• April 24, 2014

Michael Bellesiles Takes Another Shot

He was drummed out of academe after a controversy over his book about guns in America. Now the historian aims for a second chance.

Michael Bellesiles Takes Another Shot 1

Don Hamerman for The Chronicle

Michael Bellesiles has written a new book and wants to move on.

Let's say you spend a dozen years researching a book. It's the first in a planned trilogy, the historical opus you consider your life's work. The book is published to gushing reviews ("stunning," "brilliant," a "tour de force") and becomes a national best seller. You win a big prize. You are living every scholar's dream.

Then it starts to crumble. Troubling flaws are found in your acclaimed work. At first you dismiss your critics as cranks, but as the evidence piles up, you struggle to defend yourself. Your admirers desert you. Your publisher drops you. Your big prize is withdrawn, and you're pressured to leave the faculty job you love. For a moment, you had everything, and then—just like that—it all goes away, plus some.

It's a sad story, yet the man who lived it, Michael A. Bellesiles, doesn't get a lot of sympathy. The book he wrote, Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (Knopf, 2000), claimed to show that until the Civil War, guns were relatively rare in the United States, an argument that incensed gun-rights advocates. They were giddy over his downfall. Once it became impossible to deny that the work contained serious errors, former supporters felt betrayed and rapidly disassociated themselves from the book and its disgraced author. It was hard to tell who hated him more.

Now, nearly eight years later, Mr. Bellesiles is back. His new book, 1877: America's Year of Living Violently (New Press), isn't a contrarian showstopper; instead, it's an anecdotal history of a famously eventful and profoundly bloody year in American history. It's one of several books Mr. Bellesiles has been working on. After years spent figuring out how to recover and move on, the history professor has returned to writing and is feeling more productive than ever.

But will anyone give Mr. Bellesiles a second chance? And, more to the point, does he even deserve one?

Numbers That Didn't Add Up

The unabridged chronicle of the controversy over Arming America could fill several volumes and is readily available on the Internet. The CliffsNotes version is that key data were challenged, first by gun-rights activists and scholars in other fields, and then by other historians when Mr. Bellesiles was unable to back up his claims, particularly regarding numbers from county probate records that he had used to show how few Americans actually owned firearms. The case was an embarrassment to the discipline, which in 2002 was also reeling from plagiarism accusations leveled at high-profile historians like Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

There are errors in Arming America. Exactly how severe those errors are depends on whom you ask. In his book Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud, and Politics in the Ivory Tower (New Press, 2005), Jon Wiener argues that the focus of the controversy was on "errors in a tiny portion of the documentation." Emory University, where Mr. Bellesiles was a professor, organized an independent committee to investigate the allegations. It found multiple instances of figures that didn't add up and a "casual method of recording data" that made it impossible to tell where the historian had gotten his information. The committee members concluded that he was "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work," but said that "we do not see evidence of outright deception." Columbia University's trustees soon rescinded the prestigious Bancroft Prize for American history, saying Mr. Bellesiles had "violated basic norms of scholarship."

One of his most dogged critics, Clayton E. Cramer, who spent six months poring over Mr. Bellesiles's book, checking its findings against primary sources, says he can turn to almost any page of Arming America and discover a problem. And these aren't just careless mistakes, Mr. Cramer contends. He, like many others, believes that Mr. Bellesiles is guilty of falsification, that he made up sources and fudged results to strengthen his thesis. "There's no question in my mind that what was involved was more than error," Mr. Cramer says.

The case for falsification isn't a slam dunk. But the defense that Mr. Wiener offers isn't persuasive, either. Yes, as Mr. Bellesiles himself has often stated, there's more to the book than probate records. But those records were an important component of his argument, cited prominently in positive reviews. That they didn't hold up is far from trivial.

Certainly it's true that Michael Bellesiles got caught up in the highly charged politics over gun control in the United States. If his book had been about a less inflammatory topic, it would never have undergone such microscopic scrutiny, and he would still be a respected, tenured professor at Emory, living a comfortable, anonymous life.

But what motivated his critics is mostly beside the point. What matters is what they found.

In the end, those critics won a satisfying victory, and the author of Arming America was toppled. In the wake of the independent committee's report, Mr. Bellesiles resigned from Emory and disappeared from sight.

A New History

I met Michael Bellesiles in a tea shop in Madison, Conn., not far from where he lives with his wife. In person, he is polite and understandably wary. His dark hair is much shorter than it was in the author photo for Arming America, and the past decade has left some lines on his forehead. After a chicken-salad sandwich and some herbal tea, he relaxes somewhat. He is inquisitive, laughs easily, and has no shortage of facts and anecdotes at his fingertips. He could be your favorite college prof.

I had read an advance copy of his new book and found it enjoyable, or as enjoyable as the history of a shockingly violent period can be. Mr. Bellesiles weaves events into stories and finds characters that make the historical feel personal. It's a good read. As far as I know, no one has accused Mr. Bellesiles of being a lousy writer.

That said, it's not a book that will turn convention on its head or send shock waves through the scholarly community. Nor will pointing out that 1877 was a pivotal year come as a surprise to other American historians; in fact, a book on 1877 by the Pulitzer Prize winner Robert V. Bruce was published 50 years ago. The two works inevitably cover some of the same ground, but they focus on different characters and see some different forces at play.

Like most authors, Mr. Bellesiles is eager to chat about his new book. His previous book, however, is trickier territory. "When I talk about the past," he says, "I sound like someone who is standing there being hit over and over again like a piñata. And I don't like that."

He does have regrets. He wishes he'd put his research into a computer database. Back then he was a proud neo-Luddite who preferred pencils and yellow legal pads. A flood in Emory's Bowden Hall, he reported afterward, had destroyed the notebooks containing his probate research. (For the record, his office was indeed flooded, though his critics scoffed at the idea that the notebooks could have been ruined.)

He also wishes, he tells me, that he'd studied statistics. That is the closest he comes to admitting that what happened with Arming America was, at least in part, his fault.

And he wishes he'd handled the scandal with more skill. He was overwhelmed, he says, and responded too hastily. His e-mail inbox was flooded with thousands of hateful messages. Angry callers left threatening messages at his office and home; some detractors showed up at his classes. One creative critic made up a song and serenaded him over the phone. It included rhymes for the word "asshole."

As for what he's been doing since 2002, Mr. Bellesiles isn't entirely forthcoming. He says he did some teaching in England, although he doesn't want to divulge the details. He did a lot of freelance work for a textbook company. He volunteered with veterans. Before graduate school, he had worked for a number of years as a bartender. When I ask whether he returned to that profession following his departure from Emory, Mr. Bellesiles demurs. "I'm still a good bartender," he says. "I will tell you that."

The reason for his reluctance is that he knows whatever he says will be molded into a narrative he can't control. I will write this article. His multitudinous critics will seize on portions of it, some of them no doubt questioning why The Chronicle would spill so much ink on a man they consider a fraud. There is always risk for the interviewee: He is placing himself in the hands of a reporter he doesn't know and hoping for the best. Mr. Bellesiles understands this risk better than most. He's been burned before.

He is frank, however, about his inner turmoil. After Emory he thought about going to law school, something his parents had encouraged him to do when he graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz. He thought about abandoning history entirely. Then, a couple of years ago, a former student of his who is now a professor at Central Connecticut State University suggested that he return to the classroom as an adjunct. Friends and family thought it would be good for him.

And it has been. Being back in the classroom, he says, has helped restore his shaken self-confidence. He was sufficiently bolstered that he was able to turn out the new book in 18 months. He's mostly finished with another book, about a friend who was on death row. And he's started a third, tentatively titled "A People's Military History of the United States."

I remark that he's been awfully productive.

"Thank you," he says. "I like to think so."

More Missteps

But there have been bumps on the road to rehabilitation. The first was a letter sent by his publisher to promote 1877. It described Mr. Bellesiles as "the target of an infamous 'swiftboating' campaign by the National Rifle Association" and called Arming America a "Bancroft Prize-winning book."

Comparing the controversy over Arming America to the attempt to malign John Kerry's military service in the 2004 presidential elections doesn't make sense. And it wasn't just the NRA that had issues with the book. Plus, while it's accurate to say that Arming America won the Bancroft Prize, not mentioning that it was later rescinded for the first time in that award's lengthy and august history is a pretty significant omission.

Mr. Bellesiles says he didn't approve or even read the promotional letter. The publicity director at the New Press, Anne Sullivan, says the letter was nothing unusual: "It was strong language, but that's publicity, right?" Sure, but intentionally misleading publicity probably doesn't do much for Mr. Bellesiles's reputation, and bloggers were quick to pounce on the letter. Jonah Goldberg, of The National Review, deemed Mr. Bellesiles the "Lord High Commissioner of Chutzpah."

Then, after I interviewed him, Mr. Bellesiles published an essay in The Chronicle Review. In the piece, which seemed innocuous enough, he writes about a student in his military-history class at Central Connecticut State whose brother was killed in Iraq. The essay is about how real life intrudes on the classroom, how teachers must be sensitive to what's going on in the lives of their students.

One of his old critics, James Lindgren, then wrote a post on the group blog The Volokh Conspiracy. Mr. Lindgren, a professor of law at Northwestern University, had searched through the records of military deaths and couldn't find one that matched the description in Mr. Bellesiles's essay. Other bloggers piled on, including Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit, and Megan McArdle, of The Atlantic. The title of one post, "Is Bellesiles At It Again?," conveys the tenor of the response.

Like Mr. Lindgren, I couldn't find any military records that matched the details in the essay. I contacted the teaching assistant for the class, who confirmed Mr. Bellesiles's version of events, saying that the student had seemed distressed and had told him that his brother was killed in either Iraq or Afghanistan. I had a brief conversation with the student, who told me the brother's name and said he was in the Army. I then spoke with an Army official, who searched a database containing the names of all service members killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The name didn't come up.

In an e-mail exchange I then had with the student, he admitted that he had lied about some of the details he told Mr. Bellesiles, the teaching assistant, and, later, me. It wasn't his brother but rather a friend who had died in Afghanistan. He explained the situation in more detail, but I'm going to keep those details private. Exposing him doesn't seem right, even if his credibility is questionable.

So even though it appears clear that Mr. Bellesiles wasn't lying, as some alleged online, what happened can only further damage his standing as a scholar. Why didn't he verify the student's story? Shouldn't a historian, particularly one teaching a military-history course, be more careful? Is this additional evidence of Mr. Bellesiles's casual relationship with facts?

Maybe. Then again, it never occurred to Mr. Bellesiles or the teaching assistant that the student might be lying. He was a good student who seemed genuinely distressed. Why grill a grief-stricken undergraduate? Who makes up a story like that anyway?

Regardless, the details of this minor uproar will eventually fade, leaving the impression that, once again, Mr. Bellesiles got it wrong.

Even before this unlikely episode, commenters on The Volokh Conspiracy were questioning whether Mr. Bellesiles should be permitted to publish again. "Why in heaven's name would it be good he is getting a second chance?" wrote one. "This guy shouldn't even be teaching American History 101 to hung-over community college students," wrote another. And this gentle suggestion: "Let the sonofabitch paint houses or something."

Years have passed, but the emotion still seems fresh. I spoke with Clayton Cramer, who, perhaps more than anyone else, did the fact-checking legwork that brought down Arming America. Mr. Cramer, who now teaches history at the College of Western Idaho and government at an ITT Technical Institute, has even written a book in response, Armed America. I asked him if he thought Mr. Bellesiles should get a second chance. "I think you get a second chance if you can come up with a plausible explanation for how you got so many things wrong," he says.

A member of the committee that reviewed Arming America and sealed Mr. Bellesiles's fate at Emory is more forgiving. "I certainly believe any member of the profession is entitled to try again," says Stanley N. Katz, director of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, who blogs for The Chronicle Review. "If the judgment of the profession is that it's a successful attempt, I'd say bravo."

Patrick N. Allitt, a history professor at Emory, agrees that his former colleague has every right to publish again. But that doesn't mean historians are eager to welcome Mr. Bellesiles back into the fold: "There are people that feel sympathetic toward him, but they're mainly in other departments." Mr. Allitt predicts that Mr. Bellesiles's new book will be "scrutinized with incredible care."

That goes without saying, and Mr. Bellesiles knows it. He had a graduate student recheck every footnote in 1877, just to be certain. "I've done everything I can to make sure there's no mistakes of any kind, and I will continue to do so always."

In the introduction of 1877, he thanks St. Raymond, patron saint of the falsely accused. Because that's how Mr. Bellesiles continues to see himself—as someone who was falsely accused of fabricating material. When critics started attacking his Chronicle essay, he said in exasperation, "They've already destroyed my life once. Isn't that enough?"

But whenever he starts talking about the past or complaining about his treatment in the blogosphere, he stops himself. That battle is over, and he lost it. I ask him how long it took him to get over what happened. "Ask me again tomorrow," he says. "Or next year."

In a sense, Michael Bellesiles will never get a second chance. The odds of his once more securing a tenure-track position are vanishingly small. He will never completely outrun the controversy over Arming America. He is aware of that, and his goals are more modest: "I would like to think that the scholarship I am producing will demonstrate that I am a competent, capable historian and I always have been."

He doesn't want to talk about Arming America. He doesn't want to talk about guns. He doesn't want to talk about Emory. Instead the historian wants to look forward. "Let's talk about the new book," he says. "And the book after that. And the book after that."

Comments

1. amnirov - August 03, 2010 at 10:45 pm

So why is CHE being so nice to this guy?

2. thirdcamper2 - August 04, 2010 at 03:33 am

This is a fine and well-done article from a standpoint that is not usual in this story line. It humanizes someone who has been demonized. At the same time, it should be said that because of the reluctance to get into details about the earlier controversy it ends up softpedaling the gravity of what happened with Arming America. Most historians, not just the cranks who dog Bellesiles to this day, concluded in the end that the mistakes were such that it was apparent Bellesiles had invented data. The article would have done better to state this more plainly. The other problem is that Bellesiles never took responsibility for what he did in a moral sense, despite resigning a tenured position, which was an implicit recognition of the untenability of his position. Redemption requires demonstration of responsibility, not just further competent work. A sad case. A pity he didn't go on into the law and defend the indigent. That would have been a better road to redemption.

3. barban - August 04, 2010 at 05:34 am

If you make a mistake, no matter how serious, there is redemption and forgiveness if you honestly admit the error, apologize to those who were wronged, and correct your path going forward. Unfortunately, Bellesiles has done none of the above. His immature self-denials, failure to apologize to those who believed in him (including all those who shelled out good money for his fraudulent book) and now almost bizarre false claims in promoting his new book ("swiftboating"? give me a break; and don't blame it on some p.r. flack) show this guy has, if nothing else, serious cognitive problems bordering on mental illness.

4. busyslinky - August 04, 2010 at 07:25 am

More publicity for his new book? How nice. I want to get some free publicity too.

His second chance should have been in creative writing, fiction.

5. amcneece - August 04, 2010 at 07:43 am

We can forgive him for his "mistakes," but that does not mean we have to trust him.

6. softshellcrab - August 04, 2010 at 08:59 am

Mt. Bartlett, the author of the article, should be the next guy blasted for playing loose with the facts. What a slobbering love affair of an article. I remember hearing about the careless history professor who got caught printing up a dramatic story about a student's brother killed in Iraq, told to him merely by a student in his class, and did not bother to check a single fact. I did not realize he was the same professor who had put out the fraudulent and sloppy book about gun ownership.

Silly Mr. Bartlett comments on the Iraq/student story, "Then again, it never occurred to Mr. Bellesiles or the teaching assistant that the student might be lying." No kidding. That's the point, Bartlett - it's a reason to criticize, not a defense! Sloppy fellow! And it never occurred to Dan Rather that the typeface-justified, computer formatted "1968" memo about Bush's military service might be a lie... When one has an agenda, it's not pleasant to let facts get in the way.

This article sets its slobbering, hero-worshiping tone in the first couple of paragraphs. I was waiting to her Bartlett write something like "Bellesiles stood tall and strong, with the wind blowing softly through wistful locks of tussled hair that tumbled over his pensive visage...". It was sure going in that direction. What was he wearing, Bartlett? Something thoughtful and provoking I'll bet.

You know what, Bartlett, now we have two Mr. Bellesiles.... Both of you sloppily ignoring facts and spewing out thoughtless drivel. I don't know if I have ever seen a Chronicle article so silly and sloppy as this one.

7. dwilliams5 - August 04, 2010 at 09:12 am

hmm. Since when did History become about writing definitive answers to questions? Writing into conversations, telling the truth as we see it, albeit based on documented facts (I'm not glossing over that), seems to be what the discipline has always been about. It's what allows it to continue (we are still writing about Greece and Rome, aren't we).

The issues of guns and violence is America is a great conversation...as is the question of what it takes to be "redeemed," (I suspect Thirdcamper2 used imprecise language there, and could perhaps be forgiven for it. But perhaps that's all a matter of theology and not history).

Trust is important, but for anyone, you only have it once. There is no going back once one loses it. None of us want to face it, but we all need a way out of that dilemma. Maybe the Golden Rule works, or maybe we use other approaches.

Merit (doing competent work) is something one can bring to the table even later. Which is more important to getting a job done, trust or merit? Where is the proof of the pudding? Do we trust it is good, or do we eat it and judge?

To be sure, we trust more than we should (do you check the death records for every undergraduate tale of loss? call their doctor to assure yourself that they were in fact sick? check all their footnotes on every paper in that 50 student class? ask your spouse or significant other to account for every minute of their day? etc). In the end, what we are willing to live with is good, competent work. You can bet Bellesiles understands that this book has be super-competent.

Perhaps the Bellesiles case points to a bigger systemic issue...what role did editors and mss reviewers play in the Guns case? Why do historians tend to research and write alone and not in research groups or in defined projects with multiple persons looking at the same evidence. In those contexts, it's harder to get by with sloppy work? Why not require historians to not only cite their sources but to collect a copy of each to provide to their critics in a "discovery" process? Those are all other ways of doing it. Though, all of those involve research where someone elses money or life is on the line for getting it right...and someone elses money pays for it. Is historical truth (or literary or artistic) just not worth the effort?

8. 11182967 - August 04, 2010 at 10:07 am

I always wondered why, if the errors in Mr. Bellasiles book were so egregious and the scholarship so sloppy, it managed to be published in the first place--and win a prestigious prize presumably based on the judgement of well-qualified fellow historians. This would seem to argue for better peer review. Didn't any qualified historian vet the manuscript? If the book was reviewed in manuscript, were the reviewers hoodwinked--or careless themselves--or part of the liberal academic conspiracy to take away our guns? In any case, the important step of careful pre-publication peer review seems to have been missed.

But only a few years later I wonder whether the ideas of peer review, close fact-checking, and careful scholarship aren't just old-fashioned, out-of-date notions anyway. What if Bellesiles were just now self-publishing Arming America--on the Internet? Many of our students--and much of the public--treat all information on the Internet as more or less equally valuable or valueless, accurate or inaccurate. It's all a matter of opinion, you know. Facts are at our Beck and call. Perhaps Bellesiles was caught in one of those "times of transition"--too concerned with being a respected historian under the old rules to cast them aside, but not yet bold enough to claim that his opinions (at least when properly deconstructed) were just as good as anyone else's and let it go at that. Interesting times (of transition) we live in.

John Tee





9. research1047 - August 04, 2010 at 10:12 am

Good Grief! He made up records from San Francisco that were actually destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. He claims essentially the dog at his homework (flood/notes) and characterizes himself as a victim?? And then says "they ruined my life"?? That is chutzpuh.

10. formeranteater - August 04, 2010 at 10:30 am

I'm surprised the article does not mention that Jon Wiener is a history professor at the University of California, Irvine, the university from which Michael Bellesiles received his PhD. The connection is much stronger, and the defense that much more suspect, than is divulged.

11. dgolding - August 04, 2010 at 10:36 am

What's being missed in the dust-up over Bellesiles's recent CHE article is not that he was hoodwinked by a student - everyone understand that it happens. The issue is that many folks reading the article were struck by how elements of the story just didn't fit. It wasn't a hatchet job - there was a lot of head scratching from veterans and current service member over how the narrative just didn't make much sense.

Bellesiles writes and teaches about military history. If he is competent, the sort of obvious errors in the CHE narrative that were so glaring to readers would also have been obvious to him. That he didn't catch them himself, but blithely repeated them in his article is a very serious problem.

I don't think Bellesiles is the kind of guy who is trying to deceive everyone. Instead, he's the sort of person who sees a really compelling story and wanted to share it, be it about guns, military service, or academia. The problem is that he is more interested in compelling stories than truth. That is a very atttractive but ultimately dangerous path for a historian. Sometimes the truth is ambiguous or boring or just sad, rather than interesting or illuminating.

12. tappat - August 04, 2010 at 10:43 am

Why are we not outraged about the lying student and the cultural circumstances -- including CHE "reporting" -- that produces and nurtures such liars?

13. 11232247 - August 04, 2010 at 10:51 am

This was an unbiased and even handed description of the original scandal of historical fraud perpetrated by Michael Bellesiles. Mr. Bartlett is to be commended for writing this CHE piece the way he did. Well done.

That said, Bellesiles seems to remain in deep denial over the singular and self serving role he played in promoting his own deceipt. While miscalculating one's checkbook balance is the sort of honest error honest people make every day in this country, armed robbery of the local convenience store is not. Bellesiles stands convicted by a court of peers of actions far more grevious than simple data collection errors. He is a fraud.

14. larryc - August 04, 2010 at 10:56 am

No wonder Bellisles wants to keep the controversy on probate records--he was far more dishonest elsewhere. As a poster above points out Bellisles claimed to have used records in San Fransico that DO NOT EXIST. If that isn't a "slam dunk" proof of falsification what on earth is?

15. checkthenarrative - August 04, 2010 at 10:58 am

Why is CHE straining so hard to rehabilitate Bellesiles?

A cynic might posit that the liberal arts wing of the academy takes care of its own, as long as they defend and further the revisionist narratives of the left wing.

As for the study of history being a conversation, the Arming America debacle shows that rather than being a debate in the marketplace of ideas, it is a matter of preaching to the converted. The liberal arts and social sciences communities in academia have become narrow-minded monocultures, seemingly bereft of intellectual discipline or integrity. Recall the "pot-bangers" at Duke, for example. The Arming America situation presented the ivory tower with a golden opportunity for reflection and self-critique, which has been roundly ignored.

@softshellcrab; LOL!! Perhaps Mr. Bartlett should try his hand at bodice-rippers. "Delilah ran her delicate fingers through Bellesiles' tousled chest hair..." :D

16. planxty - August 04, 2010 at 10:59 am

Imagine that an author had been caught fabricating sources for a book arguing that Americans have historically owned guns in significant numbers and for self-defense, and suggesting that therefore current gun-control laws are wrongminded and should be liberalized. I can't imagine such an author getting this kind of sympathetic treatment in the CHE. Bartlett doesn't exactly give Bellesiles a free pass in this piece, but it seems to me that he deliberately softpedals the controversy.

17. gsawpenny - August 04, 2010 at 11:04 am

I'm all for second chances. In the early 50's the academy fired loads of scholars, many tenured, for being "commies" all with the silent approval of the AAUP but we all managed to forgive the association and indeed become willing members.

Things change and I imagine that Dr. Bellesiles can as well. There should be no bar to keep him out of the classroom or off the book shelf.

18. liberaliberaliberal - August 04, 2010 at 11:17 am

It is interesting that people are asking for "an explanation." Why are they asking for an explanation? Bellisiles have given lots of explanations, including the one he repeats about the flood. What the article does not mention is that the Journal of American History article, which antedates and forms a portion of Arming America, has the same "errors" as the book, namely that Bellisiles cited archives and records that do not exist. This is not a simple case of error, but deliberate falsification from a man who constantly lies. In order to be rehabilitated from his crimes against the profession, he needs to confess, not to error, but to his lies, his frauds, and his compulsion to lie. Until then, nothing he does can be trusted, especially if he is going to go with non-peer review commercial presses. Frankly, I do not understand why someone like Jon Wiener would defend such a malfeasant except noted communists, like the rightists, do not care about truth, only orthodoxy.

19. nyhist - August 04, 2010 at 11:21 am

There was no peer review of Bellesiles' book MSS because it was published by a trade press; trade presses do not use peer reviewers.

However, many of the claims at the heart of the book, including the table of probate evidence that later roused so much criticism, were included in an earlier article he published in the Journal of American History, which was vetted by editors and anonymous peer reviewers, who therefore have something to answer for, whoever they were. Perhaps historians generally, not just Bellesiles, should learn more about statistics (I am self-educated on the subject).

For the record, I think he was a sloppy researcher, not a fraudulent one. He should have used a computer program to analyze his data. Yes, he was too eager to prove his point. He looked for evidence that supported him and ignored evidence that didn't, which is something I teach my students never to do. But he didn't 'invent' data. He just did a terrible (and too rushed) job of recording and interpreting it. (Eg, those infamous 'SF' records mentioned in this thread; as he later explained, when challenged he returned to the archive in question and then realized he had misread and misreported the provenance of the records he had consulted. The records were there, as he said; they just weren't what he had said they were.)

In the one instance where I personally had previously worked my way through the same sources he had, sources which he was faulted for misreporting, I could see how he had erred through haste, being misled by the title of a volume (as I almost was when I researched the same materials, but I checked further and realized the mistake).

I use Arming America and the controversy surrounding it as a cautionary tale for my graduate students, so they will learn how important it is to be careful in their research methods, even when they are not tackling such an explosive topic.

I do think, as someone commented earlier in this thread, that his book had the benefit of starting a conversation about an important historical question, one that I recently learned someone else is going to address--more precisely and carefully, I am sure.

20. physicsprof - August 04, 2010 at 11:50 am

A criminal might redeem himself, but once a liar always a liar.

(Though I understand why some people might want to give him a "second chance", after all he lied for a noble cause of getting guns off the hands of Americans.)

21. cvconnell - August 04, 2010 at 11:55 am

Leaving aside the question of whether Mr. Bellisiles and his new book deserve this much attention from the Chronicle, this is an absorbing account of what journalists go through in deciding whether someone or some thing they write about measures up. Well done, Mr. Bartlett.

22. elrojo - August 04, 2010 at 11:59 am

"It's a sad story, yet the man who lived it, Michael A. Bellesiles, doesn't get a lot of sympathy"

Why is it sad when someone whose work is based on lies is exposed and suffers for it?

"He is inquisitive, laughs easily, and has no shortage of facts and anecdotes at his fingertips"

Do you mean real facts and anecdotes, or stuff he made up?

"He did a lot of freelance work for a textbook company"

We're going to need more details on that.

"His multitudinous critics will seize on portions of it, some of them no doubt questioning why The Chronicle would spill so much ink on a man they consider a fraud"

Well, yes. You don't seem to grasp the damage people like Bellesiles do to academic credibility in general.

"it never occurred to Mr. Bellesiles or the teaching assistant that the student might be lying"

If you're going to publish an article about the student, you should probably do at least some verification, and that would not require "grilling" the student. I'm not an academic, but I find it hard to believe that's not considered one of the first steps in that sort of activity. There were a number of things about the story that seemed fishy to military personnel, and should have to someone teaching mil history.

23. more_cowbell - August 04, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Good grief, Belleiles needs to move on already to another career. Clearly, more than a few forgivable human errors took place here and he has no credibility as an academic. This isn't like a student cheating on a paper or exam - there is a line you cannot cross as a professor and he did just that.

It's sad that the CHE sponsors articles like this that clearly suggest this guy deserves another chance. Just goes to show how easily politics can trump professionalism in academia.

24. roro1618 - August 04, 2010 at 12:54 pm

So Belleiles had NO idea that, wow, students (people) lie about all kinds of things?? Was he even really a professor or was that just fiction, too? I find it disingenuous that he (and the writer of the piece) seem incredulous that a student would tell a lie about military deaths-students lie about all kinds of topics and anyone in academe knows this.

25. drnels - August 04, 2010 at 01:13 pm

The problem for many of us, which some have already mentioned, is that Bellesiles has never explained how he could have researched records that were supposedly destroyed in 1906. I can accept the flood and notetaking, but that is the sticking point for many of us. And I say this as someone who wants to support the argument he makes in that book. That's why this is an issue.

Saul Cornell has written extensively on the same issues and gets dismissed by those who disagree with him politically. That's fine. All of us who do politically-charged work know that we will be criticized by those who want to disagree with us. The problem in this case is that some of what to support the argument Bellesiles made, but he has never, ever explained how he cited sources that supposedly did not exist. Answer that satisfactorily, and I might be open to a second change. Don't answer it, and I'll keep using him as a case of what not to do in my plagiarism lectures to my students.

26. tabriz421 - August 04, 2010 at 01:15 pm

There is a distinction between lying and sampling on the dependent variable, which while not ethical, is not outright falsification. I am not familiar with the particulars of Mr. Bellisiles. work, but if he cites non-existant records, that is lying...

27. manhatto - August 04, 2010 at 01:28 pm

"Why is it sad when someone whose work is based on lies is exposed and suffers for it?"

it's certainly sad when people whose work is based on lies are exposed yet don't suffer for it, as was shown 2003 - 2008.

28. mhjhnsn - August 04, 2010 at 01:43 pm

"Then it starts to crumble. Troubling flaws are found in your acclaimed work."

Ah, the passive voice, the nearly infallible "tell" that someone is about to try to muddle your thinking and absolve someone (themaelves or someone else) of responsibility for their actions.

He lied in his work and then he lied to cover the first lies. His research was a tissue of lies and fabrications, and when asked to produce it he lied some more.

But, since some people find him a nice guy with good breeding and he fits their profile of the academic, some people ignore his massive character flaw and pretend he has integrity and deserves respect.

He's a liar. Liars rarely change, and he recently did it again... it's both what he did and who he is.

29. claytoncramer - August 04, 2010 at 02:15 pm

I don't find it hard to believe that Bellesiles was misled by his student. (A few semesters of teaching undergrads will make you really cynical about human nature, if you weren't already.) I am not surprised that Bellesiles failed to critically evaluate what the student told him before writing his article: the anecdote fit with the academy's 1960s "war is not healthy for children and other living things" master narrative.

This need to fit everything into a master narrative, unfortunately, is at the core of the problems a lot of people have, across the political spectrum. You can find it everywhere from bizarre claims about the defendants in the unauthorized access to Obama's student aid records to 9/11 Trutherism: people with strong passions critically evaluate ideas and facts that don't fit their worldview, but seldom critically evaluate anything that reinforces what they want to believe.

This is what often leads to grand theories, followed by the mad search for data that supports that position. The research process usually starts with a hypothesis--but when your research finds lots of contrary data, or even just a shortage of support, the honest scholar changes his hypothesis to fit the facts. When I wrote Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic (1999), I started with the assumption that the weapons regulations adopted 1813-1840 were driven by racism. To my surprise, this was not an issue (at least in this period); it was an attempt to suppress dueling.

Too many scholars are driven by passion--not by curiosity, and Bellesiles, as near as I can tell, is hardly unique.

30. oxhole - August 04, 2010 at 02:20 pm

If one is honest and makes a mistake (or a whole raft of them) one feels terrible and bends over backwards apologizing. If one is fundamentally dishonest and gets caught one makes justifications. I hope Bellesiles was fabricating his data because that amount of honest mistakes make him unworthy of an undergraduate degree, let alone a professorship.

If we are going to argue that his reputation shouldn't hold him back from return to academia then we are also arguing that trust is not important in the system. next time you feel like quoting someone else's research you'll just have to go and find the original source material yourself to make sure their portrayal of the facts is true.

Finally, I will never again feel sorry for the publishing industry's tales of woe when they insist on running down their profession by publishing the work of defrocked profs and every crank with a nutty theory.

31. physicsprof - August 04, 2010 at 02:27 pm

#29, Clayton Cramer (together with James Lindgren), deserves much praise for dismantling Michael Bellesiles' "research". Credit where credit is due.

32. 11159995 - August 04, 2010 at 02:32 pm

The pillorying of Prof. Bellesiles for his sloppy scholarship may well have been justified, but I find it interesting to compare the outcome of this episode with what followed the publication of a book by Penn State historian Robert Maddox published in 1973 by Princeton University Press (where I was its sponsoring editor) titled "The New Left and the Origins of the Cold War": http://www.amazon.com/new-left-origins-cold-war/dp/0691056544. In that book Maddox exposed the sloppy, one might even say dishonest, scholarship of seven leading New Left historians including William Appleman Williams and Gabriel Kolko--and also David Horowitz, who has since famously switched sides ideologically. The NY Times not only commissioned a review of the book but also took the unprecedented step of inviting the seven accused scholars to respond, which several of then did. To my knowledge, not a one of these scholars was hounded out of the profession and those that had academic jobs kept them--and were not abandoned by their publishers either. One wonders how they managed to escape this fate when Prof. Bellesiles did not. The scholarly sins committed seem to have been on a par with, if not even worse than, those commutted by Prof. Bellesiles.---Sandy Thatcher

33. cwinton - August 04, 2010 at 02:48 pm

I have to strongly disagree with those folks who think this is not an appropriate article for CHE. I also do not think that the article treats him too kindly since it unearths an event that had dropped off my radar screen and points out a connection to a CHE article (on the student losing a brother in Iraq) I had not made. This fellow was an academic fraud who was exposed and has found out there are real consequences. It is deja vu that his more recent CHE piece revealed he is still shooting from the hip. Those so eager to condemn the likes of the student in question, or members of the previous administration who were similarly fact challenged for that matter, need to remember that someone in the professoriate is, and should be, held to a higher standard of truthfulness, not truthiness. If Mr. Bellesiles wishes to continue to publish, that is his prerogative, but it should not be as a recognized historian, and probably not in CHE (which I assume now regrets accepting his piece about the student). He himself might be news of interest to the CHE readership, but not anything he writes since he is not credible.

Since he is apparently trying to resurface after a number of years and possibly return to the fold, isn't that something worth taking a look at from the point of view of the CHE readership? If nothing else, we are now reminded of his history should he seek a position at an institution we are affiliated with. His behavior (and this article for that matter) should provide a clear

All that being said, I find it sad that his case seems to bolster my impression that history curricula apparently don't put enough emphasis on the need to employ methods of modern statistics and computer technology in historical research.

34. jaysanderson - August 04, 2010 at 02:57 pm

"fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me".
G. Pyle

No sale on the new book. A dishonest academic is a danger to the profession, as he or she trades on our good names and reputations.

35. thehistorian - August 04, 2010 at 03:31 pm

Tom Bartlett is a master of the understatement. He admits that "there are errors in Arming America" but qualifies his statement by saying that "exactly how severe those errors are depends on whom you ask." Actually, there can be little doubt that the errors in Arming America were not just severe, but fundamental. Bartlett cites the report of the Investigative Committee in the matter of Professor Michael Bellesiles of July 10, 2002, which concludes at one point that Bellesiles was "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work," but said that "we do not see evidence of outright deception." This is true for only one of the five aspects of Bellesiles' work that the committee was looking at. At another point in the report, the committee members stated that Bellesiles "has willingly misrepresented the evidence" and that they "found evidence of falsification" in the "construction of the vital Table One." On this table hinges his whole thesis, but instead of pointing this out, Bartlett cites Joe Wiener who claims that the focus of the controversy was on "errors in a tiny portion of the documentation." Who cares if this "tiny portion" was the essential one?

Far from being falsely accused, as Bellesiles' reference to Saint Raymond in the CHE article suggests, the committee found him guilty of "falsification" and "unprofessional and misleading work" and seriously questioned his "scholarly integrity." His "modest" claim that he now wants to demonstrate with his new book that he is "a competent, capable historian and I always have been" is not modest but outrageous and an insult of our intelligence.

No matter how many books he will publish in the future, unless he confronts his past and admits his fundamental lies, he cannot win back trust or acceptance.

36. 11319762 - August 04, 2010 at 03:39 pm

There is a big market out there for historical novels. Dr. Bellesiles should focus on that market where his story telling abilities can be put to a productive use.

37. busyslinky - August 04, 2010 at 04:19 pm

Does anyone else think that picture makes him look like Burt Lancaster.

Both are actors. One is acting as an Academic Historian.

38. juan_calle - August 04, 2010 at 05:16 pm


"I remark that he's been awfully productive."
The operative word here is 'awfully.'

Mr. Bellesiles says he didn't approve or even read the promotional letter. The publicity director at the New Press, Anne Sullivan, says the letter was nothing unusual: "It was strong language, but that's publicity, right?"

Sounds like Sullivan takes the same approach as the author.

39. stevensl - August 04, 2010 at 06:02 pm

"Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low."
"A dishonest academic is a danger to the profession, as he or she trades on our good names and reputations."
Face it, you have NO good reputations. Everything you do will be disproved or superseded. That's nature of the game.
In addition, people mostly only learn by making mistakes. So it's probably a bad idea to invoke a scorched earth policy with regard to anyone. Your glass hoises are at stake.

40. claytoncramer - August 04, 2010 at 06:15 pm

"I find it sad that his case seems to bolster my impression that history curricula apparently don't put enough emphasis on the need to employ methods of modern statistics and computer technology in historical research."

No question that a better knowledge of statistics would have alerted historians to the problem earlier. But the bigger problem--and one that would have exposed Bellesiles as early as the 1996 JAH paper--is that historians seem to trust that everyone is telling the truth--even in highly polarizing, highly political contexts. All that would have been required to catch Bellesiles was to randomly check 10% of his sources in that JAH paper. That's one advantage of law reviews: they verify the accuracy of quotes, and often, do a great job of verifying the accuracy of what the author is claiming about what the source says.

41. formerprof05 - August 04, 2010 at 07:51 pm

Given the past controversies over the reliability of his work (to understate the matter), why did Prof. Bellesiles entrust the job of checking the footnotes for his new book to someone else? Why not do it himself?

42. 11186108 - August 04, 2010 at 09:02 pm

A good discussion of the Arming America situation is in:
Past imperfect : facts, fictions, fraud-- American history from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin
Peter Charles Hoffer 2004

It is not kind to Bellesiles' performance in Arming America.

43. dantes - August 04, 2010 at 10:39 pm

There is no reason that Bellesiles should receive absolution for academic fraud on the basis of "good intentions". I don't recall he ever apologized or fully recanted his deceitful "Arming America" and to slide into yet another misrepresentation of history, whether past or recent, is beneath any minimal standard of academic integrity.

What's more disturbing than another lie from a liar, is the deafening silence and lack of condemnation from the academic community at large.

44. the_journey - August 04, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Good grief, no shortage of folk here ready with the first stone...

And have none of you ever heard of a strawman??? Think, guys, think...

45. zachblume - August 04, 2010 at 11:16 pm

I feel really bad for this guy. Obviously he screwed up, but it doesn't appear he purposfully lied, just overextended data. But the whole second newspaper article about the student's brother that was casualy--I read that article before this, and was surprised to hear that back-story. It seems like a unfortunate lie that was used anecdotally...who factchecks something like that before writing such a anecdotal light op-ed? That just is super-unfortunate for this guy, I don't think you can take it as a sign of repetitive malignancy.

46. checkthenarrative - August 04, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Lying for a noble cause tends to indicate that the cause ain't so noble.

Folks should not be surprised that a student told some whoppers that dovetailed in which the professor's positions. Like it or not, the undergraduate experience is all about learning how to game the system. Given the current cost of education and competitiveness in the labor marketplace, if apple-polishing nets a student an extra two-tenths on his/her GPA, he/she is likely to do it. Its simply an outcome of rational cost/benefit analysis.

For those of you rationalizing Bellesiles' conduct, how would you react to a sophomore doing such things as in Arming America? Every university I attended and worked at would expel such conduct by the hypothetical sophomore. How on earth can you hold a professional, much less teacher, to a _lower_ standard?

47. gwb_nyc - August 05, 2010 at 01:26 am

He lied to bolster an anti-gun agenda(lapped up by the NYT Review of Books and MSM everywhere) so how about he gets a job delivering sandwiches, painting houses, whatever, and just goes away. By the look on his face in the picture he needs a foot in his can, too.

48. gwb_nyc - August 05, 2010 at 01:38 am

"And this gentle suggestion: 'Let the sonofabitch paint houses or something.'"

That would have been me, and I say it now a third time.

Is there something abhorrent about *honest* work?

49. 11186108 - August 05, 2010 at 11:06 am

A colleague of mine had problems commenting - his comment:

"But will anyone give Mr. Bellesiles a second chance?"

Giving a second chance to someone who committed errors is human charity.
Giving a second chance to someone who committed deliberate fraud ("willingly
misrepresented the evidence ... falsification [of data]") is self-destructive
folly. At best, it exposes those who rely on your own integrity to the risk of
further victimization. At worst, it constitutes aiding and abetting. CHE's
eagerness to recast fraud as error is a highly disturbing form of revisionism.

50. wclibrary - August 05, 2010 at 11:20 am

All Doris Kearns Goodwin did was plagiarize, take advantage of research slaves, and claim an amnesia that no scholar worth her salt would take serioiusly for moment.

She's still on network TV, isn't she.

But, then, she didn't run afoul of the NRA and America's increasingly crazed right wing.

51. dms190 - August 05, 2010 at 11:30 am

What a harsh group. Maybe it's my cynicism about academics who spin their own work but just do it more skillfully than Bellesiles did. Not sure I understand it but there is something fishy here in the overly-harsh comments.

There is something which doesn't ring true about many of these remarks and must be more to commenters' stories.

My own suspicion (not it's not researched but just emotional instinct) is that many people here have also done something equally grievous and have also not truly made amends and told the truth about something bad they have done. I'll say again I can't prove it but while it may be true that Bellesiles was fool and liar, I suspect he is not the only one. Why the heated insistence on kicking a guy when he is already down? many fear that it could/should be them?

52. wturnertsu - August 05, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Whether guns were more, or less, prevalent In America during the period Prof. Bellesiles wrote about is an interesting question. However, as far as I'm concerned, the far more interesting questions are: Based upon his research, who owned the guns that were possessed? Were they owned by Native-Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, whites and blacks to pretty much the same degree? How frequently were the guns used in the commission of homicides, whether involuntary or voluntary? How frequently, or infrequently, did Native-Americans owners of guns use them against Chinese? How often did Chinese use theirs against Native-Americans, based upon court records Prof. Bessiles uncovered doing his research? And, finally, even if there were a billion owners of guns, were the guns of the semi-automatic type in circulation today? Or, were the guns the simple, single-shot kind used to hunt rabbits?

I don't know the good Professor's motivation for writing about guns in American History or why he was unable to retrieve documents to substantiate his position. What I do know is whether Americans owned lots of gun then, or fewer, as the professor contended, to obsession of so many Americans today over guns, is a very sad testimony as to jst how far we've advanced, compared to other truly civilized countries.

We're a conflicted people: "We're a Christian nation!" boast some among us. The same ones boasting and posting here and brandishing guns right now in their belts, the windows of their pickups and in gunracks back home are the ones who are most striden in arguing that a fellow human (child of God) should not be afforded a second chance. Are we a neurotic lot or not? Or, are our general welfare being undermined by an association, which, at best, is motivated by dollars, moreso than a simplistic application of the Second Amendment?

53. claytoncramer - August 05, 2010 at 03:32 pm

"I'll say again I can't prove it but while it may be true that Bellesiles was fool and liar, I suspect he is not the only one. Why the heated insistence on kicking a guy when he is already down?"

Because he has refused to either admit his fraud, or explain how he managed to "misread" so many documents in such a convenient manner.

"I don't know the good Professor's motivation for writing about guns in American History or why he was unable to retrieve documents to substantiate his position."

The problem wasn't the documents he couldn't retrieve; it was the documents that were easy to get, and showed that he falsified what was in them.

"We're a conflicted people: "We're a Christian nation!" boast some among us. The same ones boasting and posting here and brandishing guns right now in their belts, the windows of their pickups and in gunracks back home are the ones who are most striden in arguing that a fellow human (child of God) should not be afforded a second chance."

The first step towards forgiveness is admitting that you did something wrong. Bellesiles won't admit that.

"Or, are our general welfare being undermined by an association, which, at best, is motivated by dollars, moreso than a simplistic application of the Second Amendment?"

If you think gun rights are about money, you are pretty clueless. NRA and gun manufacturers are often on different sides of issues. (Remember: domestic makers don't want cheap imports.)

"However, as far as I'm concerned, the far more interesting questions are: Based upon his research, who owned the guns that were possessed? Were they owned by Native-Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, whites and blacks to pretty much the same degree?"

Since Bellesiles' book was fabrication, you are querying the wrong source. My book Armed America (2006) answers those questions. The results were sometimes a bit startling--especially how many slaves were allowed possession of guns.

54. 42zing - August 05, 2010 at 04:46 pm

Why waste any more time on Bellesiles? At root, he is a liar in a profession that requires and values honesty. That the other liars, Goodwin and Barnicle now ply their besolied opinions on the airwaves proves that the broadcast media does not value honesty. As such, it is an appropriate venue for all of them.

55. shirley77 - August 05, 2010 at 05:32 pm

Wow, there are a lot of unforgiving people on this forum.

56. gwb_nyc - August 05, 2010 at 07:27 pm

Bellesile's intent was to tamper with the right to own a firearm, and did that most dishonestly- yes, there are a lot of unforgiving people in here.

57. stevensl - August 06, 2010 at 12:13 pm

On one hand, a house of cards based on shoddy research. On the other, a house of cards based on half-truths and assertions.
Quite a discipline you have there.

58. shirley77 - August 06, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Imagine, an academic who advocates taking away your semi-automatic weapons and cop-killer bullets. How outrageous.

59. wturnertsu - August 06, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Thanks, claytoncramer for referring me to your book, Armed America (2006). I was particularly surprised to read your statement: "...slaves were allowed to possess guns." I will certainly place it on my agenda to read your book and very soon.

Your other statement relative to the NRA and gun manufacturers isn't persuasive enough to make me change my position that the association, either directly or indirectly, is reaping renumeration proportionate with the support that it gives to the wholesale production of guns.

Incidentally, did your research reveal whether or not the slaves were allowed to possess Gatlins? Or, where the guns in their possession the single-shot, broken-stock variety? To what use did the slaves put the guns, when in their possession? I'm sure you know, today, many of their offsprings are using sinle-shot, semi-automatics and automatics to slaughter each other unmercifully!

Claytoncramer, I must make an admission: I fear to the very core of my being that the NRA campaign pushing gun rights, and the obsession of Americans with guns, disguises a more sinister motive, other than the mere exercise of a purported right assured by the Second Amendment. America is still a very racially-divided nation. For years, the media (all forms) have painstakingly gone to great length to portray Blacks, en mass as an evil, violent and unpredictable people. With such an image, as fictional as it is, plastered in the minds of non-black, it isn't surprising that many would cling to an obsolete interpretation of the original purpose and meaning for The Second Amend. Clearly, the evidence proves beyond a shadow of doubt, they actually have nothing to fear from their black brothers and sisters. Oklahoma's bombing was not the idea of either and none participated in the execution of that dastardly deed. And, I cannot imagine how a hunter is able to derive any sense of accomplishment or joy in mowing-down a defenseless deer with a machine-gun a half-mile away. I imagine, though, that same hunter's adrenalin would get to flowing pretty good, if he or she came upon a "buck" approaching from a hundred yards, brandishing, what else, a buck-knife.

It is simply un-Christian to deny the professor the opportunity to redeem himself. We're all imperfect vessells. He has acknowledged, I beleive, that there were errors in documentation and errors in judgment. He need not say more, in my humble opinion.

60. pchoffer - August 06, 2010 at 01:38 pm

Folks: slaves possessed guns (they could not own guns, because slaves could have no personal property in law). Although the law forbade it, slaves hunted with firearms and sometimes (again in violatation of law) sold what they killed (yes, slaves went to market) or laid it on their masters' and mistresses' tables. Though the slave owners greatly feared slave rebels armed with guns, the weapon most commonly cited in accounts of slave rebellion was a tool (an axe for example) or a sword. Best, Peter

61. gwb_nyc - August 06, 2010 at 07:28 pm

"Imagine, an academic who advocates taking away your semi-automatic weapons and cop-killer bullets. How outrageous."

I agree, screwim.

BTW, I suspect any bullet could kill someone, law enforcement officer or what-have-you.

62. kasper_hauser - August 06, 2010 at 09:47 pm

Bellesiles seems to have found a kindred spirit in Tom Bartlett.

Just like Bellesiles wasn't going to let facts or truth stand in the way of his politically charged hypothesis in "Arming America", Tom Bartlett is not going to let facts stand in the way of this dishonest attempt to redeem a ruined academic.

"Arming America" did not have "major flaws"--it was filled with major lies. Bellesiles made up sources and data wholesale. My God. How bad a historian do you have to be to cite pre-1906 San Francisco probate records?

I am not surprise Bellesiles doesn't want to talk about "Arming America". I suspect that Bartlett will one day not want to talk about this crappy, misleading hagiographic portrayal.

Sorry Chronicle, but you seem to have forgotten a very old (and not academic) truth.. "When you lay down with dogs,,,,,"

63. 11186108 - August 07, 2010 at 04:52 pm

#59 "I cannot imagine how a hunter is able to derive any sense of accomplishment or joy in mowing-down a defenseless deer with a machine-gun a half-mile away."

Is it that wturnertsu doesn't know anything about firearms, hunting or law - or that he thinks that the readers here don't?

64. wturnertsu - August 07, 2010 at 09:40 pm

Rest assured, #63, I know more about each of the areas you mentioned above than you would ever imagine! I'm certain, many readers, however, do not, particularly the the Second Amendmen of The U.S. Constitution. It is pure folly to argue that given the circumstances of society today and the advances in technology(guns), Founder Fathers would give the strict-interpretation that gun advocates insist upon for the amendment. Even if they did, being that they were far more intelligent than many living today, given the use to which firearms are put today, those same Founding Fathers would not hesitate to draft another amendment repealing provisions of the Second, as it relates to gun ownership and possession. Thieves take gun from law-abiding citizens who purchased them legally and use those same guns to kill and maime other law-abiding citizens who never owned a gun and pleaded with the first law-abiding citizens not to purchase one either, for fear of what happened eventually happening.

Yes. I know about weapons, the law and hunting, #59.

65. jbryllars - August 08, 2010 at 12:43 am

Yes it is a fine article -- but I am puzzled.
With all the attention to the quality of the scholarship
there seems to be little attempt by others to actually
establish the truth or falsehood of Dr. Belleisles premise -
Was the gun culture of the United States created at the time
of the Civil War - or was there a continuous ideology of
gun ownership.
It is curious to me that this issue was not directly dealt
with. Did Professor Belisles raise an interesting point -
or was he just talking hogwash and wishful thinking.
This needs to be established.


66. gwb_nyc - August 08, 2010 at 08:51 am

"I cannot imagine how a hunter is able to derive any sense of accomplishment or joy in mowing-down a defenseless deer with a machine-gun a half-mile away."

Well, that scenario has escaped me for the last 57 years; however, I assure you I'll stop hunting(at the more moderate ranges I'm limite to)when the deer go armed.

And, to be honest, I can't think of a hunter who gives a damn whether you imagine it or not.

67. checkthenarrative - August 08, 2010 at 10:15 am

@jbryllars; Using the phrase "gun culture" as well as "ideology of gun ownership" is not going to lead anywhere good. Enlightenment and understanding do not come from trying to pound the square pegs of reality into the round holes of postmodern political rhetoric.

The reality of gun ownership in America, both pre-Revolution and post, has been established without question except for left-wingers trying to rewrite history (recall the old joke from the Soviet era about the future being certain, whereas the past is always changing). A visit to Clayton Cramer's website, http://www.claytoncramer.com/primary/primary.html, is all it takes to verify that gun ownership was widespread.

Hell, a visit to Colonial Williamsburg and a discussion with the guys in the gunsmith's shop is all it takes. Those folks, and the curators in suits study the available historical records and can talk at great length about what kind of guns were made in the 18th century, who owned them, how much they cost, etc.

68. lotsoquestions - August 09, 2010 at 12:37 am

Sorry, guys, but my favorite part of the whole article was the sentence where the author writes that "he decided to give adjuncting a try." Yes, by all means, if your academic credibility is shaky and there are questions about your abilities, that certainly shouldn't preventing you from adjuncting -- after all, it's not like adjuncting is a real job that requires real skills or anything like that. Why, practically anybody can do it . .

69. dank48 - August 09, 2010 at 09:03 am

Not that it will persuade anyone who is determined to just wish guns away by the force of willpower, but there is a distinction to be made. As someone has put it succinctly, "An armed person is a citizen. An unarmed person is a subject."

Look, nobody in their right mind is against gun safety. But what kind of mindset trusts government so completely as to give the police and armed forces a monopoly on firearms? And what kind of government fears an armed electorate?

70. 12058486 - August 15, 2010 at 09:18 pm

There's a big difference between Tom Bartlett and his handful of critics in this thread. Whatever you think of his article, Bartlett stands behind his words with his real name. Every one of the critics relies on cowardly anonymity.

71. orsonbuggeigh - August 16, 2010 at 05:21 pm

RE: #70. Actually, Clayton Cramer is using his actual name to comment here. You might check the comments again 12058486. I don't give CHE or Mr. Bartlett very high marks for this year's coverage of Mr. Bellesiles. To me, Mr. Batlett's article is too much like the fawning treatment _Arming America_ received from most academics. I'm waiting to see the reviews of _1877_, but I'm not going to ask our library to order a copy. Perhaps Mr. Cramer or Mr. Lindgren to review _1877_. Based on the quality of their previous work, I would trust it to be a fair review.

72. msumenglish - August 23, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Why are so many Americans so insane about guns? We have the right to bear arms. We also have the right to protect our streets with reasonable gun control legislation. There's a vast difference between having a gun in a rural county and packing heat in an urban center - or in an academic seminar. I'm so tired of extremists controlling our national debates on almost every issue. I suggest suing the manufacturer of any firearm used to commit a crime, especially a violent crime, and suing an entity like the NRA if they obstruct a sane effort to protect citizen safety. Bellesiles wrote a book with flawed research, and that is bad on him; his central point, though, still holds, despite all the negative hoopla.

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