Ann DeWitt Responds (well, sort of)

I was surprised to find a brief reference to this site over at Ann DeWitt’s black Confederate website (scroll down to bottom of page).  I’ve written quite a bit about the interpretive problems on her site as well as the complete lack of any reference to her qualifications to discuss this subject given her requests for money and hopes that the site will eventually be used by teachers and students.  This is her own understanding of her qualifications:

I believe being an American Citizen is credibility enough to create a website with links to the sources of Civil War documents and historian accounts.  Who owns American History?  We, The People.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what this vague reference is supposed to mean and it is apparent to me that Ms. DeWitt will continue to ignore legitimate questions about the content of her site that I have posted as well as others.  That’s fine.  I will continue to monitor the site and continue to point out the obvious problems.  Yes, everyone has the right to contribute to the Web, but responsibility for what you choose to post follows.

9 comments… add one

  • Marianne Davis Aug 25, 2010

    Ah, this one is from the Joe the Plumber School of Law and Government, huh? No one ever went broke appealing to the anti-intellectual crowd. I’m sure she takes her kids to the People’s Pediatrician, in whom rests the wisdom of good old American common sense..

    • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2010

      Yeah, it’s a completely meaningless phrase in reference to her credibility.

    • Andy Hall Aug 25, 2010

      And of course, Joe the Plumber wasn’t a licensed plumber, either. But I digress. . . .

      Hers is actually an approach that’s really common, in that when discussing one’s ancestors — she seems to be counting one of her forebears among the ranks of Black Confederates — one just knows things about them and their beliefs and motivations and intents. It’s usually mostly comforting fantasy, as Kevin has pointed out, but it’s an obstacle that needs to be recognized. And of course, folks who are inclined to make those sorts of assumptions about long-dead people to whom they happen to be related by an accident of birth, are also those folks who self-select into cultural/ethnic/historical heritage groups of all sorts, where the goal is to promote and defend, rather than study and understand.

  • Brooks D. Simpson Aug 25, 2010

    I guess that I don’t really care about Ms. DeWitt’s qualifications or lack thereof. Anyone can put up a website. It would be a better use of time to put up a website on the issue (also available to students) and to put up a gateway site that evaluates sites and guides instructors to good collections of material. Had Ms. DeWitt not linked to your previous discussion of her, visitors to her site might be unaware that there is any controversy, allowing her to do as she pleases. On the other hand, had you not posted about her I would be blissfully ignorant of her. Better, I think, to stick to the merits of the case. Challenging her credentials here does nothing to affect her site and may have minimal impact on visits to it.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2010

      Thanks for the comment Brooks, but I disagree. I spend a great deal of time teaching my students how to evaluate websites. It might be one of the most important skills that I can teach them in my course. One of the things that I have them look for is the author(s) of the websites they are reading. They should be able to identify an affiliation with a reputable institution or find out something about the author. I wouldn’t make such a big deal about DeWitt’s site except for the fact that she claims it to be educational and hopes to reach out to both teachers and students. One of the things I hope to do with the black Confederates book is set up a companion website that does just what you are suggesting. In the end, I believe that the “merits of the case” includes her decision not to include anything autobiographical about herself.

      • Brooks D. Simpson Aug 25, 2010

        And that’s all you have to say … once. But Ms. DeWitt’s website rises or falls based on the information there and the ability of people to read what’s there with a critical eye, not her degree status or training. That might help explain the reasons for the quality of the website, but that’s a different matter. For someone to discover more about her, they are going to have to use a blog indexing service and come across your comments, because you’re the main source of information about her lack of qualifications. If I were her, I would have engaged you on this issue far more directly than she has, and I’d accuse you of academic arrogance. I know, because I get charged with this all the time by people would would rather sling mud than engage in a debate over the merits of the issue and the evidence involved. :)

        • Kevin Levin Aug 26, 2010

          Agreed.

  • Dr. Sisco Aug 29, 2010

    I really do not care about Ms. DeWitt’s “academic” qualifications – anyone can create a website, including one with questionable facts. The problem is teaching our students how to evaluate the thousands of sites that substitute opinions/political agendas for real facts. I am still dealing with students who insist on quoting from “The Willie Lynch Letter”.

    • Jonathan Dresner Aug 30, 2010

      Not being an Americanist, I hadn’t heard of that one, but wow. This goes in the same category as my general opinion of Hollywood history: why make stuff up, when the reality is so much more dramatic?

      As far as Ms. DeWitt’s protestations, she needs no qualifications to put up a web site — it’s a free speech right — but she’s wrong in claiming that American History belongs to anyone, or that being an American in any way legitimizes her editorial or historical judgements.

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