5th Year Wedding Anniversary: The Best Decision I Ever Made


Little Black Sambo

In addition to spending a good deal of time with my classes exploring the ways that slavery shaped American history in the 19th Century I also introduce them to various ideas of race that proved popular at different times.  We look at images of “Jim Crow” and “Sambo” and discuss the historical background of minstrel shows.  Of course, many of these images and ideas are introduced at very early ages.  On Friday one of my students surprised me with a volume from the Little Golden Books series published by Simon and Schuster.  Apparently it belonged to one of his parents.  This particular volume is titled Little Black Sambo (1948) and was authored by Helen Bannerman who was also responsible for Little Black Quibba and Little Black Bobtail.  The entire series was overseen by Mary Reed, Ph.D who taught at the Teachers College of Columbia University.  These books are highly collectible.

The opening lines of the book are as follows:

“Once upon a time there was a little black boy, and his name was Little Black Sambo.  And his Mother was called Black Mumbo.  And his Father was called Black Jumbo.”


Plagiarism And Peer Review: A Response To Savas And Rotov

In his most recent post Dimitri Rotov shares some thoughts by publisher Ted Savas on the recent plagiarism scandal involving Fred Ruhlman and the University of Tennessee Press.

According to Savas:

As for plagiarism: I see it all the time in manuscripts, so what Carmichael is talking about I can’t say. I can often spot it in casual reading. Maybe I have a good radar for that. Goodwin got off; Ruhlman won’t. I have confronted several authors over the past couple of years regarding a wide variety of submissions. Some apologize (falling back on the Goodwin/Ruhlman non-defense defense), others never respond, and a few are so clueless they ask what plagiarism means!

It’s not clear to me at all what Savas means when he says that he sees it [plagiarism] all the time.  The more interesting question is what we are to do with an observation from a publisher who deals mainly with non-academic titles.  This is not meant in any way as an insult since I think that Savas provides an excellent service for those Civil War enthusiasts that are interested in well written and thoroughly researched campaign and battle studies as well as for those who wish to write them.  My point is that Savas’s comment should perhaps be considered in the context of who is submitting manuscripts for consideration at his shop compared with who is submitting to academic presses.

Dimitri goes on to comment on peer review and cites a question that I posed in my original post on the Ruhlman case:

Kevin Levin had asked why University of Tennesse Press did not send the Ruhlman MS to Andersonville author Marvel for comment. I have two problems with that. First, it makes new writing hostage to old reputations (more on this in a minute). Second, if you don’t have the in-house expertise to evaluate a manuscript like this yourself, yours is a house of generalists susceptible not only to plagiarism but trash.

I am not going to pretend to understand the peer review process that goes on within academic presses.  That said, I have had extensive experience with academic journals and my guess is that the process is similar and rightfully so.  Now I know that Dimitri looks at Civil War publishing as a collection of little cabals which are somehow steered by sinister minds such as James McPherson and Gary Gallagher.  I’ve submitted numerous manuscripts to journals – most of which have been rejected – and those that have made it through the first round have all been sent to experts in the field.  All of them have come back with comments that attest to the expertise of the reviewer involved.  There may indeed be an element of a gate-keeper mindset, but that isn’t necessarily troubling.  In fact, it may be just what the system needs.  Remember, most academic presses and journals send their manuscripts out to at least three reviewers which means that the kind of mentality that Dimitri is so concerned about will have little chance to do any damage.

Dimitri also cites an interview between former North and South magazine editor Keith Poulter and Civil War Talk Radio host and historian Gerry Prokopowicz:

If you agree with the idea of shopping new manuscripts to the established experts, I urge you to listen to Gerald Prokopowicz
interview Keith Poulter, former editor of “North & South” magazine. Poulter, like any editor, rejected a lot of work. However, there was a category of work the content of which he was not sure about. Was it revisionism? He describes a system by which he would send such submissions to subject matter experts. Gerald astutely asked how many of these got through this expert screening process. Poulter answered none. That would be zero among (IIRC) 40 such.

Now is this supposed to support Dimitri’s earlier claim that peer review renders new ideas beholden to old reputations?  All that comes out of this exchange for this reader is that N&S magazine has a pretty good peer review system in place.  Hell, I’ve had a couple of manuscripts rejected by them, and with every rejection I received some helpful feedback.

Perhaps it would help if the questions being asked or criticisms being leveled stemmed from some first-hand experience with the process itself.


John H. Franklin Wins Kluge Prize

From the American Historical Association’s Website:

John Hope Franklin, emeritus professor of history at Duke University and past president of the AHA, has won the prestigious John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity. He shares the honor with Yu Ying-shih, emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies and History at Princeton University, who will receives the other half of the $1 million prize.

This is the third time the Kluge prize has been awarded by the Library of Congress to recognize the achievements of scholars in the fields of history, philosophy, politics, anthropology, sociology, religion, criticism in the arts and humanities, and linguistics (all of which are fields that don’t receive Nobel prizes). Franklin and Yu will be presented their awards on December 5, 2006 at the Library of Congress.

John Hope Franklin is perhaps best known for his efforts to include the African-American experience into the study of American History. His publications include The Free Negro in North Carolina, From Slavery to Freedom, and The Emancipation Proclamation to name a few. In 2005 he published his autobiography Mirror to America. Besides his work in academia (which spans 70 years), Franklin was an active participant in the civil rights movement, has been an expert witness, and worked with President Bill Clinton’s administration.


Slavery and Race In New York

Yesterday I commented on the importance of understanding Northern antebellum attitudes regarding the anti-slavery movement by acknowledging the distinction between slavery and race.  I thought I would follow that up by mentioning the new exhibit at the New York Historical Society.  The NYHS has been working hard to explore the connection between its history and the way in which slavery both shaped race relations and fueled the state’s economy.  Their first exhibit, "Slavery in New York" surveyed the history of slavery up to its abolition in 1827.  Their most recent exhibit, "New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War" explores the history of the state between Emancipation and Reconstruction.  Edward Rothstein offers an interesting review of the exhibit in the New York Times.  It looks like the exhibit does a good job of exploring the ways in which New York City and the rest of the state was both economically and culturally connected to slavery and the South:

But the commercial lure of the South must have still been phenomenal. One
gallery stresses the way New York hotels offered Southern-style hospitality to
Southern guests, and it quotes a lawyer of the period referring to New York as
“virtually an annex of the South.” What accompanied all this, the exhibition
then shows, is racial caricaturing in popular culture: in P. T. Barnum exhibits,
minstrel shows and dance clubs.

Now that I find interesting. 

The cataclysm of the Civil War approaches, but it leads to no clear
resolution. In 1861 the city’s mayor, Fernando Wood — about as far from an
abolitionist as a New Yorker could be — suggested that New York City should
declare independence from both the North and the South, and serve both. The
city’s real allegiance might seem evident: New York was becoming a center of the
Union economic and military effort; ships were built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard,
uniforms were supplied by the nascent garment industry, bankers were assuming
large amounts of Union debt, and New York lost more soldiers in the Civil War
(46,434) than any other state. But there were also countervailing forces. A
featured speaker at the postwar 1868 Democratic National Convention, held in New
York, was Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founder of the Ku
Klux Klan

You move through the exhibition’s documents and objects (including a Union
jacket made by Brooks Brothers, a store looted during the draft riots) and try
to come to clarity, but contradictions persist. On the one hand, in 1864 a black
woman whose soldier husband was killed in the war was asked to leave a railway
car in the city to sit in spaces approved for colored riders; on the other hand,
she sued the railroad company and won. On one hand, city officials refused to
allow blacks to march in Lincoln’s funeral procession; on the other hand, the
secretary of war intervened in their favor, though they were permitted only to
bring up the long, trailing rear.

The exhibit ends in a period in which the ideals of the 13th, 14th and 15th
Amendments, which sought to undo slavery’s social evils, work their halting and
stuttering effect (with New York State actually rescinding the ratification of
the 15th); meanwhile large-scale immigration and the birth of modern urban life
transform other elements in the racial equation. There is no sense of triumph
here: one knows how much is yet to come.

But it is also clear just how immense and remarkable this long conflict
against slavery and its heritage has been: a singular enterprise, quashing an
ancient evil in its singularly modern form. To feel the weight of such forces
and begin to sense the complications that gave them shape in a city like New
York, is to begin to feel the pulse of history itself, which is precisely what a
historical society might well set as its goal and which is, here, handsomely

Looks like the exhibit is well worth a visit so if you have an opportunity take advantage of it.  As I stated yesterday it is important to break down our traditional distinctions if in doing so we come to a better appreciation for the way in which slavery and race shaped the entire country in the years leading up to and through the war.

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