UT Press: Additional Thoughts

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.


University of Tennessee Press Embroiled In Plagiarism Allegations

Historian William Marvel was recently asked to review Dr. R. Fred Ruhlman’s new book, Captain Henry Wirz and Andersonville Prison: A Reappraisal for the Georgia Historical Quarterly and found that much of it had been pulled from his well-regarded 1994 book, Andersonville: The Last Depot (UNC Press).  The story is beginning to make the rounds.  From Southern AP News:

“I would characterize the extent as ‘pages and pages’ of text that has been lightly rearranged and doctored to appear original, and without counting the work of other historians that he has appropriated,” Marvel said in an e-mail.  “In one instance I found him repeating the only bibliographic error in my entire book, and it would be incredibly coincidental for him to have made that transcription error through his own research,” Marvel wrote.  Ruhlman said in a UT Press news release that he’s innocent of willful plagiarism but acknowledged oversights in crediting the work of Marvel.

“I feel very bad about this,” Ruhlman said. “If I had done this deliberately, it would have been academic suicide because Marvel is an authority on this. He would have been asked to review this. I’m reaching out to Mr. Marvel with an apology.”  Marvel said the volume of questionable material is troubling.

“I certainly don’t consider it a merely technical violation and find it impossible to believe it was unintentional,” Marvel said.

Here are some comparisons compiled by KnoxNews:

Marvel, p. 21: “He nominated Alexander W. Persons, a twenty-seven-year-old lawyer from Fort Valley, barely thirty miles up the rail line from Anderson. Persons was lieutenant colonel of the 55th Georgia…. The 55th had never been in a real battle, and it enjoyed no great reputation, once having mutinied….”

Ruhlman, p. 53: “Cobb recommended Alexander W. Persons, a twenty-seven-year-old attorney from Fort Valley, Georgia, a small town
approximately thirty miles from Andersonville. Persons was the lieutenant colonel of the 55th Georgia Infantry, a regiment of dubious distinction. The 55th had never seen actual combat and had once mutinied….”

Marvel, pp. 24-25: “A few tried to run for it anyway, but they found the guards true to their word.”

Ruhlman, p. 57: “…a few attempted to escape and discovered that the guards were true to their word.”

Marvel, p. 36: “Mrs. Wolf was a perfectly respectable Methodist lady whose husband had recently died, leaving her with two small girls.”

Ruhlman, p. 77: “She was a respectable Methodist lady whose husband had recently died, leaving her with two daughters to raise.”

Marvel, p. 36: “All his life Wirz had wanted to be a doctor, and in 1854 he joined Dr. Webber as an apprentice….”

Ruhlman, p. 77: “Wirz had wanted to be a doctor all his life, and in 1854 he joined Webber…as his apprentice.”

Marvel, p. 37: “In August of 1862 Wirz assumed command of all Richmond prisons, exerting a strict but reasonably humane authority over the Federal captives. He denied the Yankees any opportunity to communicate with their own officers, or to buy contraband from civilians, but he did not hesitate to arrest a guard for shooting one of the prisoners.”

Ruhlman, p. 78: “By August 1862, Captain Wirz was in charge of all prisoners in the Richmond area. …[H]is administration was strict but humane in its treatment of prisoners of war. Wirz removed any opportunity for the prisoners to communicate with their officers, forbade the sale of contraband by civilians to the prisoners, and quickly arrested one of the guards for shooting a prisoner.”

Marvel, p. 37: “Wirz took Ould at his word, embarking on a quest of another four thousand miles, crisscrossing the Deep South from Columbus, Georgia, to Houston, Texas.”

Ruhlman, p. 79: “Wirz took Ould at his word and sojourned another four thousand miles, tracking across the Deep South from Columbus, Georgia, to Houston, Texas….”

Marvel, pp. 39-40: “…a dozen men came down with the symptoms of fever, headache, wracking spasms of vomiting, and the little red eruptions….”

Ruhlman, p. 143: “…a dozen more prisoners were showing symptoms of the disease: fever, headache, spasms of vomiting, and small red sores….”

Marvel, p. 45: “Wirz worried the quartermaster for tools, and early in April Colonel Persons learned of a supply available in Augusta. He stopped by Richard Winder’s quarters to apprise him of them, but the quartermaster lay writhing in bed with an acute attack of rheumatism.”

Ruhlman, p. 83: “He kept after Capt. Richard Winder with constant requests for tools and reminded him if the critical need. In early April, Colonel Persons received information that a supply of tools was available in Augusta, Georgia… Upon arrival at WinderAs quarters, he found him incapacitated from rheumatism.”

Marvel, p. 244: “Then he called a procession of former prisoners who seemed determined to outdo one another in their recollections of WirzAs barbarity.”

Ruhlman, p. 192: “In their testimony, it appears as if the former prisoners were determined to outdo one another in their recollections of…Wirz’s brutality.”

Marvel, p. 244: “Men swore they saw Wirz shoot prisoners at point-blank range, citing names that never appeared on the death register.”

Ruhlman, p. 192: “…others told of witnessing Wirz shoot prisoners at point-blank range…. They gave names of victims who never appeared on the death register.”

Marvel, p. 245: “The alleged affidavit survives, bearing a date of August 27, 1864… and it is signed in a perfectly steady hand.”

Ruhlman, pp. 194-95: “The alleged affidavit… bearing the date of 27 August 1864, can still be viewed and bears a signature written in a strong, steady hand.”

Marvel, p. 246: “On the chilly morning of November 10, Wirz rose in his cell at the Old Capitol and wrote a last letter to his wife, whom he had apparently not been allowed to see….”

Ruhlman, p. 209: “The morning of 10 November 1865 was cool. Wirz sat in his cell writing a last letter to his wife. He had not been allowed to see her….”

It would be an understatement to say that it doesn’t look good for Ruhlman.  Ruhlman earned his PhD in history from a school in England and is currently teaching at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  UT is going to have to take a look at its peer review process and try to figure out how this one got through.  What I don’t understand is why they didn’t send the manuscript to Marvel for review.  Marvel’s book on Andersonville is considered by many to be the definitive study; it’s not as if there are a significant number of historians who focus on Civil War prisons.


Senator Jim Webb’s Confederacy

Seth Gitell of the New York Sun has an interesting analysis of Jim Webb’s non-fiction work on the "Old South" and Confederacy.  According to Gitell, while the Allen camp raised issues about Webb’s published work regarding women, they focused on the wrong issues.  They should have attempted to balance criticism of Allen’s identification with the Confederate battleflag and the Confederacy with Webb’s 2004 book, Born Fighting: How the Scotch-Irish Shaped America.  According to Gitell:

As a window on the mind of a rising politician in the Democratic Party, it is illuminating and perplexing. Mr. Webb refers to "bloodlines" and ethnic "DNA." Such talk is more in keeping with the Old World, where the character of an individual rested in the volkish notion of blood. He writes in broad ethnic stereotype, reminiscent of 19th-century readers that elucidated the nature of the Irish, the British, the French, and the Jew. He has words of praise for the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. He rationalizes the position of the Confederate soldier and places the history of the Confederate flag in a heroic context. There’s no ideological litmus test in the Senate, of course, and senatorial campaign contests should not be reduced to the politically correct absurdities of the American college campus. None of the excerpts demands an immediate call to the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Even so, they represent thinking most liberals would have already denounced if uttered by a supporter of the Iraq war. Having said all that, it is notable that the usual suspects — most of them within the Democratic Party — are all so silent…

Here are a few excerpts from Webb’s Born Fighting:

That warrior ethic, which would carry the outnumbered and outgunned Confederacy a very long way, came from the long traditions of service that had begun so many centuries before in Scotland and the north of Britain. The Confederate battle flag itself was drawn from the St. Andrew’s Cross of Scotland and the unbending spirit of the Southern soldier found its energies in the deeds of the past just as strongly as it looked up to the leaders of the present. These were the direct descendants of William Wallace’s loyal followers of five centuries before.

Scots-Irish "suffered 70 percent killed or wounded in the Civil War and were still standing proud in the ranks at Appomattox when General Lee surrendered — but in today’s politically correct environment this means that they were the ‘racist’ soldiers of the Nazi-like Confederacy.

Among others [Scots-Irish Confederate generals] included … the unparalleled Nathan Bedford Forrest, a semiliterate who proved to be a master of maneuver and improvisation, and who defeated every West Point general he faced."

Well, it looks like someone read their Grady McWhiney.  I have no idea what Webb is getting at with his reference to a "Nazi-like Confederacy."  Apart from a few people who exactly is comparing the Confederacy and the Nazis?  As long as Webb is not placed on a committee that is responsible for writing history we should be o.k.


Is Russel Beatie The New Douglas S. Freeman?

There is an interesting thread over at the Civil War Forum about Russel Beatie’s latest volume in his multi-volume study of the Army of the Potomac.  The thread starts with a post by historian Jim Morgan who offers his own critique of McClellan Takes Command: Sept 1861 – Feb 1862, which is vol. 2 in the series.  Volumes 1 and 2 were published by Da Capo while the next volume is slated for release by Savas-Beatie.  I think that is correct.  Scroll down to post 14 of 18 to read historian John Hennessy’s very critical review of volume 1.  While Morgan points out multiple factual errors Hennessy notes both specific factual mistakes as well as more significant interpretive and historiographical problems.  In short, it looks like this series is a disaster.  I have no plans to read these books since I stay away from books published by Da Capo (unless they are those excellent reprints) as well as other small independent presses.  Of course there are specific titles that must be worth reading, but I don’t have the time or energy to sift through it all. 

Sounds like a number of people will be looking to see what Savas-Beatie does with volume 3.  Given Hennessy’s review of volume 1 and Morgan’s review of volume 2 it is difficult to imagine any significant changes in the works.  The publisher can at least correct the grammatical and factual errors if indeed they utilize a sufficiently strong peer review process.  Oh, and by the way, David Woodbury confirmed that the Beatie in Savas-Beatie is none other than Russel Beatie.

As far as I can tell the standard by which multi-volume works must be compared with is Gordon Rhea’s Overland Campaign study.


“Unwinding” Racism

Every Wednesday our school holds what we call "Community Forum."  It lasts for about 20 minutes and allows students to share their thoughts about issues related to school and beyond.  Students are asked to stand when they speak and identify themselves to the rest of the Upper School.  Faculty are also encouraged to take part.  Most of the issues are raised by a small committee of students.  Last week they decided to tackle the issue of race.  We decided to show scenes from the move Crash and to break up into smaller groups to discuss it.  We showed the movie last Wednesday and today broke up into small groups this morning for a 25-minute discussion. 

I was with a group of about 15 students.  It will come as no surprise when I say that these discussions are difficult to get off the ground.  Many students feel defensive or uncomfortable while others struggle for the right language.  We are a small private school that is predominantly white and upper middle to upper class. 

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of our discussion.  While we did not spend much time talking about the movie we did talk about the way race shapes our individual perceptions and its manifestations in the Charlottesville area.  Not everyone talked, but enough students shared their ideas.  One student in particular, who was a student in my AP American History course last year, made some very interesting points.  She admitted to being aware of the ways race has shaped American history and her local community, but wondered how we might begin to "unwind race."  For some reason this has stuck with me the entire day.  It’s perfect.  Most people in the group were willing to admit that we learn to see our world through the lens of race and this lends itself to the idea of being wound-up in it

I guess the main reason I like it so much is that it helps explain why I am so interested in the history of race in this country.  I grew up just outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey.  As some of you may know Atlantic City is on an island along with the smaller towns of Ventnor, Margate, and Longport.  I grew up in Ventnor.  While Atlantic City was predominantly black my town along with the two others was white.  What I still find hard to believe is that up until I attended high school I never really interacted with black people.  My parents took me and my brother to the boardwalk and the amusement piers, but I don’t remember that many black families.  And all of this took place on an island in southern New Jersey.

My own critical approach to the study of how race has shaped American history has in large part been part of a personal process of trying to "unwind" race from my own personal history.   In the end it comes back to a kind of childhood curiosity or sense of wonder about the racial dynamics of my own home and how I was wound without even knowing it at an early age.