Monday, September 22, 2003

Civility's just another word for hiding 

Ralph Luker at Welcome To My World ... shows what happens when people hide behind civility codes to resist calls to verify their academic research. On Sept. 17th he asked Christine Heyrman to "show some real professional pride in your Bancroft Prize winning book. Get Random House and UNC Press committed to a revised edition of it; don't misuse ellipses this time around; use comparable data; and do the additions correctly." Fairly strong, true, but he had pointed out his initial findings in a rather dry academic piece, to which she made only one small admission. He then proceeded to reproduce that piece and his call for clarifications into a letter he sent to several historians. The list included Glenda Gilmore, a Yale historian and nominee of a Sontag Award by Andrew Sullivan. Her response is a stinging condemnation of Luker (reprinted in his 9/20 post) closing with "All I can do is point out to you that this crosses my boundaries of civility, and that I would appreciate your taking me off this list. " Luker replies:
As you may know, I am a Southerner and a gentleman. Civility stands fairly high on my scale of values. The recent embarrassments to our profession, however, leave mere civility impotent. Like sincerity, it's a second-rate virtue. It always depends on what one is being civil or sincere about.
My civility twice went to lunch with Michael Bellesiles after his debacle and long after his Emory colleagues had begun to shun him. We had fine repasts, but as soon as grace was said, I told him that I didn't believe him.
I may be wrong, but I think we've a sort of professional crisis on our hands and we will avoid confronting it if we can. It sure is easier to be civil if we do.
UPDATE: See Critical Mass for more.