Comments About Historians Archives 10-3-03 to 12-4-03

Comments About Historians

Comments in some cases have been edited. Click here for the archives.

Click here to return to top of page.

Nicolas Baverez: The French Are in Decline (posted 12-4-03)

Lara Marlowe, writing in the Irish Times (Dec. 3, 2003):

The theme is as old as the Romans and crops up through history with persistent regularity. A decade ago a book about "the fall of the American empire" was a huge success in the US. This autumn France was seized by its own bout of declinisme, thanks to the economist and historian Nicolas Baverez.

Mr Baverez's book, La France Qui Tombe (France is Falling), has remained on the best-seller list since early September. "I was surprised by the effect it had, and by the violence of some reactions," he said in an interview. "I've received piles of mail, all of it positive, but the reaction of the polticial and media establishment has been very negative." The decline of France, real or imagined, has been debated on virtually every radio and television programme. The Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, reportedly hates Mr Baverez's book. Yet when given the opportunity to debunk the careful accretion of facts and figures demonstrating two decades of diminishing economic and political influence, Mr Raffarin is silent....

Mr Baverez sees only one way to reverse France's decline: reform, reform, reform. "Europe cannot do it for us," he says. The US, Britain and now Germany have made the effort, he notes.

Reducing the highest taxation in Europe, abrogating the 35-hour working week (which translates into a 2 per cent annual reduction in the number of hours worked by French people) and tackling the health system's E30 billion deficit are "urgent measures" recommended by Mr Baverez.

Reform would thin the ranks of France's 5.1 million civil servants, he says, but that would be the result, not the beginning.

It was a sure sign of decline when French diplomats went on strike for the first time in history on Monday. Paris maintains the world's second-largest diplomatic service on a shoestring budget.

The Foreign Ministry's paper supplier stopped deliveries because of late payments. Staff were asked to use both sides of every sheet, and the European Affairs Minister had to buy her own notepads.

Click here to return to top of page.

Conrad Black: Reviled as a Businessman, Celebrated as a Historian (posted 12-4-03)

Tina Brown, writing in the Washington Post (Dec. 4, 2003):

It's odd how fast grandeur becomes gloomy when the miasma of misfortune sets in. No one could have predicted that the book party for Conrad Black's monumental study of Franklin D. Roosevelt at New York's Four Seasons restaurant would coincide with his stepping down as CEO of the publishing company Hollinger International -- owner of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post and, in the U.K., the Daily and Sunday Telegraph and the venerable conservative weekly the Spectator -- under a cloud of allegations of financial self-dealing and an SEC investigation.

Even with hosts as luminous as philanthropist Jayne Wrightsman and fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, acceptances shrank to a small band of loyalists like Henry Kissinger and Ronald Perelman. Unfortunately for Black, a packed, convivial book party for former treasury secretary Robert Rubin was coincidentally raging in the next room. "I'm just doing a fly-by," one society hostess said as she scurried through to the Rubin fiesta beyond.

The strangest moment was when the deposed chairman of Sotheby's, and ex-con, Alfred A. Taubman sidled in. In December 2000, when Lord Black celebrated his wife's 60th birthday with a luxe blowout at another swell New York restaurant, La Grenouille, he baffled the guests with a long, mellifluous toast to the honesty, sobriety, integrity etc., of Taubman -- the relevance of which became clear only months later when honest Al was indicted in a price-fixing scandal at the venerable auction house. Now Taubman was offering reciprocal loyalty.

The meager turnout was a bummer, since Black's 1,300-page biography has had stellar reviews. Historians from Alan Brinkley to Daniel Yergin have hailed it as the best single volume on the many perplexing aspects of FDR's political life. A belligerent neo-con before it was fashionable, Black has paradoxically contrived to write an admiring appraisal of Roosevelt's pre-Pearl Harbor reluctance to fight the Nazis and the economic interventionism of the New Deal for which neo-cons of the '30s bitterly reviled FDR as "that man."

What's interesting about Black is that he's a throwback to the era when media moguls were still called press lords. His eyes sparkle with self-regard but he is at logorrheic ease on any subject with a historical reference. His wife, Barbara Amiel, writes a sharply barbed, rousingly pro-Israel column in the Telegraph. She famously caused interesting trouble when she wrote up the anti-Semitic remarks made by the French ambassador at a dinner he thought was private. She gets away with it because she's not only Lady Black but a brainy, brunette femme fatale with spectacular cleavage. Once, at a dinner party at the publisher Lord Weidenfeld's Chelsea apartment (the party was for Al Taubman, as it happens), I appreciated the deftness with which at cocktail hour she reconnoitered the dining room to switch place cards and seat herself next to a less grand but more amusing man. It was a moment right out of Anthony Trollope.

Click here to return to top of page.

Steven L. Kaplan: He Knows More About the History of French Bread than Anyone Ever Has (posted 12-4-03)

Deborah Baldwin, writing in the NYT (Nov. 29, 2003):

Steven L. Kaplan stared through the window of a Paris bakery one Sunday morning, looking like an osprey ready to swoop.

"I've watched him work," Mr. Kaplan said hungrily, speaking of the baker, Dominique Saibron, and his tenderly cultivated sourdough starter, known in the business as levain.

If Mr. Kaplan admires your levain, it is no small thing. He knows more about French bread than practically anyone else, some of France's top bakers say.

A relentless researcher, Mr. Kaplan was one of the people who helped salvage the crusty mainstay in the 1980's, when many baguettes tasted like sliced white bread.

Mr. Kaplan has, in fact, done so much to ennoble the baguette and its cousins, the boule and the bâtard, that he has twice been dubbed a chevalier by the French government for his contributions to the "sustenance and nourishment" of French culture.

The bread baron Francis Holder, who runs Paul, the innovative international chain of bakeries, calls Dr. Kaplan's expertise extraordinary. Jean Lapoujade, a director of the renowned bakery Poilâne, said, "We look forward to his next work with impatience."

Not bad when you consider that Mr. Kaplan, 60, is not a baker and not even French. He is an American professor at Cornell University who grew up in Brooklyn and Queens. "We ate kornbrot," he said, speaking of the dense European rye....

In his award-winning books and many papers on the cultural and political significance of French bread, Mr. Kaplan has charted its role in the revolution of 1789, its anchoring of the French table through the early 20th century and its decline during the 50's, when the baguette became a voluptuous but empty emblem of postwar prosperity. A victim of hypermechanization, fast-acting industrial yeast and suppressed fermentation, Mr. Kaplan said, "it looked lovely but was barren of odor and taste."

Scholars say Mr. Kaplan was the first person to put a shift in consumer tastes into the context of a changing workplace and society.

Click here to return to top of page.

So Who Is David Brooks? (posted 11-28-03)

George Gurley, commenting on David Brooks, the new NYT conservative columnist; in the NY Observer (Nov. 11-24-03):

"He's every liberal's favorite conservative," said Michael Kinsley, founding editor of Slate. "He may have no enemies, but that will
change: If he still has no enemies writing a column for The New York Times for a couple years, he's failed."

"People were always stopping me, saying that they liked his stuff,"
said The Times' Ms. Collins. "There is something about him-he's like the conservative guy who can talk to liberals."

"Obviously he's a post-Raines hire, and a very, very smart one," said Andrew Sullivan, the conservative blogger and occasional Times contributor. "He's every liberal's idea of a sane conservative, and he 's every conservative's idea of what a liberal's idea of a sane conservative is. He's not a fire-breather. My boyfriend much prefers his stuff to mine. But I can deal with that."

On this day, the normally unflappable Mr. Brooks seemed nervous: He was tearing up pieces of paper and fiddling with an empty coffee cup.
There was a party in his honor that night, and he admitted that being a conservative in New York City can be "socially unpleasant."

"It's a question you don't want to come up," he said. "You'd rather just have a conversation. And then if you say, as I used to, 'I work at The Weekly Standard,' you get the Hitler salute or something like that. I've been at bar mitzvahs where people are seated next to me and they would get up and leave the table. I'm sure it happens to liberals in Alabama, too."

Still, Mr. Brooks isn't exactly swapping spit with the Republicans'
far right: He said he finds Fox News' Bill O'Reilly to be "an insufferable ass" and that he "strongly dislikes" leggy blond author Ann Coulter. "I think she creates more liberals than anybody in America," he said.

He's not as harsh on Attorney General John Ashcroft.

"I don't agree with a lot of what he's done, but I think he's been unfairly attacked," Mr. Brooks said. "There's sort of a Saturday Night Live divide in this country. For some people in this country, it's totally out of their realm of sensibility, and John Ashcroft is one of those people. I can't imagine he's sitting around watching Saturday Night Live and loving it. And I'm sort of on the coastal Saturday Night Live divide, on the same side as most of the people who read The Times."

Mr. Brooks said he's against the death penalty, "incredibly mushy-headed" on whether a second-trimester abortion should be legal (he thinks it's O.K. in the first, not in the third), and believes in gay marriage and gays in the military. "It's from personal observation that gay people don't have a choice in being gay," he said.

Although he's not enamored of the Bush tax cuts, he's upbeat about the economy ("The numbers speak for themselves," he said), but the big domestic issue for him is polarization. "We're increasingly dividing-geographically, culturally, religiously, commercially-into totally different segments," he said. "People don't even talk to each other."

And don't call him a neocon.

"I have a rule that if the word 'neocon' appears in a sentence, there'
s a 90 percent chance that everything else in that sentence is untrue," he said. "Because people have this idea that there's a secret conspiracy, which I know for a fact is untrue. What people miss is that when they talk about [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz and [Pentagon adviser Richard] Perle and [Weekly Standard editor William] Kristol, they think they're somehow all conversing all the time-but I know for a fact they're just three people who share some ideas but don't talk all that much, and they're not particularly close."

Click here to return to top of page.

Should Columbia University Tell Who Funded the Edward Said Chair in Middle East Studies? (posted 11-20-03)

Jonathan Calt Harris, managing editor of Daniel Pipes's, writing in (Nov. 19, 2003):

Columbia University’s newly established Edward Said Chair in Middle East Studiesis noteworthy for several reasons. The position is named for the recently deceased professor best known for his defense of Palestinian “resistence.” And Rashid Khalidi, an overt supporter of Palestinian violence and – according to a just-published biography of Yasir Arafat from Oxford University Press – a former PLO press spokesman[i], has joined Columbia to fill the post.

But there is something even more objectionable about this chair: It is anonymously endowed and Columbia University – perhaps against the law – refuses to disclose the donors. According to Columbia, the donors’ names are confidential. “We don’t disclose them without their permission,” said spokeswoman Katie Moore, adding that Columbia has “the same policy that every school would have.”[ii]

But what “every school” does is not the issue. What counts are Columbia’s own regulations.

Several donors to the chair’s endowment fund have been identified. The Hauser Foundation, headed by New York philanthropist Rita Hauser, is one of them. Ms. Hauser’s former law firm, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, has been registered as recently as 2001 with the Justice Department as an agent for the Palestinian Authority.

Another donor is the Olayan Charitable Trust, a New York-based charity affiliated with the Saudi-based Olayan Group. The vice president of corporate communications at Olayan’s New York offices, Richard Hobson, has said that while the trust does not publicize its donations, that he believed it is, “one of the lead donors but not the lead donor.”[iii]

And Martin Kramer, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, reports he has a list of contributors to the chair that includes a foreign government.[iv]

Hiding the donors goes against Columbia’s own rules, which stipulate that a “principal investigator” involved in any university grant or contract is mandated to release information for “dissemination to members of the University community” when such requests are made.[v] An endowed chair is not specifically a university grant or contract, but neither is it that different.

“It is highly unusual, to say the least, for the donor or donors of an academic chair to hide their identity,” says Columbia’s Awi Federgruen, a former dean of the graduate business school. “In the face of various precedents,” he continues, “at Berkeley, Michigan and most recently the Zayed chair donated by the United Arab Emirates to the Harvard Divinity School, one cannot blame the public for being concerned.”[vi]

(Harvard Divinity School recently came under fire for accepting a $2.5 million dollar donation from Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the President of the United Arab Emirates’, in July, 2000. Zayed was also the namesake sponsor of the Zayed Center in Abu Dhabi, a center known for forwarding anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. Surprisingly, the storm of criticism resulted in the Zayed Center’s closure but Harvard Divinity School is yet debating whether or not to keep the gift.)[vii]

To keep a gift from a foreign government secret is at minimum a major lapse in judgment and perhaps illegal, on two grounds:

· Khalidi now heads Columbia’s Middle East Institute and in this capacity will oversee nearly $1 million in federal funds over the next three years. Funding for the Said Chair is not simply Columbia’s business, given the incumbent’s oversight of public monies. The public needs to know how the person disbursing taxpayer funds is himself paid.

· Federal law requires that a higher education institution accepting gifts from foreign entities valued at $250,000 or more disclose these contributions and their source,[viii] and New York State law further requires donations of $100,000 to be disclosed.[ix] Research in 2002 by the New York Senate Higher Education Committee revealed there is little, if any, compliance with this law.[x]

Even apart from Khalidi’s shameful bias and Columbia’s blind acceptance of it, the new professor’s clandestine chair puts the entire university under a cloud of impropriety and the only way to fix this is by fully disclosing the funds for his appointment. Federgruen correctly observes that “the sooner matters are out in the open, the better it will be for all parties concerned.”

Columbia needs to come clean and reveal who is funding the Edward Said Chair in Middle East Studies.

[i] Rubin, Barry, and Rubin, Judith Colp, Yasser Arafat, A Political Biography, Oxford University Press, 2003. Pg. 78. Notes 8 and 9.

[ii] “Hauser Helps Fund Professor of Hate”, By Adam Daifallah, New York Sun, July 23, 2003.

[iii] “Hauser Helps Fund Professor of Hate”, By Adam Daifallah, New York Sun, July 23, 2003.

[iv] “Concealment Continues as Columbia”, By Martin Kramer, Sandstorm, September 9, 2003.

[v] “Regulations Governing Externally Funded Research and Instruction,”

[vi] Awi Federgruen, Charles E. Exley Professor in Management at the Graduate School of Business, Columbia University, interview, August 2003.

[vii] “Arab nation seen halting center aid, Students criticized donation to Harvard” by Jenna Russell. Boston Globe, August 20, 2003.

[viii] US. Code Title 20, Chapter 28, Subchapter I, Part B, Sec. 1011f.

[ix] New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, April 9th, 2002. Press Release Archive.

[x] New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, April 9th, 2002. Press Release Archive.

Click here to return to top of page.

Historians Rewrite History: The Campaign to Exonerate Doris Goodwin (posted 11-13-03)

Timothy Noah (aka"Chatterbox"), writing in Slate (Nov. 14, 2003):

Chatterbox never intended to revisit the Doris Goodwin plagiarism case. She's paid her dues, however unwillingly, and her forthcoming book about Abraham Lincoln deserves to be judged on its merits. But when the New York Times publishes a letter denying Goodwin ever committed plagiarism—signed by a pack of distinguished historians, including Arthur Schlesinger Jr., John Morton Blum, Robert Dallek, and Sean Wilentz—the violence done to the truth is too much to bear silently. Historians, of all people, should know better than to rewrite history.

The letter in question appeared in the Oct. 25 New York Times. (To read it, click here.) It was written in response to an Oct. 4 Times story headlined "Are More People Cheating?" that placed Goodwin in the same rogue's gallery as former Tyco Chairman L. Dennis Kozlowski and accused rapist (and confirmed adulterer) Kobe Bryant. Admittedly, that was pretty rough, perhaps rougher than necessary. But what really seems to have provoked the historians' ire was the following perfectly accurate sentence: "Renowned historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose have plagiarized colleagues' work." ...

Goodwin is no Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass. What she did was wrong, but it shouldn't be career-destroying. Nonetheless, it's quite a stretch to say that Goodwin hews to the "highest standards of moral integrity." A true moral exemplar wouldn't duck the "plagiarism" label, as Goodwin has. And a true moral exemplar wouldn't have hidden the evidence of her plagiarism for many years, acknowledging it only after the press found out about it. That's exactly what Goodwin did. Goodwin's best-known borrowings were lifted from Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times, a biography of JFK's high-spirited sister. The author Lynne McTaggart discovered the plagiarism in the late 1980s, threatened legal action, and reached a quiet settlement with Goodwin's publisher, Simon & Schuster. Goodwin didn't come clean even about her "inadvertence" until news of it broke last year in the Weekly Standard. More to the point, Goodwin left the plagiarized portions intact in subsequent editions of the book in question, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, until the Weekly Standard revelations compelled her to fix them.

Moreover, Goodwin is no one-time offender. In August 2002, the Los Angeles Times ran a story by Peter King reporting that Goodwin's subsequent book, No Ordinary Time, also contained passages that were lifted from other books (though once again, Goodwin had scrupulously footnoted).

Click here to return to top of page.

Edward Alexander: Historian Martin Jay Argues that Jews Are to Blame for Anti-Semitism (posted 11-11-03)

Edward Alexander, writing in (Nov. 11, 2003):

"There is a great temptation to explain away the intrinsically incredible means of liberal rationalizations. In each one of us, there lurks such a liberal, wheedling us with the voice of common sense." -- Hannah Arendt

In the Winter-Spring 2003 issue of Salmagundi, Berkeley professor Martin Jay argues that Jews themselves are "causing" the "new" anti-Semitism. Chief among these perfidious Jews, he names Ariel Sharon, the "fanatic settlers" and also the American Jews who question the infallibility of the New York Times and National Public Radio. ("Ariel Sharon and the Rise of the New Anti-Semitism".)

Unlike the late Edward Said (of whom he writes with oily sycophancy), Jay does not deny the existence of a resurgent anti-Semitism. On the other hand, he, in effect, dismisses its manifestations -- vandalized synagogues and cemeteries, "tipping over a tombstone in a graveyard in Marseilles or burning Torahs in a temple on Long Island [as] payback for atrocities [my emphasis] committed by Israeli settlers." At the same time, he ignores its more serious expressions: stabbings, shootings, murder—all of which have been unleashed against Jews in Europe, as well as in Israel. "The actions of contemporary Jews," Jay concludes, "are somehow connected with the upsurge of anti-Semitism around the globe" , and it would be foolish to suppose that "the victims are in no way involved in unleashing the animosities they suffer."

The academic boycotters of Israeli universities and the professorial advocates of suicide bombing are in the front lines of the defense of terror, which is the very essence of Palestinian nationalism. But they themselves are supported by a rearguard of fellow travelers, a far more numerous academic group whose defining characteristic is not fanaticism but time-serving timorousness.

In the Thirties, "fellow travelers" usually referred to the intellectual friends of Communism (a subject well analyzed in David Caute's book on the subject), although both Hitler and Stalin tried to attract people from America and Britain who served their purposes in the conviction that they were engaged in a noble cause.

At the moment, the favorite cause of peregrinating political tourists is the Palestinian movement, and the reason why fellow travelers favor this most barbaric of all movements of "national liberation" is that its adversaries are Jews. Jews are always a tempting target because of their ridiculously small numbers (currently 997 out of every 1000 people in the world are not Jews) and their image as avaricious corrupters of the young, thieves, agents of Satan, conspiring human devils and Zionist imperialists. As a representative example of the academic fellow-traveler in the ongoing campaign to depict Israel as the devil's own experiment station, Martin Jay is exemplary.

Although Jay's main concern is the (supposedly) "new" anti-Semitism, his heavy reliance on the thesis of Albert Lindemann's unsavory book, Esau's Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (1998). He suggests that he believes political anti-Semitism, from its inception in the nineteenth century, has been in large part the responsibility of the Jews themselves. Lindemann's book argued not merely that Jews had "social interactions" (a favorite euphemism of Jay's) with their persecutors but were responsible for the hatreds that eventually consumed them in Europe; anti-Semitism was, wherever and whenever it flared up, a response to Jewish misbehavior.

According to Lindemann, the Romanians had been subjected to "mean-spirited denigration" of their country by Jews, and so it was reasonable for Romania's elite to conclude that "making life difficult" for the country's Jewish inhabitants, "legally or otherwise, was a "justifiable policy." His abstruse research into Russian history also revealed to him that whatever anti-Semitism existed there was "hardly a hatred without palpable or understandable cause." The 1903 Kishinev pogrom, Lindemann grudgingly admitted, did occur but was a relatively minor affair in numbers killed and wounded, which the Jews, with typical "hyperbole and mendacity," exaggerated in order to attract sympathy and money; it was a major affair only because it revealed "a rising Jewish combativeness." (As for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Lindemann apparently never heard of it, for it goes unmentioned in his nearly fifty pages on Russia.) In Germany, Jews (especially the historian Heinrich Graetz), were guilty of a "steady stream of insults and withering criticism...directed at Germans"; by contrast, Hitler (who published Mein Kampf in 1925-27) was a "moderate" on the Jewish question prior to the mid-1930s; besides, "nearly everywhere Hitler looked at the end of the war, there were Jews who corresponded to anti-Semitic imagery." In addition to being degenerate, ugly, dirty, tribalist, racist, crooked, and sexually immoral, the Jews, as depicted by Lindemann, further infuriated their Gentile neighbors by speaking Yiddish: "a nasal, whining, and crippled ghetto tongue."

Although Jay is by no means in full agreement with Lindemann's thesis (as he is with that of an even cruder polemic by Paul Breines called Tough Jews), he is intensely grateful to this courageous pioneer for breaking a "taboo" on the "difficult question about the Jewish role in causing anti-Semitism," for putting it "on the table." (Readers familiar with this dismal topic will be disappointed to learn that neither Lindemann nor his admirer Jay is able to explain the "Jewish role" in causing the belief, widespread among Christian theologians from St. Augustine through the seventeenth century, that Jewish males menstruate.) This is a remarkable statement to come from a historian. Washington Irving's Rip van Winkle lost touch with history for twenty years while he slept; Jay's dogmatic slumber seems to have lasted 36 years, since 1967, when the brief post-World War II relaxation of anti-Semitism came to an end.

A brief history lesson is in order here. At the end of the second World War, old-fashioned anti-Semites grudgingly recognized that the Holocaust had given anti-Semitism a bad name, that perhaps the time was right for a temporary respite in the ideological war against the Jews. But in 1967, the Jews in Israel had the misfortune to win the war that was unleashed against them by Gamal Nasser, who had proclaimed—in a locution very much akin to Jay's style of reasoning—that "Israel's existence is itself an aggression."

After their defeat, the Arabs reversed their rhetoric from "Right" to "Left," de-emphasizing their ambition to "turn the Mediterranean red with Jewish blood" and instead blaming "the Middle East conflict" on the Jews themselves for denying the Palestinians a state (something that, of course, the Arabs could have given them any time during the nineteen years that they were entirely in control of the disputed territories of "the West Bank"). Since that time what Jay calls the "difficult question about the Jewish role in causing anti-Semitism" has not only been "on the table"; it has provided a royal feast for such heavy feeders as Alexander Cockburn, Desmond Tutu, Michael Lerner, the aforementioned Said, Patrick Buchanan, Noam Chomsky, most of the Israeli Left, and scores of other scribblers. Indeed, the New York Times, which during World War II did its best to conceal the fact that Jews were being murdered en masse, now admits they are being murdered, but blames them for, in Jay-speak, "unleashing the animosities they suffer."

The particular form given by nearly all these forerunners of Lindemann is, of course, blatant reversal of cause and effect in taking for granted that it is Israeli occupation that leads to Arab hatred and aggression, when every normally attentive sixth-grader knows that it is Arab hatred and aggression that lead to Israeli occupation. Jay is very fierce not with Lindemann for regurgitating every anti-Semitic slander dredged up from the bad dreams of Christendom but with Lindemann's "overheated" critics (in Commentary, in the American Historical Review, in Midstream). In the same manner, his outrage about suicide bombings is not against the bombers or their instructors and financiers but against "American Jewish panic" and "Israeli toughness" in reacting to them and so perpetuating (no cliche is too stale and stupid for Jay) "the spiral of violence."

Just as Jay insinuates some mild criticism of Lindemann, he also "qualifies" every now and then his insistence that the Jews themselves are to blame for anti-Semitism, but always in a way that only serves to make his core argument all the more gross and flagrant. "Acknowledging this fact [that the Jewish victims are "involved in unleashing" hatred on themselves] is not 'blaming the victim,' an overly simple formula that prevents asking hard and sometimes awkward questions, but rather understanding that social interactions are never as neat as moral oppositions of good and evil."

Like most liberals, Jay cannot credit the existence of the full evil of the world. "In the case of the Arab war against the Jewish state," Ruth Wisse has observed, "obscuring Arab intentions requires identifying Jews as the cause of the conflict. The notion of Jewish responsibility for Arab rejectionism is almost irresistibly attractive to liberals, because the truth otherwise seems so bleak." Although Jay tries to twist Hannah Arendt's well-known criticism of Sartre's foolish argument that the Jews survived in exile thanks to gentile persecution into an endorsement of his own foolish argument about Jewish responsibility for that persecution, he is himself a classic case of what Arendt called the wheedling voice of "common sense" that lurks inside every liberal, explaining away the "intrinsically incredible," such as the fact that a people would choose to define itself entirely by its dedication to the destruction of another people.

Click here to return to top of page.

The Historian as Deadhead (posted 11-13-03)

Interview with Dennis McNally, published in The Door Magazine (Nov./Dec. 2003):

Dennis McNally is a board member of two non-profit organizations, the Northern California affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union and Music in Schools Today. He comes from a military family and graduated from High School in Maine. He attended St. Lawrence University, received a Masters degree and Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in American History. His Doctoral dissertation was a biography of Jack Kerouac, the Beat writer, which was published by Random House, in 1979, bearing the title Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America. By the late 1970's he became a Deadhead, moved to San Francisco, and was hired by Jerry Garcia to become the Grateful Dead's biographer and historian. By 1984, the Dead made him their publicist, a position he still holds today. After over twenty years of first hand experience and research he published the first and only official history of the Grateful Dead. In August 2002, Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc, published A Long Strange Trip. The Door sent its left coast correspondent, Bob Gersztyn to interview McNally, in between his numerous bookstore and radio appearances.

THE DOOR MAGAZINE: How did you become the Grateful Dead's biographer and historian?

MCNALLY: It's not really all that complicated a story. I wrote a book about Jack Kerouac called Desolate Angel and in the course of it I wanted to write a book about The Grateful Dead. I felt that there were all kinds of direct historical connections. Neal Cassidy, who of course is the Dean Moriarty character in "On The Road" and was involved with "The Merry Pranksters" with the Grateful Dead, is the obvious link, but in general there's a historical progression there that I wanted to explore. It turned out Jerry Garcia thought the same thing, which was kind of convenient for me. On a more personal level I was thinking about doing something about the beat generation in general, and there was a guy in my life who one day said, 'no, you should do Kerouac, and I can help you out. You can stay with my friends in New York City.' When you're a broke graduate student this is very attractive, so, I started on the Kerouac book. He also turned me on to the Grateful Dead. I had this personal connection.

Click here to return to top of page.

Philip Nobile: Doris Kearns Goodwin Should Not Be Celebrated (posted 11-11-03)

Editor's Note: Last month the NYT published an article which included Doris Kearns Goodwin among a list of people who have been caught cheating. More than a dozen historians subsequently protested in a letter to the editor of the paper. Their letter was published. Philip Nobile, the investigative journalist who was critical of Ms. Goodwin in these pages, subsequently wrote a letter to the editor protesting the protest. The Times declined to publish his riposte, which follows:

To the Editor:

Despite the defense plea of Arthur Schlesinger, Douglas Brinkley, Robert Dallek, and David Halberstam, there is no innocent explanation for Doris Kearns Goodwin's massive (and still covered up) plagiarism (Letter to the Editor, Oct. 25, 2003). The historians who saluted Ms. Goodwin's "scholarship and integrity" and described her copying in "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys" as "errors result[ing] from inadvertence" have not done their homework.

First, regarding scholarship: quite apart from infamous looting of Lynne McTaggert's "Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times," Ms. Goodwin has admitted to reproducing dozens of passages without proper attribution from additional books in her Kennedy work (NYT, Feb. 23, 2002). How many passages from how many books? She won't say, despite telling your paper that she had instructed her assistants to comb her biography for unattributed material in view of publishing a corrected version of "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys," a volume yet to appear. At the least, it is impossible to believe that a writer as sharp as Goodwin could accidentally copy ninety-one passages from McTaggert without noticing the difference between McTaggert's words and her own (Associated Press, March 23, 2002).

Second, Ms. Goodwin forfeited her integrity in 1987 when she (a) paid McTaggert a large sum to keep quiet about the plagiarism and then (b) successfully papered over her acknowledged theft by backdating a new preface to "The Kennedy and the Fitzgeralds" that granted McTaggert extra credit. Having bought her way out of disgrace, this former Harvard scholar did not do the next intellectually honest thing: in subsequent editions of her book she did not bother to put quotes around all of the McTaggert passages. "I made the corrections [McTaggert] requested," she waffled in TIME (Jan. 27, 2002), as if this private concesssion satisfied her obligation to history and the truth.

Until Ms. Goodwin makes full disclosure, that is, until she releases her research notes for "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys," the original manuscripts, the investigation by her assistants, and the legal settlement with McTaggert, including the amount of hush money, no historian dare claim that she is not a plagiarist, especially in light of the known evidence.

Click here to return to top of page.

Brian VanDeMark Found Guilty of Plagiarism (posted 10-29-03)

Nelson Hernandez, writing in the Washington Post (Oct. 29, 2003):

A U.S. Naval Academy history professor accused of plagiarism lost his tenured status and his pay was cut after a board of his peers concluded that he had committed acts of "gross carelessness" in his book about the atomic bomb, the academy's academic dean announced yesterday.

The three-member investigating committee found that Brian VanDeMark's book "Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb" "included a number of instances of improper borrowing and inadequate paraphrasing, and that these improprieties constituted plagiarism," Dean William C. Miller said at a news conference. The committee also found that the borrowing was the result of carelessness and not deliberate.

Miller said that effective yesterday, VanDeMark, a professor at the academy since 1990 and once considered a rising star, lost the tenure he earned in 1998 and will be on probation for at least three years, after which he may reapply for tenure. VanDeMark's status was also reduced from associate professor to entry-level assistant professor, and his annual salary was cut from $73,317 to $63,043. He also will be required to correct the instances of borrowing in "Pandora's Keepers" before it is republished. The book was recalled by its publisher, Little, Brown and Co., soon after the allegations were publicized in late May.

VanDeMark, 43, declined interviews yesterday but issued a statement through the academy in which he said: "I reiterate my personal responsibility and accept accountability for my unintentional mistakes.

"Pandora's Keepers was a big undertaking -- a 399-page biography of nine men with 676 footnotes and a bibliography including all of the sources used -- and I became overconfident about paraphrasing a lot of secondary sources."

The announcement ends VanDeMark's spell in academic limbo and allows him to resume teaching core courses at the academy in the spring semester. The academy began an investigation into the accusations immediately after they were published by the New York Times. Miller said that the investigation, conducted by his fellow history professors, was completed by late June or early July and that VanDeMark took nearly a month to respond.

After that, Miller was left to render his decision, bearing in mind that VanDeMark, like all of the academy's civilian faculty, is a federal employee and entitled to protections afforded civil servants.

Miller said that he spent much time pondering whether the plagiarism had been deliberate. "I relied very heavily on the judgment of the professors we used to consider this inquiry," he said, and they found that "the whole approach to documenting the sources of the book was flawed," pointing to sloppiness rather than purposeful theft. The academy did not release the text of the report on the grounds that it is part of VanDeMark's confidential file.

Click here to return to top of page.

In Defense of Doris Kearns Goodwin (posted 10-27-03)

Letter to the Editor of the NYT (Oct. 25, 2003):

We write as historians to attest to our high regard for the scholarship and integrity of Doris Kearns Goodwin and to protest vigorously your article "Are More People Cheating?" (Arts & Ideas, Oct. 4), with the photograph of Ms. Goodwin displayed in the company of some of the most notorious scoundrels in America.

Cheating is a deliberate intent to deceive or defraud. Plagiarism is a deliberate intent to purloin the words of another and to represent them as one's own.

Ms. Goodwin did not intentionally pass off someone else's words as her own. Her sources in her 1987 book, "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys," were elaborately credited and footnoted. Her errors resulted from inadvertence, not intent.

She did not, she does not, cheat or plagiarize. In fact, her character and work symbolize the highest standards of moral integrity.
New York, Oct. 9, 2003

Editor's Note: The NYT published just a few of the names of the signers of the letter. Here is the complete list:

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

John M. Blum

Gabor Borritt

Douglas Brinkley

Catherine Clinton

Robert Dallek

John Diggins

John Gable

David Halberstam

Walter Isaacson

Don Miller

Evan Thomas

Richard Wade

Sean Wilentz

Click here to return to top of page.

Michael Fry: Threatens to Sue TV Company Over BBC Production (posted 10-23-03)

Stephen McGinty, writing in the (Oct. 18, 2003):

KIRSTY Wark’s production company is facing a legal battle with one of Scotland’s leading historians following a money and copyright dispute over a historical television series.

Professor Michael Fry is unhappy at the use of his book, The Scottish Empire, by Wark Clements for their six-part examination of Scotland’s imperial past. He said his 2001 work was the main inspiration for Scotland’s Empire, produced for BBC Scotland by Wark Clements, owned by Wark and her husband, Alan Clements.

However, the production company insists a range of sources were used, including Scotland’s Empire, a new book by Professor Tom Devine, who was a consultant on the series.

Prof Fry said: "Unless they can satisfy me that I am not the chief inspiration for the series they are making then I will take legal action against them in order to secure my rights as an author and the usual financial acknowledgement in these instances."

A key plank of Prof Fry’s argument is that Prof Devine’s work only charts the Scottish empire until 1815, while his book and the television series continue until the present day.

Wark Clements, who also produced The First World War for Channel 4, said a fee of £7,500 for permission to use the book as research material was paid to John Tuckwell, the managing director of Tuckwell Press, who co-published Prof Fry’s book with Birlinn Press. Prof Fry said he was unaware of the deal until recently, and has had no money. He claimed the copyright lay with him, not Tuckwell Press.

Now both Prof Fry and Hugh Andrew, the managing director of Birlinn Press, are pursuing Wark Clements for financial remuneration and the opportunity to inspect the programmes in order to verify how much use was made of Prof Fry’s scholarship. Mr Andrew said: "I have exchanged one letter with Paul Murray of Wark Clements and written a second seeking further information, and until I receive more clarification, I would be spitting in the wind."

Wark Clements acknowledge the idea for the series sprang from the publication of Prof Fry’s book. Mr Murray, the company’s head of factual programmes, met the historian and later drew up a proposal for the series. But the production company insists that at an early stage in development, a decision was made that the series would reflect the opinions of a range of academics, not one author.

Scotland’s Empire, which has no scheduled transmission date as yet, covers a huge time period, from around 1700 and the disaster of the Darien Expedition, which brought Scotland to its knees, to 1997 and the handover of Hong Kong, a colony driven by Scottish business interests. Individual programmes tackle the involvement of Scots missionaries, adventurers and businessmen in nations such as the United States, Africa, India, the West Indies, South Seas and the Orient.

Click here to return to top of page.

Robert Donia: The Historian Who Testified at the Bosnian War Trials (posted 10-23-03)

Adam Supernant, writing in the Michigan Daily (Oct. 21, 2003):

Called to be an expert witness in the trials following the Bosnian war of the 1990s, Robert Donia has testified against seven Serbian and Croatian war criminals at The Hague during the past six years.

The University alum brought his experiences on how history can be used or abused in international law yesterday as the annual DeRoy Visiting Professor in Honors speaker.

Donia ended up testifying at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia through a series of coincidental circumstances.

Hailed as one of the most significant challenges facing international law in recent history, the Netherlands-based ICTY aims to prosecute those responsible for violating international law during the Bosnian war, including Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia.

Serving as an expert witness for the prosecution, Donia testified against Serbian and Croatian criminals charged with genocide, murder and other war crimes.

The uniqueness of his position is that since all of the trials were successfully appealed, the focus of the trial would be factual evidence while the appeal would be based on the more specific points of international law.

Given Donia's background as a leading historian of the region, his work centered on testifying in the actual trial rather than the appeal.

"If historians and lawyers were lined up on opposite ends of the field, John Madden could say these teams don't like each other," he said.

Expert witnesses for the defense would often omit certain pieces of fact, Donia added.

They would attempt to legitimize the Bosnian war by arguing Serbia and Croatia's claims to the area have been longstanding and that Bosnia and Herzegovina was and still is part of medieval Croatia.

Another defense argument was that the Balkan people as a whole were "inherently incapable of possessing superior organizational skills," based on the argument that while fast food was prominent in Western Europe and America, food preparation takes much longer in the Balkans.

"I think it's somewhat unexpected that history is such a part of international law trials. It seems peculiar that he is testifying at the war crimes tribunal," Law School student Scott Risner said....

Donia was drawn to studying the Balkans by "just a series of coincidences. I arrived as a graduate student (at the University) about five days after coming back from Vietnam and wanted to learn the history of an area no one was particularly interested in."

Donia said he fell in with a group of like-minded individuals and eventually wrote his dissertation in 1976 on Islam in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Click here to return to top of page.

Archivist John Taylor (posted 10-23-03)

Scott Shane, riting for the Baltimore Sun (Oct. 19, 2003):

During the week in 1945 that Japan surrendered to the United States, a young graduate of the University of Arkansas arrived by train in Washington, took a room in a boardinghouse and reported to his new job at the National Archives.

Fifty-eight years later, John E. Taylor arrives for work at the archives' mammoth records center in College Park before 7 a.m. each day. Among historians of war and intelligence - the archivist's specialty for half a century - his memory for documents and generosity with advice are legendary.

They consult him when they scope out new projects and pick his brain when they are stuck. There may be no American whose name appears in the acknowledgements of so many books.

At 82, Taylor still spends the day juggling queries from eminent historians and college kids alike. He receives professors visiting from Tokyo or Rome. Periodically he disappears into the archives' miles of stacks in pursuit of documents, some remembered from decades ago.

In the archives' hushed research rooms, when Taylor bumps into people he helped years ago, they often assume he has retired. "They say, 'You a volunteer now?'" Taylor recalls, bright blue eyes peering over the top of large-framed glasses, jowls creasing in amusement at the very idea.

So what keeps him going?

"The questions," Taylor says after a moment's contemplation. "I love questions. The more questions, the better. The more phone calls, the better. The more people that walk in, the better. I like the drama of everyday life. I like working under pressure."

To most of the public, the National Archives are a Washington tourist stop, resting place of the nation's founding documents - the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But when those treasures were returned last month to renovated display space in the old archives building on Constitution Avenue, Taylor didn't even attend the ceremony.

His archives are not a dead monument but a living tool. His natural habitat is the acres of stacks in College Park, which holds most of the archives' 8 billion pages of documents.

The history of the United States is hidden in that mass of material - the memoranda, reports, logbooks, letters, rosters, budgets, orders and more that record the hour-by-hour actions of government in peace and war over 227 years. But historians often can't find which of those 8 billion pages they need without the aid of archivists, the unsung guardians of the treasure, of whom Taylor may be the most venerable.

Among the hundreds of historians who have sought his counsel over the years are such eminent names as Barbara Tuchman and Stephen Ambrose - and Taylor can tell you exactly what he tracked down for them. He was on a first-name basis with several directors of the CIA, an agency that didn't exist when Taylor started work. Reagan-era spy chief William J. Casey used to drop by to talk espionage and summoned the archivist to his home to see a draft of his book on the Office of Strategic Services, predecessor to the CIA.

"The manuscript was a mess," Taylor recalls. He referred Casey to a scholar he thought might be able to fix it.

But the archivist pursues with equal energy the queries of the famous and the obscure. One recent day, he:

Counseled an American University student researching the influence of domestic politics on U.S. foreign policy.

Received a team of Japanese researchers studying American propaganda during World War II.

Consulted with an Australian scholar doing a dissertation on the Australian air force.

Took a call from England about records of a bizarre CIA project that used psychics for "remote viewing."

Talked to a man from New Jersey looking for U.S. communications intercepts from the Korean War.
"John is a national treasure," says historian Thomas B. Allen, who has turned to Taylor for help with a book on Allied plans to invade Japan during World War II, with an account of spies who sold American secrets and with a fat encyclopedia of espionage.

"He always has that sense of what you want. He just has this incredible knowledge of what's in that great big building."

Click here to return to top of page.

Plagiarism Investigation of Brian VanDeMark Lingers (posted 10-22-03)

Nelson Hernandez, writing in the Washington Post (Oct. 20, 2003):

Do a Google Internet search on his name, and it's the first link: "Brian VanDeMark: Accused of Plagiarism."

Last year, the first mention of the U.S. Naval Academy history professor might have been a glowing review of his 1991 book, "Into the Quagmire: Lyndon Johnson and the Escalation of the Vietnam War" or "In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam," former defense secretary Robert S. McNamara's memoir, which he co-wrote.

Instead, the 43-year-old scholar has been in academic limbo since May, when he was accused of lifting more than 50 passages from the work of five authors for his recent book, "Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb."

After the allegation was first published in the New York Times, VanDeMark was pulled from teaching duties and given an administrative job. About 15,000 copies of "Pandora's Keepers" were recalled from bookstores by its publisher, Little, Brown and Co.

Five months later, the academy has still not announced a decision in the matter. The school's superintendent and academic dean have not said anything publicly about what VanDeMark's fate might be. Through a spokesman, they declined to comment for this article.

VanDeMark, in a brief statement in early June, said: "I stand by the book in total. But I accept responsibility for rectifying my mistakes." Contacted recently at his Annapolis home, he said he had nothing to add. "I hope you can understand," he said quietly.

Academy officials said the protracted inquiry is a product of an unusually turbulent year at the school, one that has included sexual assault charges against three midshipmen, an unscheduled change of command and extensive damage from Hurricane Isabel.

As VanDeMark awaits a decision, the authors who said their work was stolen are eager to see the matter concluded.

"This thing has gone on for quite a long period of time, and I really don't understand why it hasn't been resolved already when it would appear to be a rather blatant example," said Robert S. Norris, author of "Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man" (2002)....

Geoff Shandler, executive editor of Little, Brown, defended "Pandora's Keepers," calling the plagiarism allegations "a very rare case of sporadic and infrequent carelessness" that did not impeach the book as a whole.

Shandler said he hopes to be able to publish a corrected edition soon. He noted that the book had received positive mention in Kirkus Reviews, which critiques books before they are published, and the Boston Globe, which wrote a review before the book was recalled. Mary A. DeCredico, chairman of the Naval Academy's History Department, said she thought that a decision has been delayed by a series of disasters -- both natural and man-made -- that have roiled the academy this year. There was a Pentagon investigation into the abrasive command style of Vice Adm. Richard J. Naughton, the academy superintendent, followed by his abrupt resignation in June. Three midshipmen were accused of sexual assault. And most recently, Hurricane Isabel flooded most of the school's academic buildings, leaving the history building without power for a week and causing damage costing tens of millions of dollars.

DeCredico said similar cases have taken some time to resolve. Emory University history professor Michael A. Bellesiles resigned in October 2002 after an eight-month inquiry into his 2000 book, "Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture." (Bellesiles disputed the conclusions of the investigation, which found him guilty of willfully misrepresenting his research.)

Other cases of academic fraud, however, have been resolved more quickly. Joseph Ellis, a historian at Mount Holyoke College, was accused in 2001 of claiming he served in the Vietnam War when he hadn't; Ellis quickly admitted the lie and, after a month-long investigation, was suspended for a year. Louis Roberts, the chairman of the Classics Department of the State University of New York at Albany, resigned in February 2002, two weeks after a fellow professor accused him of copying verbatim more than 50 pages from two other works.

Under academy rules, VanDeMark's penalty could range from formal reprimand to termination. VanDeMark, though, is an employee of the federal government, which has an elaborate bureaucratic procedure before any dismissal can be considered.

Click here to return to top of page.

Ed Bearrs: The Historian as Smithsonian Tour Guide (posted 10-22-03)

From (Oct. 20, 2003):

Their guide on a rigorous, 12-hour journey into the past is an 80-year-old historian who combines a riveting style with an encyclopedic memory.

This morning, Ed Bearrs is leading 40 or so tour veterans and rookies on the trail of John Wilkes Booth, from his assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, to his death at a Virginia barn 12 days later.

The trip, run by the Smithsonian Institution's tour program, is one in a nonstop series that Bearrs (pronounced Bars) conducts on the Civil War and other crucial events in American history in Washington, across the nation and abroad for a host of sponsors.

Discussing the mortally wounded president's last hours, he recounts how Mary Lincoln threw herself on the deathbed as her husband labored for breath "and starts crying hysterically. And (Secretary of War Edwin) Stanton shows what a lovable man he is by shouting, 'Get that woman out of here!' and banishes her to the front room."

One suspects that Stanton didn't utter those words with greater intensity.

Bearrs won kudos into his 70s as chief historian of the National Park Service, earning the U.S. Department of the Interior's highest award and a commendation from Congress.

He was influenced by a history-loving father and by an appreciation of those who have carried the burden on America's battlefields.

Joining the Marine Corps in 1942, another family tradition, he found himself in Pacific combat. Multiple wounds from a Japanese machine gun while crossing Suicide Creek on New Britain, New Guinea, January 2, 1944, put him in hospitals for two years and permanently disabled his left hand.

It was his long convalescence, Bearrs says, that "rekindled my interest in history" and led to degrees from Georgetown and Indiana universities and a decade as Park Service historian at the Vicksburg, Mississippi, Civil War battlefield.

Click here to return to top of page.

NASA Names a New Historian (posted 10-15-03)

From a NASA press release (Oct. 11, 2003):

NASA has announced that Dr. Steven J. Dick is the new Director, History Office, and Chief Historian. He will assume his duties at NASA on November 3.

"We are delighted to have Steve join the NASA team," said Michael O'Brien, NASA's Assistant Administrator, Office of External Relations. "With his diverse background, scientific accomplishments and thorough understanding of NASA, he will be an invaluable asset as the agency's historian," O'Brien said.

Dick has worked as an astronomer and historian of science at the U. S. Naval Observatory since 1979. He obtained his Bachelor of Science in astrophysics (1971), Master of Arts and Ph.D. (1977) in history and philosophy of science from Indiana University. He fills the position that has been vacant since Dr. Roger D. Launius departed in July 2002 to become historian of the National Air and Space Museum.

He is a well-known expert in the field of astrobiology and its cultural implications. He spent three years at the Naval Observatory's Southern Hemisphere station in New Zealand. Dick served as the first Historian of the Naval Observatory, and has most recently been the Acting Chief of its Nautical Almanac Office.

Dick served on the panel to examine the societal implications of possible life in the Mars rock. He received the NASA Group Achievement Award, "For initiating the new NASA multidisciplinary program in astrobiology, including the definition of the field of astrobiology, the formulation and initial establishment of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and the development of a Roadmap to guide future NASA investments in astrobiology."

He is on the Editorial Board of several journals, including the Journal for the History of Astronomy, and is an associate editor of the International Journal of Astrobiology. He was Chairman of the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society (1993-1994) and President of the History of Astronomy Commission of the International Astronomical Union (1997-2000). He is President-elect of the Philosophical Society of Washington.

Dick has authored more than 100 publications, including: Plurality of Worlds: The Origins of the Extraterrestrial Life Debate from Democritus to Kant (Cambridge University Press, 1982); The Biological Universe: The Twentieth Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate and the Limits of Science (Cambridge University Press, 1996); and Life on Other Worlds (1998), the latter translated into four languages. He was also editor of Many Worlds: The New Universe, Extraterrestrial Life and the Theological Implications (2000).

His history of the Naval Observatory, Sky and Ocean Joined: The U. S. Naval Observatory, 1830-2000 (Cambridge University Press, 2002), received the John Lyman Award of the North American Society for Oceanic History for best book in 2002 in Science & Technology. It also won the Naval Observatory's Captain James Melville Gilliss Award for extraordinary dedication and exemplary service. Dick is also the author (with James Strick) of the forthcoming volume: The Living Universe: NASA and the Development of Astrobiology (Rutgers University Press).

Click here to return to top of page.

Is Michael Bellesiles Masquerading as"Benny Smith"? (posted 10-10-03)

Andrew Ackerman, writing in the Emory Wheel (Oct. 10, 2003):

What do you do when you are about to lose a tenured job, your employer is investigating your fraudulent research and you've alienated a small cadre of supporters in an academic scandal over the explosive topic of guns?

Perhaps you invent an online persona to defend your work.

Readers might remember Emory investigated former history professor Michael Bellesiles (pronounced bell-EEL) for his 2000 book Arming America, which argued that guns were rarer in early America than previously imagined and that frontier America wasn't violent.

Only the book was wrong, and when reputable academics criticized it, Bellesiles couldn't verify many of the records he'd cited. Emory's investigators, charged with finding research misconduct, found Bellesiles violated all four of the major categories of research standards set by the American Historical Association, including fabrication.

Since Emory launched that investigation in the spring of 2002, the most vocal and intemperate online supporter of Bellesiles has been a man who goes by the handle "Benny Smith." Smith has posted seven times on the Wheel's Web site and on countless occasions at History News Network, a site run by George Mason University, at On our site, Smith identifies himself as a Detroit-based database administrator.

In December, when Columbia University was reconsidering the prestigious Bancroft Prize it had bestowed on Arming America, Smith went into a defensive frenzy and accused the Wheel of being led by right-wing gun nuts when we broke the story. "Anti-Bellesiles passion has apparently claimed the staff of the Emory Wheel," he wrote. Yet our reporting was on the money. Columbia did revoke the prize that month. Meanwhile, Smith was probably the only database administrator from Detroit who knew that Bellesiles had retained a lawyer, presumably to mediate with an embarrassed Columbia.

In a Dec. 15 post to an HNN discussion board, Smith wrote that Bellesiles should have "retained appropriate counsel early on." Mysteriously, Smith knew both that the professor had recently hired a lawyer and that he was previously without one. Remarkably, no newspaper had reported on Bellesiles' legal representation before (or after) Smith made his post. It's peculiar that someone with Smith's credentials would have any knowledge of the matter, particularly someone who insisted in a March 20 HNN post: "I do not know Bellesiles personally."

After a hiatus on HNN, Smith rematerialized again at the beginning of this month, ostensibly to promote the forthcoming release of a second paperback edition of Arming America, complete with a new forward and an updated statistics table. The book is scheduled for a Thanksgiving release from Soft Skull Press, traditionally a publisher of erotic literature and left-wing books.

Yet again, Smith is privy to things that no database administrator from Detroit could know. Outside of Bellesiles and perhaps a couple of people at Soft Skull, nobody could have described the forthcoming cover of Arming America the way Smith did on HNN.

"Book distributors are beginning to pitch the highly anticipated second edition," he wrote on Oct. 2. "If the NRA still has problems with the text, maybe they will find the accompanying book jacket photo less objectionable. The photo features a young girl with racks of guns behind her, a hauntingly poignant portrait of our gun culture today."

When contacted at a Yahoo! e-mail address, Smith wrote that he found the cover image online but didn't have the "Web site handy." He then lamented that the Wheel's coverage was clouded by right-wing demagoguery.

In any case, Soft Skull has confirmed that the cover will feature the image of the girl and the gun rack. But the publisher's Web site has no information on the book, let alone an image of its cover. Online retailers such as show a different image from an earlier draft of the cover, not the final version. So Smith knew what Amazon doesn't and what Soft Skull doesn't want the public to know.

It's telling that whenever Smith is questioned, he disappears or dodges, occasionally choosing to rant about the National Rifle Association and partisan politics that he claims ruined Bellesiles. For the record, I've called all of the listed Benjamin Smiths in the Detroit area. None had heard of Emory, much less Bellesiles.

Editor's Note: After Mr. Ackerman's story was published "Benny Smith" revealed that he had come across the new book jacket for Bellesiles's book on .

Click here to return to top of page.

Eric Foner: Now Heard by 10 Million People Annually at Disney (posted 10-10-03)

Brenna Doheny, writing in the Daily Barometer (Oct. 10, 2003):

The students in his classes at Columbia and readers of his numerous books aside, Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, estimates that over 10 million people hear his words each year, in the Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World.

In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Foner spoke about how a trip to Disney World with his daughter prompted him to write a letter to Disney reprimanding them for a false portrayal of American history.

"People know 'It's a Small World After All' isn't true, but they take at face value what is said about Lincoln, and what they had was based on the idea that America started perfect and got better and better," Foner said.

After his letter, Disney gave Foner the assignment of re-writing the introduction to the Hall of Presidents. Foner's five-minute history of the United States, narrated by Maya Angelou, is now part of the exhibit.

"History," Foner said, "ought to be good history, whether it's on TV or in museums or at Disney world."

Foner, a native New Yorker and liberal from a family of liberals, specializes in history of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. He earned his Ph.D. in history at Columbia, though he originally wanted to study astronomy.

"I took a course on the Civil War, with James Shenton, and that's how people decide what they want to do: They meet an inspiring professor. I decided I wanted to major in history, study the Civil War and write about it. And that's what I've done," he told Publishers Weekly.

Click here to return to top of page.

Eve Troutt Powell: Winner of the MacArthur Genius Award (posted 10-7-03)

Kelly Simmons, writing in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution (Oct. 5, 2003):

Associate history professor Eve Troutt Powell has received the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. Commonly referred to as the "genius award," it comes with a $500,000 no-strings-attached grant.

Powell, 42, is the first person from UGA to receive the award, and only the fourth from Georgia since the first grants were announced in 1981. This year, she is the only one of the 24 recipients who is from the Southeast.

"They called me on my cellphone, and the only people who call my cellphone are my sister and my husband," Powell said during an interview in her LeConte Hall office. "I said, 'You're kidding, you're kidding.' "

As news of the award trickled across campus, administrators said it was an example of the success they have had in recent years in bringing in top faculty and gaining national recognition.

"This is confirmation of what everyone's been telling us," said history department Chairman Ed Larson, a 1998 Pulitzer Prize winner. "We are creating a faculty of world-class caliber here."

Considered by many to be among the most coveted U.S.-based award, the MacArthur Fellowship is cloaked in secrecy. An anonymous panel meets annually to discuss candidates, selected for the originality and creativity of their work. Nominees cannot apply for the grant and are not interviewed as part of the awards process. Winners do not know they were considered until they get the call from the foundation president telling them they have won.

Unlike other grants and fellowships, the MacArthur comes with no restrictions. Winners can use the money any way they choose and do not have to file any reports with the foundation. The foundation considers the stipend an expression of confidence in the winner's ability to make the best use of the money.

Powell, who has been on the UGA faculty since 1995, said she plans to use the money to continue her research on the Middle East, with an emphasis on Egypt and Sudan. Powell's second book, "A Different Shade of Colonialism: Egypt, Great Britain and the Mastery of the Sudan," was published by the University of California Press in May.

Next, she wants to research the history of former slaves from Sudan, including St. Josephine Bakhita, who was kidnapped by slave traders at age 9. Bakhita, who died in 1947, was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000 for her service to the poor after she escaped to Italy in 1890.

"I'm really interested in how they tell the story," Powell said of the Sudanese people.

Powell, born in Detroit, but raised in New York City's Washington Heights community, is the daughter of high-achieving parents. Her father, who died when she was 14, was a management consultant, her mother, a psycho- analyst.

Powell said her mother was her first role model. It was her mother who pushed her academically, getting her into prep school and on track to attend Harvard University. Raised in a Kentucky coal-mining family, Powell's mother had pushed herself to earn four master's degrees while raising three children. She died five years ago.

Powell got her bachelor's degree in history from Harvard and returned several years later to earn her master's and doctorate. After completing her undergraduate work, she visited Egypt as an intern with American University in Cairo in 1983 and fell in love with the country.

"That changed my life completely," she said. "I came back on a crusade to change the way Americans think about the Middle East."

Enthralled by contemporary Egypt and the Middle East, she decided to pursue graduate studies in those areas, instead of in French history as she had planned. She also met her husband, Timothy --- now an English professor at UGA --- during that first stay in Cairo. They were married in 1986.

When she completed her Ph.D. in 1995, she began looking for teaching positions and interviewed at UGA. The school offered her and her husband positions, and they left Cambridge, Mass., for Athens.

UGA history professor John Morrow, who was on the committee that interviewed Powell, said the department knew immediately it had found a rising star. "She swept the interview process hands down," said Morrow, who has since become good friends with the Powells. "She is one of those folks, as the MacArthur confirms, you would absolutely want to have."

Powell brought diversity to the department at a time when it leaned heavily toward American and European history, both Morrow and Larson said. "She brought a deepening and enriching of our curriculum that we simply had not had," Larson said. "She looks at sources people haven't looked at before, in different ways. That's the mark of a good historian."

Click here to return to top of page.

Edward Said: Too Lavishly Praised? (posted 10-7-03)

Daniel Pipes, writing on his blog (Oct. 7, 2003):

It was to be expected that Edward Said would receive outlandish encomia upon his death on Sept. 25, 2003. But the professor of literature must be spinning in his grave at the purple prose inflicted on him today by one grieving acolyte, a colleague with a list of titles as long ("Chair of the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies, and the Director of Graduate Studies at the Center for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University") as his command of English style is short. Readers owe it to themselves to undergo the full experience of Hamid Dabashi's hagiography, but here are some extracts:

"We were all like birds flying around the generosity of his roof, tiny dandelions joyous in the shade of his backyard, minuscule creatures pasturing on the bounteous slopes of the mountain that he was. The prince of our cause, the mighty warrior, the Salah al-Din of our reasoning with mad adversaries, source of our sanity in despair, solace in our sorrow, hope in our own humanity, is now no more."
"Today the world is at once poorer in his absence and yet richer through his memory – and precisely in that paradox dwell the seeds of our dissent, the promise of our future, the solemnity of our oath at the sacred site of his casket."
"To my dying day, I will cherish the precise spot next to Miller Theater on the corner of 116th and Broadway [in New York City] where I met Edward for the first time and went up to him and introduced myself – the gratitude of a liberated voice in my greetings."
"Today, of the myriad of things I have learned from Edward Said, nothing matters to me more than the rhapsodic eloquence of his voice – the majesty, confidence, courage, audacity, and poise of his diction."
"For years after I had come to Columbia, I could not quite reconcile the public, mythic, iconic Edward Said, and the immediate Edward of my increasing acquaintance and friendship, camaraderie and solidarity. It was as if there was an Edward Said the Magnificent for the rest of the world and then another Edward for a happy few. The two were not exactly irreconcilable; they posited a question, a distance in need of traversing – how could a mortal so fragile, frail, and accessible cut a global figure so monumental, metaphoric, parabolic?"
"The closer I became to Edward the more impossible it seemed to tell what exactly it was that went into the making of his heroic character in such mythic measures."
"At his death, Edward Said was the moral mandate, the volcanic outburst of a life otherwise wasted in and by accidents that accumulate to nothing. Exile was his fate and he triumphantly turned it into the fruit of his life – the gift he gave to a world now permanently cast into an exilic departure from itself."
"How to remain an incessantly moral voice in a morally impermanent world, how to transfigure the disfigured mutations of the world into a well-mannered measure of truth, how to dismantle the power that false knowledge projects and yet insist that the just is right and the truth is beautiful – that is the legacy of Edward Said, right from the mountain top of his majestic peak visible from afar, down to the slopes of his bountiful pastures which few fortunate souls were blessed to call home."
And this passage, Dabashi's testimonial to Said's nefarious influence on Middle East studies: "Take Orientalism out of [the] curriculum, Edward Said out of our consciousness, and my generation of immigrant intellectuals would all be a bunch of dispirited souls susceptible to chronic melancholy, or else, horribile dictu, who would pathetically mutate into native informers of one sort or another – selling their souls to soulless sultans in DC or else to senile patriarchs in Princeton."

Finally, candor requires me to mention that yours truly makes an appearance in middle of this dirge, though not by name. It may not come as a shock to learn that my reputation does not quite rival that of St. Edward: "an infamous charlatan [who] slandered me in a New York tabloid and created a scandalous website to malign my public stand against the criminal atrocities he supports." The reader will no doubt be relieved to learn that Dabashi's sorrows at being impugned by me were lightened when his "prince" and "majestic peak" left him a voice message ("Hamid, my dear, this is Edward . . .") that Dabashi found luminous: "There was something providential in his voice – it restored hope in humanity."

That this embarrassing eulogy is the best a much-titled professor at a leading university can write again confirms the degeneration of Middle East studies.

Click here to return to top of page.

Anders Winroth: Winner of a MacArthur Fellowship of $500,000 (posted 10-6-03)

From the Associated Press (Oct. 5, 2003):

A Yale University history professor was one of 24 people named Sunday as a 2003 MacArthur Fellow, a prestigious distinction that carries a $500,000 award and recognizes individuals for their creativity.

Anders Winroth, 38, a medieval history professor, researched in detail Gratian's Decretum, a 12th Century collection of church law and one of the seminal books of European history.

"It's enormously flattering. It's a great honor of course," Anders said.

The format and vocabulary of the Decretum set the tone for the development of Western law, both religious and secular, from the medieval period to the present.

"It's really a pivotal work in the history of law," Anders said.

MacArthur Fellows are selected for the originality and creativity of their work and the potential to do more in the future. Candidates are nominated; no one may apply for the awards. The $500,000 is distributed by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation over the next five years. The program has no restrictions on how recipients may use the money.

Jon Butler, chairman of the Yale history department, called the award a "scholar's dream."

"The MacArthur fellowships are the single-most prestigious awards available to academics and intellectuals aside from the Nobel Prize," Butler said.

Anders is a most deserved recipient, Butler said.

"He's a superb medievalist who is able to explain the intricacies of medieval history. He has wonderful explanatory powers," Butler said. "He's a warmly humane person, which of course, makes him an even better teacher. He's a model colleague, a stunning scholar."

Anders, who has been teaching at Yale since 1998, developed his passion for history as a young boy growing up in his native Sweden.

"My memories are from first grade. It just developed from there," he said. "Then somewhere in my teens, I knew (my passion) was medieval history."

Little is known about Gratian, the northern Italian author of the canon law manuscripts, Anders said. It is is believed he was either a bishop or monk, but clearly from his works he was a teacher.

The basis of Gratian's law eventually made their way to 17th Century parliamentary procedure, later adopted by Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers of the United States, Anders said.

"The annual announcement of the MacArthur Fellows is a special opportunity to celebrate the creative individual in our midst," Foundation President Jonathan Fanton said in a written release. "For over two decades, the MacArthur Fellows Program has been at the core of the Foundations efforts to recognize and support individuals who inspire us."

Winroth received his doctorate from Columbia and from 1996-98 was the Sir James Knott Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

He and his wife, Christina, have a 1-year-old son, Hjalmar.

Click here to return to top of page.

Rashid Khalidi: Is He too Biased to Be a Professor? (posted 10-3-03)

Greg Yardley, writing in (Oct. 3, 2003):

Professor Rashid Khalidi has now begun his new position as Columbia University’s Edward Said Professor of Middle East Studies, and chair of Columbia’s Middle East Institute. His acquisition was considered quite a coup for Columbia, since Professor Khalidi is highly-regarded by his peers and has a lengthy list of publications. The negotiations to lure him away from his former post at the University of Chicago took years. His new colleagues are, by all reports, quite pleased. They shouldn’t be. The circumstances of his appointment, taken together, reveal a biased department incapable of adequately teaching students about the modern Middle East.

Rashid Khalidi is a strong and outspoken supporter of the Palestinian side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the Palestinians’ qualified right to murder Israelis. In a speech to the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in June 2002, Khalidi said that while killing Israeli citizens is wrong – he does not publicly support suicide bombers – “the ones who are armed, the ones who are soldiers, the ones who are in occupation, that's different.” His support for the murder of soldiers – “resistance,” as he put it – is combined with a curious exasperation with American media coverage. In another speech, this one to the American Committee on Jerusalem, Khalidi claimed that “Israel has killed three times as many innocent civilians as have Palestinians, for all the media hysteria about suicide bombers,” and while his figures are debatable, his comment on ‘media hysteria’ is a disgrace. The American public has suffered greatly from terrorist mass murder; they have a completely legitimate interest in similar incidents committed abroad. A Palestinian bomb on a crowded Israeli bus differs only from 9/11 in scale; both of these incidents are unambiguously evil, both miles removed from the accidental, tragic death of a Palestinian civilian by Israeli soldiers in pursuit of terrorists.

Perhaps these views are to be expected from an admirer of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He dedicated his 1986 academic study on the PLO, ‘Under Siege,” to ‘those who gave their lives … in defense of the cause of Palestine and the liberation of Lebanon.” Critics of the book claimed it inappropriately downplayed PLO violence. What Khalidi downplays for Palestinians he exaggerates for Israelis; for instance, he often describes Israeli as an “apartheid system,” even though Arab parties hold seats in Israeli’s parliament and Arabs there have more civil rights than in any neighboring, Islamic state.

Khalidi own political predilections make him a good match for the Edward Said Chair. The recently deceased Said was one of the most influential scholars of the last twenty years and America’s most prominent advocate of Palestinian statehood. Said’s major work, the 1978 Orientalism, blamed the problems of the Middle East largely on the West, stemming from the three connected evils of imperialism, racism, and Zionism. While Orientalism often ignored evidence that ran counter to its thesis, it still became the field of Middle Eastern Studies’ canonical text. Like Khalidi, Said could, at times, sound relatively moderate, condemning Palestinian terrorism in general (although refusing to condemn specific, individual acts) and encouraging Palestinian democracy, but ultimately, he thought “what they [the Palestinians] do by way of violence and terrorism is understandable.” This moral lapse became personal action in June 2000, when Said, visiting Israel, threw fist-sized rocks at an Israeli Defense Force post in an attempt to injure the occupants, while cameras snapped away. Said has been involved in other ethical lapses – for instance, an article by Justus Weiner in the September 1999 issue of Commentary showed that Said lied in his early memoirs about being a Palestinian refugee. Despite these blots on his record, Said enjoyed a very successful academic career as professor of comparative literature at Columbia. During his tenure, he helped bring other, similarly partisan scholars to the school.

Should Khalidi have been appointed to the Edward Said Chair? Determining that requires further context. While Khalidi’s statements often indicate poor moral reasoning, he wouldn’t be the first professor to have problematic morals. Even though most Americans would probably find his personal politics reprehensible, the principle of academic freedom requires tolerance of unpopular views in the university, even extremist ones. As long as he gave his students a fair treatment of all schools of thought and he allowed them to reach their own conclusions, Khalidi’s presence in an otherwise mainstream university department would be relatively unobjectionable – even a stimulus to debate.

That said, Columbia University’s Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures (MELAC) is anything but ‘mainstream’ – it’s so biased in favor of one and only one school of thought, the university’s become known, after the infamous Palestinian school, as ‘Bir Zeit on the Hudson.’ Before Khalidi was hired, MELAC already had three outspoken advocates for Palestine – Hamid Dabashi, Joseph Massad, and George Saliba. These professors have all already made statements similar to or even more extreme than Khalidi’s, often in class. For instance, in his lectures Hamid Dabashi reportedly compared Israeli attacks on Hamas militants in Jenin, which killed a total of fifty, to the Nazi Holocaust, which killed six million Jews. Joseph Massad has stated in a variety of forums that “a Jewish state is a racist state” that does not have the right to exist. And George Saliba, who teaches about Islamic science, has been criticized by his students for frequent off-topic political rants in class. All have cancelled their scheduled classes, normally attended and paid for by students of all political persuasions, so they could go attend pro-Palestinian political demonstrations. Many more professors in MELAC, while not as outspoken, have signed a divestment petition calling for Columbia to abandon its investments in Israel. The only faculty member of the Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures department to favor the Israeli side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, nominally, Dan Miron, the Leonard Kaye Chair of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, who is only at Columbia part of the time. In other words, when Khalidi was hired, his views were more than adequately represented in his field.

Khalidi’s political views, and the peculiar way they mesh well with the rest of his department’s, would be also be less objectionable if he was hired through an open and competitive job search. However, Khalidi was hired without the usual job search. No advertisements for the Edward Said chair were ever placed; Khalidi never had to compete with other candidates in interviews or public lectures. No professor with an opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict differing from Khalidi, Dabashi, Massad, Sabila, or dean Anderson had an opportunity to even apply, let alone be considered. The administration at Columbia will no doubt defend that practice, since it’s a common way to fill endowed chairs – when a university has an opportunity to recruit someone they consider particularly prestigious, they often discard the usual way of doing things and just offer their desired candidate a post. But common practices aren’t always defensible. Khalidi’s appointment by a department already politically uniform and a dean that shared its views reeks of high-level patronage based on political perspectives. Even if the professors did not intend to perpetuate a bias, they should’ve kept the process open to other candidates to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Instead, the hiring and negotiations were conducted as secretively as possible. There was no rush; negotiations to pluck Khalidi from his last job at the University of Chicago took years. Interim director of the Middle East Institute Gary Sick had to be asked to stay on another year while the hiring took place. Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs could’ve conducted an open job search with ease. But they didn’t bother – apparently, once they’d decided Khalidi was the man for the job amongst themselves, there was no need to bother with pretences.

Of course, even the most ideological pack of professors can’t hire someone to an endowed chair without securing funding. A position like Khalidi’s requires millions of dollars in dedicated endowments. We don’t know who provided these endowments, because Columbia won’t tell us. Only a couple of approximately twenty donors have publicly confirmed donations. However, even these few have disturbing connections to foreign governments. One philanthropist who donated, Rita Hauser, was connected to the Palestinian Authority by her former law firm, registered as an agent for the Palestinian Authority up until 2001. Another, the Olayan Charitable Trusts, is the American charitable arm of a Saudi Arabian corporation. A critic of the Khalidi appointment, Martin Kramer, has seen what purports to be a full list of donors, and he reports that in addition to many usual supporters of the Palestinian cause, there is at least one foreign government on the list. This is disturbing for many reasons – because the donors obtained a professor who shared their political preferences, because foreign governments may have an agenda beyond promoting scholarship, and because the Middle East Institute, which Khalidi chairs, will be receiving approximately nine hundred thousand dollars from the taxpayers over the next three years. These donors may have known in advance that it was Khalidi they were funding – according to one Khalidi supporter at Columbia, at least one donation came in after Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs began its two-year long negotiations with Khalidi. To the outsider, it looks like these donors purchased an activist professor who agreed with their political views. That’s not how a university should be running.

Normally, we’d expect the university’s higher administration to step in and prevent such obvious political gerrymandering. This won’t happen at Columbia. The person who recruited Khalidi and did most of the fundraising for his post is Lisa Anderson, dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and currently the President of the Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA). MESA is a very ideologically uniform organization, united in its opposition to the American government and American foreign policy – especially America’s efforts to fight terrorism. For instance, MESA has launched a boycott of the National Security Education Program, a government scholarship program designed to produce national security experts for the American government. Thanks in part to this boycott, the House Subcommittee on Special Education actually had to hold hearings on “International Programs in Higher Education and Questions of Bias.”

Lisa Anderson, as president of MESA, is in no position to objectively vet the decisions of Columbia’s Middle Eastern Studies faculty; the supervisory position of dean requires an outsider, not a close colleague. Recently, anonymous sources claimed an endowed chair in Israeli Studies was proposed to the same Lisa Anderson. Donors were reportedly in place; but Anderson decided to reject the proposal after discussions with her colleagues – the very same professors in the Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures department that pushed so hard for Khalidi and the Edward Said Chair. The aborted Israeli Studies chair, never mentioned publicly, shows just how easy it is for scholars of Middle Eastern Studies to shut out opposing views behind the scenes.

The pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli bias doesn’t stop at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. Columbia University spends next to none of its own money on courses where modern Jewish politics, history, and culture are taught. Dan Miron of MELAC, often cited as the ‘balance’ to the department’s propagandists, occupies the Leonard Kay Chair for Hebrew and Comparative Literature, funded by a set-aside endowment established for that exact purpose. In the history department, Professors Michael Stanislawsky and Yosef Yerushalmi are funded by similarly endowed posts – respectively named after Nathan J. Miller and Salo W. Baron. In the religion department, Professor David Weiss Halivni is the Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Classical Jewish History, another endowed post. Columbia doesn’t have to pay a dime for these professors’ salaries – it all comes from the endowment income. If it wasn’t for the generosity of the donors that made these positions possible, there’d be hardly a course on all of Judaism at Columbia.

The bias prevalent at liberal arts faculties isn’t easy to fight, because most of the faculty don’t believe left-wing bias really exists or is even a problem. Because they themselves don’t consciously discriminate in their classes or on their hiring committees, they assume others do likewise, and criticism from outside the university is just dismissed as conservative sour grapes. However, subtle bias abounds. Some faculty are only interested in radical theorists, and dismiss scholars not utilizing them; others suspect conservatives aren’t doing enough critical thinking, and therefore aren’t suited for the job. Many value conformity a bit more than they should. These faculty support and defend the minority who openly use their positions to advance their political causes, overlooking both the increasing acceptance of subjective ‘advocacy teaching’ as a pedagogical method and the growing number of well-documented examples of indoctrination in the classroom.

As studies of voter registration show, this overtly-ideological minority of professors has been remarkably successful – leftists and liberals vastly outweigh conservatives almost everywhere in the humanities. Similarly, defenders of Palestinian terror dominate Middle Eastern Studies faculties. These leftists reject all criticism of their actions; for example, Rashid Khalidi, confronted by Daniel Pipes on an August 29th showing of MSNBC’s Scarborough Country, stated that he shouldn’t have to defend himself from Pipes’ criticism, since the charges had no merit. Elsewhere, Khalidi described Pipes’ Campus Watch, which monitors and critiques Middle Eastern Studies, as “a McCarthyite attempt to silence the very few voices that speak out about the Middle East, and to impose by fear a uniformity of view on the campus debate.” Those who think Middle Eastern Studies is quite uniform enough already are dismissed as “academic outcasts from the Middle East field, who seem to be driven both by their extreme pro-Israeli views, and their resentment at the fact that they have never managed to obtain the respect of their peers.” Harsh words, but typical for Columbia’s faculty – Hamid Dabashi called Pipes and his associates “non-entities;” while Joseph Massad called Pipes a “failed academic.” The namesake of Khalidi’s chair, Edward Said, claimed Pipes and other critics of today’s Middle Eastern Studies were only out to obtain “profitable consultancies, frequent TV appearances and book contracts.” But none of these professors’ attacks directly address their critics’ charges against them – is there systematic bias in the field of Middle East Studies? If professors on hiring committees are applying ideological litmus tests to new applicants, being a ‘failed academic’ might just be the result of discrimination. There’s a reason why Khalidi isn’t addressing the substance of Pipes’ criticism – he can’t. Of all the examples of left-wing discrimination on campus, it’s hard to find one more egregious than Khalidi’s hiring, the appointment of a biased professor to the head of a biased department funded by biased donors solicited by a biased dean.

Tenured academics aren’t nearly as accountable to the public as they should be, considering the massive amounts of taxpayers’ money that fund public and private universities alike. But that doesn’t mean we can’t fight bias in the liberal arts. University administrations like Columbia’s pay attention to their alumni and donors; nothing gets their attention more than the cessation of donations. And initiatives like Students for Academic Freedom’s Academic Bill of Rights, which states that “no faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs,” will help ensure that supporters of no political orthodoxy, leftist or conservative, will be ever be able to abuse their positions and dominate the academy in the future. Khalidi and his colleagues will continue to smear all their critics as McCarthyites, just as faculty in Colorado are protesting and smearing the Academic Bill of Rights. Despite these attacks, everyone who cares about true academic freedom must not let up. The hostility of Khalidi and company show that our criticism is working.

Click here to return to top of page.

Paul Johnson: Son of an Artist (posted 10-3-03)

Eric Gibson, writing in the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 3, 2003):

Anyone picking up Paul Johnson's "Art: A New History" may be forgiven for doing a double take. In the past, Mr. Johnson's interests--in "Modern Times," say, or in the best-selling "Intellectuals"--have run more toward history and politics than culture.

Yet "Art: A New History" turns out to be the real thing. Mr. Johnson's father was an artist who cautioned his son against a similar career: "I can see bad times coming for art. Frauds like Picasso will rule the roost for the next half-century. Do something else for a living." He did, becoming a political journalist at the New Statesman and, later, the Spectator and many other publications, both British and American. Yet all the time he continued to sketch and paint, and to visit museums. It is this store of experience that he draws upon for "Art: A New History."...

Mr. Johnson remembers all too clearly what his father said. He loathes modern art and regards Picasso as its chief criminal. He coins the term "fashion art" to describe the work of nearly all artists from Picasso to the present. It is his theory that they created their art not out of some inner impulse but out of the cynical desire to secure commercial advantage by propagating a trendy style. Such reasoning leads Mr. Johnson to observations both philistine and inaccurate. Thus Matisse, in many ways a reluctant revolutionary and certainly a man of high aesthetic ideals, was merely "anxious to push himself forward by novelty."

The problem isn't just that Mr. Johnson doesn't like modern art. One can hardly hold that against him in a book brimming with appealingly strong opinions. The problem is that he cannot understand what the modern movement was all about. He thinks artists should always replicate visual reality, that anything else is fraudulent. But beginning in the late 19th century, artists abandoned that centuries-old tradition because, among other things, they felt that it could no longer capture their experience--the modern experience.

Instead, they sought to articulate a subjective reaction to the world. That idea cuts no ice with Mr. Johnson, so he gives summary treatment to Cézanne, Matisse and other great artists while singling out for praise the likes of Grant Wood, Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth--all moderately talented realists with banal or sentimental approaches to their subjects. It is strange that the author of "Modern Times" should have a blind spot for modernism in art, but such seems to be the case.

Which is a pity, because "Art: A New History" is a valuable book--if it can reach its audience. It is too unconventional to find favor with college professors, although their students could derive great benefit from reading it. But there is a whole legion of museum-goers who are eager to learn more about art but who now have only the specialized catalogs of particular exhibitions or, at the other extreme, to the short entries in dictionaries to turn to. They would do better to pick up Mr. Johnson's book and discover there the ideal general introduction to the subject of art and the practice of looking. They should just be sure to look askance at the part on "modern times."

Click here to return to top of page.

George Horse Capture: Fulfilling His Dream of an Indian Museum on the Mall (posted 10-3-03)

Bryan O'Connor, writing in the (Sept. 27, 2003):

George Horse Capture is about a year away from realizing a lifelong dream and completing his life’s work.

After a life of preserving Native American Indian culture, including more than 20 years as a curator at two museums, Horse Capture has one final project to see through – the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve been working all my life toward this,” Horse Capture said at the Western Heritage Center on Friday. “To me that is the cycle of life.”

Horse Capture was in Billings for the museum’s Montana American Indian Heritage Day and was the keynote speaker at its annual dinner and celebration. He gave a seminar Friday on interpreting American Indian history.

The 65-year-old Gros Ventre was born on the Fort Belknap Reservation but grew up mostly in Butte. He said his journey didn’t really begin until he was a young man in the 1960s, working in San Francisco. He had it all he said, a good job, a new car and a boat.

“But still, there was something empty and unfulfilled within me,” Horse Capture said.

Horse Capture was drawn into the civil rights movement after a group of students and Native American Indians took over Alcatraz Island in 1969. He found people who were enthusiastic, shared his concerns and were accepting, he said.

Horse Capture quit his job and began attending the University of California at Berkley, studying anthropology. After teaching and earning a master’s degree in Montana, he served as curator of the Plains Indian Museum of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody from 1980 to 1990.

After struggling with heart attacks and thinking he was going to die, Horse Capture landed a job at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Even though he and his wife’s car was stolen two weeks after they moved to the Bronx, they decided to stay.

The new National Museum of the American Indian under construction near the Capitol is the culmination of the last decade of Horse Capture’s work, he said. The museum is scheduled to open Sept. 21, 2004.

“Rain or shine, we’re opening,” Horse Capture said.

As the senior counselor to the director of the museum, he has been working with tribes all over the country portray their history accurately from an Indian perspective, he said. The focus is on Indians’ origins, their history and their contemporary lives, he said.

“We’re a museum of living people,” Horse Capture said. “Some of our history is in the past, but much of it is in the present and future. It is our duty to tell the story with and Indian voice.”

Moving the collection from the Bronx to Washington, D.C., will be no small task. There are about 850,000 pieces that will be carefully transported to the new museum during the next few years, Horse Capture said. It could take as long as five years to get it all moved, he said.

But the opening next September is where Horse Capture will say farewell. He will return to the Fort Belknap reservation, a place where his family, alive and deceased, all live he said.

“When the doors open, I’m leaving to return home. Duty done,” he says smiling.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Michael Green - 12/26/2003

It is interesting to note that in this column, Daniel Pipes appears twice: as the subject of an article claiming that he is automatically smeared wherever he goes, and then his website is quoted attacking Columbia University over a chair named for Edward Said, a distinguished scholar with whom Pipes happened to disagree. Does the combination tell us anything? Now, Pipes fans, his website attacked professors who "hate America" for daring to say that in the wake of September 11, we ought to try to understand what the followers of Osama Bin Laden are thinking. That kind of comment doesn't coem from someone who is being smeared. It comes from someone who smears.

Naomi Parry - 9/3/2003

As a historian working fervently in Australia I am most concerned about the international attention generated by Windschuttle. I would like HNN readers to hear about the other side of this debate. Windschuttle's slurs on the history profession in Australia are not actually supportable in light of the archival evidence. He relies on the limitations of Australian and international understanding about Tasmanian archive material to make the claims in his new 'history'. Please see for a recent contribution by myself which shows the implausibility of many of his claims. This is not a PC response to his work. I and many other Australian historians are devastated about the allegation that writing honestly about Australia's violent past is a left-wing political agenda. Massacres, murder and violent dispossession were part of our history, and we must own up to that, or imperil relations with surviving Aborigines, and the rest of the world.

Irene - 8/31/2003

Paul Cullen, calling David Irving a right winger is as silly as calling FDR a socialist. Irving is a Nazi, not a right winger. Let's call a spade a spade. His charactorization takes away from any legitimacy in the article.

Bob Hunt - 8/1/2003

I've just coincidentally in the last couple weeks become acquainted with the name Keith Windschuttle(and also that of David Stove) from Roger Kimball's excellent book "lIVES OF THE MIND". PC is so overpowering in America it takes courage to take on the thought/language police. Kimball has it in spades, and so apparently, does Keith Windschuttle. God bless him!