So it’s Columbus Day, and the usual idiots are doing the usual bashing.
This is why you shouldn’t trust “experts.”
Co-blogger Phil and I were discussing this the other day, the Howard Zinn-ification of most everything. Columbus was a man of his time. Everything he did to the Arawaks, Mehmed II did to the Byzantines. In spades. The only difference being, Mehmed was a Muslim and Byzantium was in Turkey, so white American liberals don’t get to award themselves virtue bingo squares for squawking about it (and hence they whitewash the fall of Constantinople).
In order to make the argument that Columbus was somehow uniquely evil, you’d have to judge him according to his context. Elucidating context is what historians are supposed to do. But where’s the virtue fix in that?
Everything you need to know about the historical profession, you can learn from the Michael Bellesiles affair. In short, Bellesiles told academia what it wanted to hear — that despite what everyone knows, there weren’t that many guns in colonial America, and the Founders weren’t all that keen on the Second Amendment. Naturally they loved his book Arming America, and awarded it the Bancroft Prize (pretty much the highest award in the field).
Except, of course, what everybody knows to be true actually was true. Bellesiles was guilty of gross academic misconduct, up to and including inventing sources for his claims.
What’s most striking about this story, for anyone who knows anything about professional academic work, is how willing other historians were to overlook the audacity of Bellesiles’s claims. I have a buddy who wrote his dissertation on certain aspects of a state’s colonial history, and I’m not kidding when I say that pretty much every extant source passed through his hands at some point during that project. There are lots of people in the history biz with similar archival experience, and yet somehow it fell to a software engineer, Clayton Cramer, to point out some of the obvious problems with Professor Bellesiles’s sources and methodology.
Not only did the “experts” not look at the data, they actually attacked Cramer for pointing it out. Because he’s not a professional historian, you see. He’s just a computer geek and a gun nut; we can’t have those people sullying the purity of the profession with their grubby, un-PhD’d paws.
Academia is a guild, plain and simple. A good rule of thumb is: The louder someone trumpets the word “expert,” the greater the likelihood he’s full of shit.Loading Likes...