Friday, July 16, 2004

Ouch; or, on exposing yourself to ridicule

Early Modern Notes got (as far as I know) its first mention at Cliopatria yesterday. Starts well...

Over at Early Modern Notes, Sharon Haber maintains one of the best history blogs, which I read often, but...

That bit's nice (apart from the fact that the name's Howard, not Haber... probably partly my fault for forgetting to put in an 'about me' after I disabled the Blogger profile because I didn't like the way it looked on the screen).

But that 'but'... Ouch.

... she's apprenticing, too.

So, I'm reading her recommendation of July's Common-Place and her note that Cronaca still holds Common-Place accountable for giving "the infamous Michael Bellesiles a platform in their early issues." And, then, Sharon's Early Modern Notes says – I kid you not: "Who is Michael Bellesiles and what is wrong with him? What have I missed? (Or forgotten ...)" There, there, dear, no one's stolen your automobile. You've left it in the lot over at school. Now, I understand that Sharon is English and that she is one of those unusual people who become Early Modernists, but still ...

Ouch ouch ouch. Now, since those who know are too busy laughing to tell me the answer, I did what I should have done in the first place and googled it. And no, I hadn't forgotten. I didn't know the fraud story. No bells ringing. Nul points for my knowledge of US academic scandal.

I could excuse myself on the grounds that at the time I was completely wrapped up in writing my PhD thesis. But there's another reason, you know. It was reported over here (as was the book that caused the trouble, which I do faintly remember), but not extensively, I think (the Independent and BBC sites turned up no hits). It just did not cause the furore that it obviously did in the US.

Which is, of course, because it's about guns and gun control. I have my doubts that any eighteenth-century subject could cause quite that much of a stink in Britain. A study of gun ownership in probate inventories certainly wouldn't. If we have any debates on the matter, it's always about how we could tighten up our gun laws even further than they have been already, and why they're not policed effectively enough. We simply do not get the Americans on this one. Bowling for Columbine is like some weird alien universe. (Except for the bits about the export industry. We may not like guns, but hey, we're still going to keep selling them to everyone else.) The Bellesiles story, over here, would be just another example of the strangeness of our American cousins. And we've got plenty of those to keep us entertained/distressed/outraged.

So, I plead guilty to not always keeping up with American culture, politics and history. But I don't have to. There's quite a lot going on over here to keep me exercised, you know. And this is, after all, an explicitly British-orientated blog. (I'm pleased that it can nonetheless appeal to American readers.) I asked the question because I suspected it was an American story that had slipped under my British radar and I was genuinely curious.

British readers who think that these are entirely feeble excuses and that I should have known the story may, of course, throw as many rotten eggs at me as they like. But gently, eh?


  1. Anonymous1:11 PM

    "the infamous Michael Bellesiles a platform in their early issues."

    I have absolutely no idea who Michael Bellesiles is. This story reminds me of a Canadian flatmate who took the piss out of my Dad because he'd never heard of Ezra Pound. We then found that my flatmate had never of Idi Amin and my Dad had.

  2. Anonymous1:11 PM

    That was me claire by the way.

  3. Anonymous6:14 PM

    Ralph Luker here: You took that ribbing very nicely and I suppose it was an American thing. Even so, historians in the U. S. went through a period in 2002 when we had 1) one major historian exposed for having misrepresented himself to his students over a very long period; 2) two major historians exposed for having committed plagiarism; and 3) the Bellesiles scandal in which we had conferred our highest prize on a book which appeared to be fraudulent. It was a difficult time -- hard to imagine that any English-speaking historian had missed it.

  4. Anonymous6:45 PM

    Ralph, I don't excuse myself altogether. It was clearly a huge and important story. Still, in summer/autumn '02 I *was* out on Planet PHD. I'm still not sure how much attention it did get here. The gun thing might not attract too much interest; but academic fraud's another thing altogether.

    ...from Sharon. I just can't be arsed to sign in right now. (Neither can anybody else; I think it's time to install the Haloscan comments. Oh, and add an 'about me' link. Somebody else somewhere called me a grad student! Harrumph.)


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