07 September 2012

Gettysburg College, Bias In Academia & Scholarship

Gettysburg college recently announced it has 
purchased what many consider to be a Confederate-bashing  blog - Civil War Memory - with one of the goals being to "provide access to resources that support students and faculty in creating original scholarship."

Certainly Gettysburg College can do what it wants and CWM does provide a certain perspective, but by making this move, GC presents yet further evidence of what many already suspect recognize - bias about the Civil War in academia. Sure, some reading this will howl and roll their eyes at this post (with a bit of a barely discernible nervous tick), but even Peter Carmichael (who is the director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College), once acknowledged on this blog that he agreed with at least some of my criticisms regarding this bias and Confederate bashing. In the post that prompted that acknowledgement, I stated at the beginning of the post:

Many modern Civil War historians and academics suffer from this same type of disconnect and are, as this writer points out, inculcated with "a false sense of self-worth."

Many of these same individuals make fun of reenactors, SCV members, amateur and local historians, those proud of their Southern heritage, and anyone else who has anything other than a purely academic interest in the Civil War--or who--God forbid--happens to disagree with their interpretation of events. They impugn and insult them at every opportunity. They stereotype, condescend, assume motives, misquote, misunderstand, misinterpret, they contradict their own statements and, yes, they lie. They demonize the South in one sentence and deny they're doing it in the next, while all the time claiming "scholarly objectivity." They write of the South's burden regarding the slavery issue while ignoring the North's and then become defensive if anyone calls them on it, claiming it's irrelevant. And they write (poorly) boring books and commentary that not even Mensa members could make sense of, thinking that using 20 words, when 10 would suffice, makes them sound smarter.

Professor Carmichael then made this comment:

"I agree with some of your initial comments (Richard) about academia and professional history in general." 

Professor Carmichael did not elaborate what "some" may have included, but you can draw your own conclusions. GC is also including a blog titled Cosmic America, with which I'm not as familiar but, at first glance, does not appear to provide any different perspective than CWM. 

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I'm a frequent critic of academia's left-leaning bias and rather one-sided perspective regarding the WBTS. Regardless of what deniers argue, I think any seriously objective person would acknowledge that this bias does impact teaching and the classroom. And there's a growing body of evidence coming from within academia to support this (as if we needed it). See here and here for just a couple of examples. Another interesting study is contained in a book I recently purchased: Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education. I've only perused the book, so I'm not going to offer any kind of review now, but there's a good review here if anyone's interested. I bring the book up in relation to this post just to throw it in the mix and because I caught this snippet in the review:

The fourth chapter engages in “qualitative research” by analyzing 42 blogs of those who hold a PhD in sociology or are presently (in 2008) doctoral students in sociology. I found this chapter less interesting than others. It was no surprise that these bloggers were motivated by “culture war” dynamics that tended to conflate religious and political conservatives in responding to adversaries. Yancey’s most potent observation is that people who have been trained in detecting social deception were fooled dauntingly often by rumor that met with their political approval. Scholars who were trained in critical thinking and stereotype biases are quite vulnerable when they have some “skin in the game.” 
Does anyone really believe it's a stretch to suggest observe that academic history bloggers are also "motivated by 'culture war' dynamics that tended to conflate religious and political conservatives in responding to adversaries?"

I'm just curious if GC's plans include providing other perspectives on War Between the States Memory or will students only be presented with the types of views represented by blogs like Civil War Memory? In fairness, perhaps I'm rushing to judgement. Perhaps I'm too cynical. Perhaps there are plans to fairly offer other perspectives already in the works. That would be refreshing and doing so would truly be original scholarship.


Anonymous said...

Hi Richard -

I've always found it ironic that CWM projects itself as an "academic" blog and its primary contributor refers to himself as a "professional historian." It's also apparent in both cases that these terms are used at least in part to disparage blogs and bloggers who he considers "amateur" by comparison.

Why is this ironic? Because CWM's owner Kevin Levin's own resume doesn't quite live up to the standards of "academic" credentials he tends to project. He certainly doesn't have a PhD and his highest degree is only a Master's from a regional university with no particular distinction as a "premier" Civil War history program (not that the Princetons of the world are anything special in this regard - they just project an air that they are). His highest level of teaching is at a high school, and it doesn't even appear he's currently doing that. He does have a few minor publications, but they're much closer to the hobbyist variety than someone who makes a living as a "professional" historian. In sum, I'd say he's a lot closer in his own credentials to the "amateur" variety of historian than a "professional."

Now there's nothing wrong with that per se, except that he devotes so many pixels to disparaging other people he considers "amateurs." So what we see with this story really is just another case of the academy's double standards.

In Levin they embrace a guy who is clearly an "amateur" by any reasonable use of their own definitions and measures, and they do so because he happens to toe the line they have deemed to be "correct." By comparison, a confederate-leaning blogger with the exact same credentials as Levin would be dismissed out of hand as an "amateur" who lacks "professional" credentials.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"By comparison, a confederate-leaning blogger with the exact same credentials as Levin would be dismissed out of hand as an "amateur" who lacks "professional" credentials."

Precisely, which is the whole point of the post. "Original scholarship?"