Just wanted to follow up to yesterday’s posts surrounding the plagiarism allegations made by William Marvel against UT author Fred Ruhlman. First, historian Peter Carmichael’s comments are worth repeating:
I don’t think you should blame UT Press for this. This is the author’s responsibility alone. All presses and reviewers operate from the assumption that they are reviewing original manuscripts (I can’t imagine how one checks for plagiarism when reviewing a manuscript. Unless you happen to be familiar with a book (like Marvel was with his own study of Andersonville) it is not realistic to expect a press or a reviewer to catch plagiarism. Let’s keep the responsibility on the authors. Moreover, the review process at UT and other academic presses works 99% of the time. The system is sound and it almost always produces high quality scholarship. Let’s not overreact to this unfortunate incident. [Disclosure: Carmichael edits the Voices of the Civil War series for UTP.]
I agree that the review process utilized by university presses works as a rule; clearly this is an exception. It should also be pointed out that the UTP is a first-rate publisher; this incident should not in any way cause one to question the overall quality of their catalog. From what I can tell they pulled the book immediately. One of the comments from yesterday’s post indicated that Ruhlman’s degree is illegitimate. Clearly, his employer at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga should be asking about its candidate review process.
We should also watch what kinds of lessons to draw from this incident. Here is what one reader over at Eric Wittenberg’s site had to say:
It’s funny, as I have been told by a few members of the academic ilk, that someone like me, who does not have the correct “training” to write about the Civil War has no business doing so. The last I checked, in terms of plagiarism of Civil War books, those who were caught red handed recently are not from the ranks of the “untrained” historians.
My advice to those in academia is to clean up their own house first before casting continued derogatory comments on the “amateur” historians they seem to take issue with.
Let’s not make the mistake of lumping academic presses with professionally-trained historians. Remember, most of William Marvel’s books are published by the University of North Carolina Press (Civil War America). Both Mark Dunkelman and Thomas Lowry have had books published by the Louisiana State University Press. Neither Dunkelman nor Lowry work at universities or have a PhD in history. There are many more examples that can be cited. What these presses have in common is a commitment to publishing sophisticated and well-argued historical studies, regardless of the author’s background. And I can testify to that first-hand.