, Canadians share the fate of Scots, Ukrainians, New Zealanders and others fated by geography and history to stand in a secondary position to more dominant neighbours, but who can't help seeing themselves as those same neighbours see them, or at the very least to validate and assert their worthiness on the scales they've appropriated willy-nilly from those same neighbours.

It's a losing battle in the end, since we'll never be as "big" or "important" as the States or even the UK. Still, the discussion has led to a quieter mode of self-distinction, whose prevalence has grown, at least in my own anecdotal observances, since at least the Reagan years, the first time I can recall my friends wondering how Americans could vote for a leader like that. I can certainly attest that the experience of the Bush Minor administration has catalyzed this process of self-separation at a rate measurable in parsecs.

As a result, the trademark courtesy, self-deprecation, moral superiority noted by those observers who take the time to recall that, yes, Virginia, there is a northern border, might well be construed as making virtues of culturally-imposed necessities.

In a historiographical vein, the growing emphases on comparativity or transnationality or whatever you want to call it, hovering like Banquo's ghost over the banquet of American exceptionalism [block that simile!] still largely omit to use Canada as an interesting or revealing comparison--I'll except the debates over the middle ground and the post-White discussion of inter-imperial zones. One reads--or, I should say, I read or hear from my Americanist colleagues--very little to suggest that they know much or have any interest in comparative histories of feminism, or labour, or constitutional development, or public policy, or the politics of race and ethnicity. More often, the gaze turns southward or across an "Atlantic" that only includes British North America until the late eighteenth century, when half of it self-constituted as a republic. This, despite the shared background in intellectual history, intimate economic and cultural links that persist today, and important commonalities in confronting indigenous populations and those whom the resident anglophone populations regarded as minorities of various casts.

Having taxed the bandwidth of these "comments" spaces, I can't help closing by remarking on the tone of surprise that always occurs in these American encounters with Canada's "difference." Canadians have long known that, to quote Margaret Atwood, the two countries are separated by "the world's longest, undefended one-way mirror."

I'd love to go on

Alan Baumler - 8/23/2007

Actually, the thing I find most different about the way economists do history is that they seem to be very strongly counterfactual. (I actually read a fair number of the "economists do history" papers Brad Delong links to sometimes from his site.). In the piece I linked to he seems to be asking the implicit counterfactual "Why did China not have a Meiji restoration in 1850? Or in 1150?" This is a good question in some respects, (which is why 20th century Chinese spent so much time talking about it) but it does get away from the concerns of most historians of the Qing, which center on questions like "What the hell happened" and "Why?" rather than "How would we have to change the China case study to get the same results as the Japan case study?" Historians use counterfactuals of course, but they make me at least nervous, since there is obviously no evidence to base your positions on, which makes it hard to do history (or very easy, I suppose.)

While 'debating' with DeLong I felt like an economist probably would talking with someone who insists that all America's economic problems could be fixed by going back on the gold standard. A lot of the same evidence, many of the same concerns, but coming from another world

Ralph E. Luker - 8/23/2007

Is there a disconnect between your assertion that what you do at Acephalous has no claim to scholarship and your insistence that what KC posts at Durham-in-Wonderland must meet your standards for scholarship? And how would you feel if I demanded that, since what the fellow who posts as Acephalous doesn't meet the canons of scholarship, he should be barred from posting there?

Jonathan Dresner - 8/23/2007

The problem with economic history done by economists is really the same as the problem of economics done by economists: they ignore everything except that which can be quantified (or rather, that which has been quantified, since not everything that has been quantified, should have been quantified) and end up ignoring massive amounts of relevant material, even when they're making non-economic arguments.

Scott Eric Kaufman - 8/23/2007

Come on, Ralph. You know I hold my non-contributions to scholarship in absolutely no regard. I'm not staking my reputation on what I've published, as I haven't published anything of value yet. Nor am I criticizing KC's past contributions.

Yes, I'm upset by KC's misrepresentations of other's scholars' work, but not because I'm out to get him. I hadn't even kept up with the case until one of the posters at Phi Beta Cons linked to it today. It's sloppy scholarship, and it's a selective use of the available evidence. It may be presumptuous of me to say who should and shouldn't post at <em>Cliopatria</em>, but all I'm really saying is: the work of the lot of you holds up to scrutiny, politics be damned; after looking at what KC's made available of his record, I can't say the same thing.