Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blog LXVII (67): The AHA is Coming3

Session 3 at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association looks to be interesting, to say the least. Who are the people that will make up this panel, entitled "Careers in History: The Variety of the Profession"? Glad you asked. The pannelists are the following:

Steven Luckert is a curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum . He holds a BA, MA, and a Ph.D. from Binghamton University. He is the author of The Art and Politics of Arthur Szyk.

Robert B. Kane holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of California at Los Angeles. He served in the U.S. Air Force, and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He then served as the deputy historian for the Air Armament Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Kane now works in the Organizational History Branch at the Air Force Historical Research Agency, located at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. He is the author of Disobedience and Conspiracy in the German Army, 1918-45.

Megan Sniffin-Marinoff is the University Archivist of Harvard University. She holds a BS and MA from Boston University, and another MA from New York University. Before coming to Harvard, she was the head of special collections at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was at Simmons College where she was the college archivist and then the director of the archives programs at the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science. She is a Fellow of the Society of American Archivists. This distinction is the highest honor the organization bestows on individual members.

C. James Taylor is the Editor-in-Chief of the Adams Paper Project at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Before that he served as co-editor of The Papers of Henry Laurens and was an associate research professor at the University of South Carolina.

Nicholas Evan Sarantakes is an associate professor of strategy and policy at the U.S. Naval War College. He holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Southern California. He is the author of four books. He has also won five writing awards for his article work. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He is currently finishing work on a book about the making of the film Patton.

Kevin Allen lives in Somerville, Massachussets and manages the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Historic Curatorship Program, a long-term leasing public-private partnership program. Allen received a Bachelor’s Degree in History and Film Production from the University of Colorado in 1994, and a Masters in History/Historic Preservation from the University of South Carolina in 1999. He currently serves on the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission. He has worked in the public history field for 14 years, having previously worked at the Smithsonian Institution, in the Planning Department for the City of Columbia, South Carolina, the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, and Wake County, North Carolina’s preservation Non-Profit.

Aaron W. Marrs is a historian at the U.S. Department of State. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina and is the author of Railroads in the Old South: Pursuing Progress in a Slave Society. He is currently the chair of the American Historical Association's Graduate and Early Career Committee.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Blog LXVI (66): Honors to the Blog, Part III

This blog continues to perform its mission in ways large and small. The people at AHA headquarters continue top appreciate the work done here. The "What We’re Reading" section of the blog referenced "In the Service of Clio" on December 9, 2010: A number of history departments have been king to this blog and have recommend this site as either a link on their website or on the page that their library staffs maintain for their history majors. These schools include: Ambrose University College, Temple University, University of Memphis, the Villanova University public history program, Villanova University, the Intute consortium (a combination of seven British universities: University of Birmingham, University of Bristol, Heriot-Watt University, The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Nottingham, and the University of Oxford), Kean University, Miami University, and Tulane University.

In December, 2009 Michael Creswell had his essay “Navigating the Graduate Admissions Process" published in the American Historical Association's newsletter, Perspectives on History. This article originally appeared as a "guest column" for "In the Service of Clio" back on April 16, 2009 as Blog VI. It has become something of a hit. A number of departments are linking to this essay on their web sites. Although these links are to the AHA's site rather than this blog, it is still a recognition for the work that this blog is doing. These history departments recognizing Creswell include the ones at: American University, Florida Gulf Coast University, University of North Carolina, Maxwell School of Syracuse University, Rhodes College, Taiwan Historian Network, University of South Florida, Florida State University, Texas Tech University, California State University at Fullerton, Park University, and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. is providing statistics for blog operators. According to their charting, which only goes back to May of this year, this blog has had an international audience. The map below documents some the origins of many visitors to this blog:

Blog LXI: The AHA is Coming Nicholas Evan Sarantakes gears up for the AHA’s 125th Annual Meeting and for session 3, “Careers in History: The Variety of the Profession,” profiled earlier this week on AHA today, and which he will be participating in.

According to their statistics, most of the visitors come from the United States, but they are coming from many other places as well:
  • United States 5176
  • United Kingdom 737
  • Netherlands 614
  • Germany 47
  • Canada 44
  • India 278
  • Russia 256
  • Turkey 126
  • Latvia 84
  • Ukraine 43

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blog LXV (65): The AHA is Coming, The AHA is Coming

Some one at AHA central must like me. Last week the people that run the AHA blog designated my panel at the annual meeting as the "Session of the Week." I must say, they have good taste. You can find the essay on their blog site. I have also included the blog entry in its entirety, including links and graphics on this posting:

December 06, 2010

Session of the Week: Careers in History

What can you dowith a history degree? More importantly, what can youdo with a history degree if you don’t want to teach?

History majors have diverse job options outside of academia. Learn from history professionals in a range of fields in session 3, Careers in History: The Variety of the Profession. This roundtable session, sponsored by the Graduate and Early Career Committee, brings together historians who work in preservation, documentary editing, museums, archives, and the military to speak about both specific aspects of their jobs as well as general advice for job seekers.

See below for the complete session information, and check out the other “Session of the Week” posts that have appeared on the blog, pulled from the content of the Program of the 125th Annual Meeting.

Careers in History: The Variety of the ProfessionAHA Session 3
Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Room 302 (Hynes Convention Center)

Chair: Aaron W. Marrs, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State

  • Kevin Allen, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation
  • Robert B. Kane, U.S. Air Force
  • Steven Luckert, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, U.S. Naval War College
  • C. James Taylor, Papers of John Adams, Massachusetts Historical Society
  • Megan Sniffin-Marinoff, Harvard University Archives

Monday, December 13, 2010

Blog LXIV (64): Another Question

Over the weekend I had a conversation with a friend. He had a manuscript that he was trying to get published. He had originally thought about publishing it as an article, but got an offer to publish it as a chapter in an edited volume. That got the two of us to thinking about what would be better from a professional point of view an article or a chapter? If it were a question between a book and an article there would be no question. The book would win. But, what is better for your career an article or a chapter? I would love to hear the views of those that read this blog.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Blog LXIII (63): Teaching Effectiveness

Are your students really learning what you are teaching them? How do you know? Why? Why not? Those are simple questions, but ones that are very difficult for historians, and many other professors to answer.

A little while back two professors in the University of California system (Philip Babcock at the Santa Barbara campus and Mindy Marks at the Riverside campus) published an article that shows that college students are devoting less and less time to studying than they did forty years ago. The average student at a regular four-year college in 1961 put in roughly 24 hours a week of study. Today the average student devotes only 14 hours.

That study has created a lot of consternation in higher education as people debate why? Any number of culperits have been found responsible for the decline in study: the rise of the computer, interactive media, and changing demographics. Some people have asked related questions about teaching effectiveness and wondered if it is a bad thing that students are studying less. Maybe modern students are better at using their time more effectively.

Babcock and Marks, for their part, believe the decline is due to what I called in Blog LX “the student vote.” They argue that a major reason for the decline in study hours is a breakdown in the relationship between the professor and the student. Instead of a situation where a professor sets standards and students try to meet them, they claim that the more common outcome is a scenario in which both sides hope to do as little as possible.

“No one really has an incentive to make a demanding class,” Marks told The Boston Globe. “To make a tough assignment, you have to write it, grade it. Kids come into office hours and want help on it. If you make it too hard, they complain. Other than the sheer love for knowledge and the desire to pass it on to the next generation, there is no incentive in the system to encourage effort.”

Murray Sperber, a visiting professor in the graduate school of education at the Berkeley branch of the University of California, blames teaching evaluations. The original idea behind evaluation was a noble one. Students got a chance to express their opinions about their classes, but the whole concept has backfired. Course evaluations have created a sort of “nonaggression pact,” Sperber explained to The Globe. Professors—particularly those seeking tenure—tread lightly on assignments and students reciprocate with glowing course evaluations.

I disagree with this assessment for two reasons. First, my personal assessment is that factors external to higher education are responsible for the decline in study hours. The big drop took place in the 1960s and 1970s. So the reasonable question to ask is what happened during this period? What were college students doing with this extra time? Two things: television and sex. Television, it is true, became a major cultural phenomenon in the 1950s before this drop, but college students in the early 1960s would have developed as high school students and, in some cases, college students before the television came to dominate American society. Also, there is a real possibility that their families could not have afforded to give them a television when they went off to college. Nor would there have been room for them in college dorm rooms. So television had less impact in 1961 than it did in 1969 or 1971.

The second reason is due to the development of the birth control pill. College students had sex long before the 1960s, but it became far more common after the pill gave women the power to control their fertility. As the chances of having sex increased, students (male and female) often found the pursuit of the other more interesting than studying accounting, political science, astronomy, or any of a number of other fields.

The other reason I disagree with this assessment is that it accords the students too much influence. As I discussed in Blog LX, student evaluations are not that influential. Now, in preparing to write this blog, I came across a number of news stories about professors being denied tenure. For one reason or another these stories, made it into the local media. The professor often claimed they were rejected because of teaching evaluations that complained of heavy study obligations. While those evaluations might indeed support the professor's claim, there usually is something else at work—like a failure to publish or publishing in mediocre venues unworthy of tenure. Adrianna Kezar, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California, got to the point when she told The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Faculty rewards have nothing to do with the ability to assess student learning. I get promoted for writing lots of articles, not for demonstrating learning outcomes.”

The Babcock/Marks study is important because it is forcing some people to ask if students studying less is a good thing or a bad thing, and it is also getting people to ask how you assess student learning, which is no easy thing. Andrew Hacker, an emeritus professor of political science at the City University of New York's Queens College, who has been teaching for over fifty years admitted to The Chronicle that he has no way of knowing what type of impact he is having. “I couldn't say objectively or reliably what I do for students.”

I will repeat what I said in Blog LX, the student vote is important, but mainly in indirect ways. It is also important to consider that faculty have different stages of their careers in the classroom just as they do in publishing. Scott E. Carrell, an assistant professor of economics at the Davis branch of the University of California, explored learning at the U.S. Air Force Academy. What he found is interesting. The cadets that took introductory calculus from experienced professors failed to do as well in these introductory class as the cadets that took the course from more junior instructors. On the other hand, the cadets that had an experienced professors did better in higher-level courses than did students who had inexperienced teachers for introductory calculus.

A good professor should pay attention to those approaches that work with students and those that do not. “What do you think we’ve all been doing for 100 years?” Gary Rhoades, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, asked a reporter from The Chronicle. “Classes are like organic things: Not every one is the same. If you are a good professor, you are responding to what students are getting and what they’re not. If you try and mechanize that, it can be a problem.”

He is right. A good teacher can only do so much with the raw material they have to work with, which is to say the intellectual ability of the students. A 2008 survey of undergraduates in the University of California system made that point. Students were asked to list what interferes most with their academic success. The number one reason, according to 33 percent, was that they simply did not know how to sit down and study.

With that point made, it might be a good thing for a new faculty member to be able to document their effectiveness with something more than teaching evaluations. Here at the Naval War College a lot of that is done for the faculty by our staff. Now, there is a difference between teaching mid-career professionals and teenagers. I also keep a diary to document what is working and not working in the classroom. Another simple way to document teaching effectiveness is to give students the same multiple-choice assignment at the beginning and end of the class. Use it as a diagnostic tool rather than a grading mechanism. Someday someone is going to question your teaching effectiveness and having this material might prove very useful.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Blog LXII (62): A Question

I have a question, and I hope readers of this blog will answer it for me. What is the biggest issue facing the history profession right now? I would like to get your feedback and use it at the session I will be doing at the AHA in January. I will also use the information for a future blog essay.

Feel free to respond in the comment section of this blog, on Facebook, or via a note to my personal e-mail address. To get my address all you have to do is google "Sarantakes." It is not that common a name.

I will tabulate the answers in early January.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Blog LXI (61): The AHA is Coming

In a few weeks, I will be part of a panel at the 2011 meeting of the American Historical Association. The session is: "Careers in History: The Variety of the Profession." The session will be on the first day of the conference: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 3 pm. The focus of this panel will be as on using your Ph.D. when you cannot get a job in a conventional history department. The conference program committee is expecting a heavy turnout, and has put us in a big room. C-Span has asked for permission to record the session. In an ironic twist, the AHA put this panel in a central location next to the job center. (It is ironic in that most of those interviews will be for jobs in history departments, otherwise the location would seem approrpriate.) The room is also near the messaging center. So that will encourage additional foot traffic.

Here is an excerpt from page 39 of the 2011 conference program:

Since this AHA session will be discussing many of the issues that I have tried to examine with this blog, I would like to invite all of you to attend. This panel will be far more productive if we have interested people. So please come. This session has the potential to be very interesting--and informative.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Blog LX (60): The Student Vote

Teaching is important. It is a major professional activity that graduate school does a poor job of preparing the promising scholar for once they graduate. There are plenty of journal articles, web sites, and blogs that share teaching tips and techniques. How though do you incorporate teaching into career? I do not know that that particular topic gets discussed much. So here goes.

1) Does teaching matter? The short answer to that question—as I mentioned in Blog LVII—is: yes. There is a longer more complex answer to that question, though. The importance of teaching will be a function of where you teach. It will be of little importance at a research university, while it will be crucial at a community college. In most cases, though, your advancement in the profession or at an individual institution will be based on matters other than teaching—publications and service. Teaching will still matter, but more in indirect matters.

2) Students get a vote. Education is a collaborative activity, but it is no democracy. Some faculty believe that the mission of teaching is to educate and being a popular teacher often gets in the way of that objective. Put another way, pushing students to develop their analytical and thinking skills is not the same thing as being entertaining. There is truth in that observation. There are direct correlations between grades and evaluations. Students getting high grades are far more likely to give instructors good comments, while those that are getting bad grades are going to use teaching evaluations as a form of payback. In addition, seniors are more inclined to make more positive comments than freshmen.

The natural tendency among many professors is to basically disregard student evaluations as nothing more than popularity contests. There are sound reasons to take that view, but what if you took the evaluations at face value? To some degree students are consumers and they do get to vote with their feet in the form of their enrollments. They want to learn and often eager to obtain the knowledge that the professor has to offer. It is wrong to ignore that enthusiasm. There will be students that will discover dating while in college or will be more committed to their fraternity or sorority, or will be cruising because your class is not as important as two other biology classes that are required for admission into medical school, but that should not obscure the fact that many students come to class with enthusiasm. A friend of mine was teaching at San Diego State as an adjunct, and took that attitude. He read the evaluations carefully, took them at face value, and responded to them accordingly. The result was his evaluations went up dramatically. They were so good that he was offered a new contract. He also had no problem in drawing students to his sections. That is crucial for a part-time instructor. It is also an important consideration for a new professor on the tenure track and even senior faculty. Students will avoid professors that fail to teach material they find meaningful. The result is that some faculty will find that they have difficulty in drawing students. They might not get to teach the classes they want (upper division courses in their areas of specialization) or will have to teach classes they do not want to teach (like U.S. history surveys). Faculty that have a reputation as a good teacher will often have classes that draw dozens and dozens of students. Classes that are cash cows for departments can be very important in a number of ways. They help fund graduate programs and give you influence within your department. It is also easier to get grad students admitted in your areas of specialization, if there is a documented need for students that can serve as teaching assistants for courses in those subjects. The professor that can draw in students should also—depending on the funding formula—significant influence within the department.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Blog LIX (59): Videos

There is a new phenomenon out on the internet. It is the "So you Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities." It has spawned several variations. The videos are enormously popular not because they are funny--they are--but because the best satire always uses the truth.

I have put three of the videos up here. Everything--and I do mean everything--discussed in these videos has an element of truth. Each of the complaints that the professors make are those that are fairly common place in academia and representative of someone's life and career. The videos are much like cop shows on television. Most police officers in real life will only draw or discharge their weapon once, but it is not unusual for the lead in a television series to fire off bullet after bullet in one season, much less a career even if the story lines are like Law & Order and ripped from actual headlines. (It happens, just not to the same person over and over). The same is true with these videos.

I have included three. The original humanities Ph.D video. The one on political science, and finally the one on history. The history one is also the most harsh.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Blog LVIII (58): A Teaching Workshop

On August 5 and 6, 2010, the Department of Strategy and Policy at the U.S. Naval War College sponsored a workshop on the teaching of grand strategy. This workshop brought together 20 visiting scholars from colleges and universities all across the country to talk with the faculty of the Strategy Department, and a small group of visitors from other NWC departments and the Naval War College Foundation. All told, 75 different people attended the two-day event. The conference focused solely on teaching. I have never seen or heard of a department bringing all its faculty together to discuss the art of teaching, much less bringing in a number of guests. As a result, I took a lot of notes during those two days. This blog essay is a short and condensed version of a report on the issues that got discussed during those two days.

Four things are important to note before we begin. First, the discussants were multidisciplinary in nature. Our guests were from history, political science, and public policy programs. Second, while the conversations focused on how to teach grand strategy (a multidisciplinary topic) much of the conversations translates very easily into discussions on how to teach history. Third, the Naval War College has a non-attribution policy. The College adopted this policy to encourage a free flow of ideas. While in my opinion, nothing that controversial was said during this gathering, I do not intend to violate this policy. As a result, no individuals will be mentioned by name in this blog essay. Fourth, while teaching is a voyage of discovery, prior planning and thinking can save you a good deal of time that you can use for other professional activities. Since teaching is actually what most of us spend most of our time doing, that is no small consideration for other career goals and options.

The conference started with an opening speaker. This individual noted that what the NWC does is significant and offered two examples. He explained that the writings of Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan have stood the test of time. Mahan, who was the second president of the War College and was president of the American Historical Association in 1902 is currently being read in China for better or worse. The speaker also noted that under the leadership of Rear Admiral Stansfield Turner, the NWC in the early 1970s took the lead in developing courses in strategy, which had helped develop many of the programs represented in the room. “We can learn from one another about the craft,” he explained.

One of the first major teaching issues focused on context. A guest scholar from the United Kingdom observed that one of the key issues when teaching strategy is to understand the changes that take place. The tendency is to see strategy as a “generic thing” in simple structured terms. He added, “The context is important to understand where they are coming from.” Staff Colleges did not see changes and a good instructor needs to educate students to challenge of change.

Another guest from an Ivy League school disagreed. He replied that yes, context is important, and it is an issue that is important when discussing the Peloponnesian Wars. Yet, only to a degree. The course is on strategy, not history. As teachers of grand strategy, we need to back away from context and look at enduring principles. A member of the Strategy Department said he wants his student “to think like a historian.” The important thing for them to see is the “continuity and change.” He wants his students to ask “What’s similar, what’s different.” That analytical approach can be developed through the use of the theorists and it is really important for military officers to develop that skill. He always wants a voice in back of their mind, what’s different about this situation.

A senior NWC official raised several issues that the room began discussing. Since there were over seventy people in the room, the various topics of discussion overlapped. The senior asked: what constraints does an instructor face in designing a class. The big one at the NWC is time. How much context do we have to give? The other trade off is reading workload. Course critiques constantly stress that the students do not have time to do all the readings. When they reach the case studies, they see how important theorists are and it makes them frustrated that they have not had more time to think about the theorists. The reality is that the students have difficultly doing all the readings.

These questions provoked a good deal of discussion, since they are basically the same issues that instructors face in most environments. One visitor from Pennsylvania, said, “I am appalled at the idea of doing Thucydides in two hours?” How do you read a 700 page book, he asked. You got to wait out students, he said answering his own question. You ask questions and then wait for response. Another guest agreed to a degree. He has done two hours on page one of Herodotus, but that approach cannot be done at War Colleges. Military schools have to focus on key sections, and get to the “theory of the whole.”

Several members of the workshop analyzed the discussion and provided some good commentary. A War College professor said class is always a beginning. A good professor helps a student create a habit of mind. A guest from a New York school added, “All of this is a tradeoff between breadth and depth.” Most people in the room keep talking about depth, but there is a need to compare the two different modes. “There is no obvious solution to striking the right balance between breadth and depth.” A visitor from a school in the Big Ten noticed that many of the issues that this gather was talking about in teaching are the same issues that people face in making strategy: breadth vs. depth and the scarcity of time. A good instructor and course will make students familiar with these issues.

Another topic the assembly examined was what type of books should an instructor assign. The Big Ten professor observed that making policy is difficult and he wants his students to understand three factors: first, choosing between options is difficult; second, they should have an understanding of how contingency comes into play; third, the judgment of individuals is crucial. Many of the mentioned in today’s discussion offer models of judicious thinking about difficult decisions. A professor from a different Big Ten school said he assigns books that make it clear that people make grand strategy. “The students get it.”

A War College professor said there is an art to assigning books: “It’s not which great books we use, but how we use them.” He continued, explaining, “It’s the role of the teacher to be disagreeable.” A good instructor will “attack the literature in a productive way” so that it teaches them how to think. “That’s the key.” Giving them this analytical skill set will do them a great service.

Several professors from Ivy League schools that books also help when dealing with students. One noted that all students at prestigious schools—the military academies or an Ivy League university—already think they are leaders. Another said one of the ways you deal with this issue is to hit them with great books. Another is to have them do simulations where they have to develop a strategy and then deal with a crisis. One student said the faculty were trying to make students fail. That, he remarked, is true. Saying, “I don’t know to a boss but I will find out” is extremely difficult. The exercise is generally successful. The students get insights and often are what the faculty want students to get.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Blog LVII (57): Teaching and Your Career

Teaching. It is something all of us that do history do. And we do a lot of it. It is also probably a major reason most of decided to become historians. Someone reached us through their work in the classroom. I know that was the case for me as it was.

It is also something that new scholars do a lot of. So how does the new scholar make teaching part of their career plan? This question is one that this blog has ignored for the most part. The only thing that has been discussed the plight of the adjunct, but what about teaching itself?

Since I mentioned adjuncts, let me discuss that subject for a moment or two. Does working as an adjunct help make yourself a stronger candidate for a full-time position? To a degree, the answer is yes. Working as an adjunct is good in that it gives you an opportunity to be the instructor of record and gain some experience in teaching. Some graduate programs are very good about preparing their students and some are not. In an ironic twist, those grad students that are awarded fellowships that free them up to focus on their research are often at a disadvantage in pursuing many jobs because these positions often are at institutions that emphasize teaching. Those type of jobs are far more common than those at a Research I or Research II University.

I even saw this happen once. I was on a search committee and a newly minted Ph.D. from Princeton applied for a job. He had a good dissertation that clearly had was going to push the historiography along in his field. He, however, had letters of recommendation that were less than helpful. They were not bad, but his professors thought their names and the Princeton degree would in and of itself get him a job. The problem was another Princeton grad applied for the job as well. I should also add that Ph.D.s from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Chicago put in applications as well. This Princeton Ph.D. was teaching at community colleges in Dallas and had his supervisors write letters of recommendation for his application file. They were excellent. They were positive, but also described his record of teaching, his philosophy and his contributions as a good departmental citizen. These were constructive and useful to a committee that was made up of people that did not even know the name of his supervising professor. Really, none of us did, but it was clear that the guy was a big shot in his field.

Now, there is a downside to working as adjunct, and it is not the near subsistence level salary and lack of benefits that do not come with these positions. The shortcoming is that you are teaching the introductory classes: western civilization or U.S. history I or U.S. history II. That type of work does not give you an opportunity to show that you can develop classes in your own field or that you can supervise graduate students. In short, there is a utility to working as an adjunct but it is limited.

Oh, some might be wondering what happened to the Princeton Ph.D. He made our on campus interview list--but turned us down because another school made him an offer before we did the interview.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Administrative Note 12

Sorry for the long delay in posting. A number of research trips and functions at work kept my busy. The blog will return with more essays in a few days. I promise.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blog LVI (56): Stephen Ambrose: Another Rebutal

When it rains it pours. Many others have been discussing the Stephen Ambrose case and it is looking worse and worse for the late, great historian. Lori Cune is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California at Davis. She is writing a dissertation entitled "Executing the Rosenbergs: A Transnational History." In this essay, originally published on the History News Network, she discusses how her own research has brought many of Ambrose's writings into question. As she makes clear, there is more to her work than young scholar knocking down established scholar to make a name and reputation. Like me, Ambrose's writings influenced her to go to become a scholar and she clearly confronts his shortcomings more out of sadness than anger. Here is her article originially title: "Stephen Ambrose's Falsifications of the Rosenberg Execution":

I met Stephen Ambrose when I was a young, idealistic graduate student attending my first American Historical Association conference in the late 1980s. He graciously shared his paper – and enthusiasm – with the groupies he attracted. Years later, his Rise to Globalism was on my coffee table so often that I have a photo of my then two-year-old son “reading” it. It is safe to say his work played a role in my decision to study history.

The New Yorker’s recent allegations that Ambrose manufactured interviews with – and likely quotes from – Eisenhower (“Channeling Ike,” by Richard Rayner, April 26), combined with earlier accusations of plagiarism, have tarnished his reputation. In my research on the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (arrested for conspiracy to commit espionage in 1950 and executed in 1953), I have recently discovered instances where Ambrose also fabricated information from written documents.

In chapter thirteen of Ike’s Spies: Eisenhower and the Espionage Establishment (1981), Ambrose explains in two footnotes that his section on the Rosenberg case is based on his interviews with Eisenhower and Attorney General Herbert Brownell, and Eisenhower’s memoir of White House Years 1953-56, Mandate for Change (1963). On page 182 of Ike’s Spies Ambrose writes: “Some of Ike’s most trusted advisers told him he would have to grant a stay of execution because the nation simply could not put to death the mother of small children. Many in the Cabinet recommended clemency.” I do not believe any part of these statements to be true. While we cannot know what Eisenhower or Brownell told Ambrose when interviewed, in Mandate for Change Eisenhower makes no mention of advisers urging clemency because Ethel was a mother, or for any other reason. For Cabinet recommendations, I attempted to corroborate Ambrose’s account with Cabinet meeting minutes. The minutes from the two meetings where the Rosenberg case was discussed (12 February 1953 and 19 June 1953, the day of the executions) contradict Ambrose’s assertions. According to the Cabinet minutes of Staff Secretary L. Arthur Minnich, no one expressed support for clemency when asked at the February meeting. During the June meeting, U.N. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and presidential advisor C.D. Jackson suggested the need for an additional presidential statement on the case, but no one recommended clemency. According to Attorney General Herbert Brownell’s oral history housed at the Eisenhower Library (interview by Ed Edwin, 5 May 1967, OH-157, 3 of 5, 189-196), Brownell stated (page 193-4): “I cannot recall that any Cabinet member voiced such a position [support for pardon] at the Cabinet meetings…I can’t remember any Cabinet member ever dissenting from that viewpoint [that the Rosenbergs were guilty].” Brownell continued on page 196 that Eisenhower “would have subordinated his views about the world-wide effect on the Russian government’s propaganda campaign” and offered clemency if the president doubted the Rosenbergs’ guilt, which Brownell asserted he did not. While it is theoretically possible that Brownell, in a subsequent (undated) interview with Ambrose, contradicted his earlier insistence that Eisenhower allow the executions to proceed, this does not hold up to the propensity of evidence. In fact, while international opinion ran hot for clemency, the majority of Americans appeared to support the executions and had little problem putting “to death the mother of small children.”

Another example comes from Ambrose’s discussion of the Rosenberg case in Eisenhower: The President, Volume Two (1984). On page 84 Ambrose writes that on the day of the executions Eisenhower “said he could not remember a time in his life when he felt more in need of help from someone more powerful than he.” Ambrose’s footnote reads Emmet John Hughes’ The Ordeal of Power: A Political Memoir of the Eisenhower Years (1962), 80; and Minnich, Cabinet, 6/19/53. Hughes, an aid and speechwriter for Eisenhower, quotes Minnich’s Cabinet meeting minutes and makes no mention of Eisenhower’s “need of help.” This sentiment is not in any of the versions of the June 19 Cabinet meeting agendas or minutes. One wonders why Ambrose felt compelled to imply that Eisenhower needed the help of a higher power when he decided to allow the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to proceed. Eisenhower “could not remember a time in his life” when he needed “help from someone more powerful.” Really? Not even D-Day?

While small examples, these hint at a much larger problem. Ambrose not only fabricated interviews with Eisenhower, he manufactured written evidence relating to his presidency as well. I found these discrepancies in just a few hours in one little corner of Eisenhower’s career, the Rosenberg case. If we all investigate the pieces we know best, a clearer picture will emerge. Perhaps the examples I have from the Rosenberg case are unique. I fear, however, that for today’s graduate students Ambrose will be known more for plagiarism and falsified evidence than for his popular narrative prose.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blog LV (55): Stephen Ambrose: A Rebutal

In Blog XLVIII, this blog explored the question of Stephen Ambrose's profesional and ethical behavior. Ambrose had a highly successful career and could serve as a good role model for those wishing to interact with the wider public. A number of issues have arisen, though, that must give all of us pause. In Blog LIII, this forum reproduced an essay his son and former collaborator, Hugh Ambrose, wrote defending his father, and which served as a counterargument to charges that he fabricated sources, specifically the number of meetings he had with Dwight D. Eisenhower. The following essay is from Timmothy D. Rives, the deputy director of the Eisenhower Library. Rives was responsible for finding the evidence that brought Ambrose's fabrications to light initially. His essay is basically a rebuttal to the argument that the younger Ambrose offered. This article originally appeared on the History News Network as "Ambrose and Eisenhower: A View from the Stacks in Abeline":

I am the deputy director and supervisory archivist of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abliene, Kansas. In the April 26, 2010, edition of the New Yorker magazine, I was quoted extensively in an article (“Channeling Ike,” by Richard Rayner) about claims made by the late Stephen E. Ambrose and his purported relationship with President Dwight D. Eisenhower; there are problems relating to the dates Ambrose claimed he interviewed Ike and the scholarly annotations concomitant to those supposed interviews.

The article and subsequent news stories and interviews have spread the story around the world over the last few weeks. Both supporters and critics of Mr. Ambrose have encouraged me to discuss the background of this story and to comment on the Ambrose-Eisenhower relationship to the extent that it can be documented in the holdings of the Eisenhower Presidential Library. I am pleased to do so, but before I tell the story I must first say that the opinions expressed below are mine alone and not those of the Eisenhower Presidential Library or its parent federal agency, the National Archives and Records Administration.

One of our tasks as a presidential library is to develop and host public programs. These programs include high-profile events, such as our May 8, 2010, commemoration of the sixty-fifth anniversary of Victory in Europe (V-E Day) which featured Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as keynote speaker. Other events are less grand, and feature speakers such as myself. This was the case last fall when we hosted a program to discuss the influence of the books of Stephen Ambrose on the historiography of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The program came about by accident. We hold three book talks a year in cooperation with the Abilene (Kan.) Public Library. The talks center on an Eisenhower-related book. We had hoped to have an Eisenhower family member speak at the November talk, but were forced to change plans because of a scheduling conflict just a few weeks before the advertised date. It was too late to cancel the event and so staff began brainstorming for a replacement program. I recalled that we were near the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Ambrose’s two-volume Eisenhower biography, and for lack of a better idea, suggested we host a retrospective on Ambrose’s works. We assembled a discussion panel that included two retired Eisenhower Presidential Library archivists. The archivists had spent most of their careers working with researchers following Ambrose’s lead, and held interesting perspectives on his work. A third panelist, described as a general reader and avid Ambrose fan, completed the panel. I moderated the discussion, which we called “Stephen Ambrose: The Peoples’ Historian,” and which took place on November 10, 2009.

We use public programs as a way to publicize our archival holdings. The non-researching public is rarely exposed to this side of our operation, and we have found table-top displays of facsimile documents a convenient way to introduce them to our rich collections. Given Ambrose’s oft-told stories of his relationship with Eisenhower I assumed finding interesting documents would be an easy task. It was, but the results were not I expected.

As recounted in the New Yorker, the records I found did not substantiate Ambrose’s account of how he met President Eisenhower, nor did the records support his claims to have interviewed Eisenhower extensively over four or five years. Furthermore, according to the records, Ambrose never met with President Eisenhower alone. The Ambrose-Eisenhower relationship I discovered in Ike’s post-presidential records, it must be said, differs radically from the one described by Ambrose in his writings and in numerous interviews.

Yet it must also be said I found in those same records an Ambrose-Eisenhower relationship that Ambrose never discussed publicly, a relationship that was too complicated to be described in the confines of the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” section. That relationship will be the subject of this essay. A note on sources before I begin: the letters cites below are all from Eisenhower’s Post Presidential papers, 1961-1969. I will provide specific citations to interested readers.

The documented Ambrose-Eisenhower relationship was formed in the context of Eisenhower and his lieutenants’ efforts to shape and defend his political and military reputations. It is not a stretch to describe these efforts as a war. The war was fought on several fronts in various ways and campaigns, including the writing of presidential memoirs, the opening of a presidential library and museum, the publishing of Eisenhower’s papers, and the recruiting of friendly intermediaries in the press and the academy. Some of these intermediaries were drafted. Some, as we will see, eagerly volunteered.

As Eisenhower and his inner circle of friends, family, and advisors saw it, the need to defend his reputation began during the 1960 presidential campaign when candidate John F. Kennedy accused the Eisenhower administration of allowing a “missile gap” to grow between the American and Soviet arsenals. Criticism of the Eisenhower years as an era of inaction and passive conservatism by other prominent Democrats also bothered the Eisenhower forces.

The criticism convinced Eisenhower to begin writing his presidential memoirs immediately. His son, John S. D. Eisenhower, resigned his Army commission to help with the project. The memoir team, led by John with research and secretarial assistants, moved into its Gettysburg, PA, office the Monday following Kennedy’s Friday inauguration. There was no time to waste.

The urgency was based on the fear that the criticism voiced in the campaign would permanently shape the public’s perception of the Eisenhower administration; its history would be written by its enemies. Ike’s brother, Dr. Milton S. Eisenhower, the president of the Johns Hopkins University, shared this fear. Milton approached him with a proposal to open up a second front in the war on the critics. The sooner the records of the administration were available to scholars, Hopkins historian David Donald had told Milton, the better for Ike’s reputation. Milton asked his brother on March 9, 1962, to consider “a ten year research and publishing effort which would result in the publication of your principal papers.” Milton promised Ike the project would not interfere with his memoirs or the presidential library nearing completion in Abilene. President Eisenhower agreed and the project was soon underway.

In the meantime a fresh attack on Eisenhower’s reputation would push the Hopkins project in a more ideological direction. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., published a poll of presidential rankings in the July 29, 1962, New York Times Magazine. The poll of the forty-eight historians ranked Ike a lowly twenty-second out of the thirty-one presidents it examined.

“Nobody in his right mind would consider these evaluations anything like valid,” John Eisenhower wrote a friend, “but it seems to me that if we’re not careful, this can well be the image by which people see his performance in the future…. The reason I trouble you with this complaint,” John said, “is that it seems to me that there must be some way of getting more articulate Republicans—or at least conservatives—to fight against the super-liberalism that seems to have gripped our educational

With this concern in mind, John pushed his uncle that fall to ensure that a conservative historian would be hired to run the Hopkins project. “In a Churchill letter the other day,” John said by way of an example, “I ran across the statement ‘Thank God you are at the helm.’ A friendly editor will find a way to work this into the background; an unfriendly one will give it the deep six.” (It is not in the Hopkins volumes because Eisenhower did not write it; he received it.)

“At the moment,” Milton replied, “I am waiting on nominations from Dr. David Donald, who is a fairly conservative fellow and who is wholly sympathetic to the idea of having a top man who has been friendly to the Eisenhower philosophy.” Donald suggested historians Elting Morison, Clinton Rossiter, and Forrest McDonald. “I’m sure,” Milton wrote, “you would also be enthusiastic about Dr. Alfred DuPont Chandler, Jr…. He helped [Elting] Morison edit the Theodore Roosevelt Papers. I am told he is a conservative.”

Chandler, who would earn fame as the dean of American business historians, accepted the offer, and became editor in 1963. After a few months at the helm, he wrote John Eisenhower on April 8, 1964, to update him on the progress of the project and to inform him that he hired an associate editor, a man who would go on to become Eisenhower’s greatest champion, Stephen Ambrose. “At 28,” Chandler said, “Ambrose is one of the leading young military historians in the country. He has written biographies of Halleck and Upton and is now writing a history of West Point.”

Ambrose arrived at Hopkins that summer. After only a few weeks on the job, he took the bold step of introducing himself to Eisenhower. “Dear General Eisenhower,” he wrote on September 10, 1964, “I have been appointed the Associate Editor of the Eisenhower Papers, under Dr. Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. It is a very great thrill for me to … work on your papers.” Ambrose’s six-week immersion in Ike’s papers had given him the feeling he knew the General “intimately.” So well did Ambrose believe he knew Eisenhower he thought “it only fair that you have an opportunity to see some of my writing.” One can doubt Ambrose’s logic here, but not his confidence. “I am taking the liberty of sending you two of my books,” Ambrose said, “each a biography of a nineteenth century general—one is about Henry Halleck, the other Emory Upton.”

Eisenhower thanked Ambrose in his reply of September 16, 1964, and noted, “So far the two books you mention have not arrived in my office. However, I assure you that I will read them with the greatest interest because I never tire of reading biographies or memoirs of our Civil War generals.” The books arrived at Gettysburg on September 24, 1964. The Halleck biography Ambrose sent still sits on a shelf in Ike’s home at the Eisenhower National Historic Site, according to the museum curator.

Ambrose allowed Eisenhower a few weeks to read the books before writing him again and making another confident request of the General. His letter of October 15, 1964, praised Ike for his war work between Pearl Harbor (December 1941) and June 1942, when Eisenhower took command of the European Theater of Operations. “It is an aspect of your career that I think has been inexcusably overlooked.” Compliment in place, Ambrose starts the wind up to his pitch. Marveling at the speed at which the nation mobilized for war in 1941 as compared with the slower pace of 1861, Ambrose draws a parallel with the progress at which World War II history and biography is being written. “It took almost forty years to publish the Official Records of the Civil War; the U.S. Army in World War II has of course been appearing at a rapid pace. The records are also being made available to the historian much sooner than was the case in the nineteenth century.”

To Ambrose the conclusion was obvious: “the time has come to begin the scholarly biographies of the leaders of World War II.” Now comes the pitch. “I would like to begin a full-scale, scholarly account of your military career.” Ambrose assured Eisenhower he wasn’t after money or permission to write the “official biography.” But he reminded the General that because of his access to Eisenhower’s papers at the Hopkins project he had a “great advantage over any historian who might be contemplating a similar work.”

Ike in return praised the two books Ambrose sent him—“especially the one on Halleck”—and added that “when the time comes and you want to do a military biography of me I shall be glad to be as cooperative as I can.” But he also warned the young historian, “I doubt that I could be available before next spring [1965].” Ike’s availability would prove so elusive over the remaining four years of his life that Ambrose only saw him a few times.

The records verify three face-to-face meetings between the men. The first was on December 14, 1964, at Eisenhower’s Gettysburg office. John Eisenhower arranged the thirty-five minute meeting for Drs. Chandler and Ambrose. The purpose was to discuss Eisenhower’s work with the Operations Division (OPD) in the early days of World War II and for him to “meet Dr. Ambrose” in person. A second meeting, arranged by Milton Eisenhower, took place on July 6, 1966, when Eisenhower, Chandler, and Ambrose, met for a photography session to promote the Hopkins publication project.

Ambrose asked for the third and final meeting, according to the records. Ambrose wrote Eisenhower in early February 1967 requesting an appointment to interview him for his military biography. Eisenhower replied on February 9 that he might find time to speak with him in May. But when Ambrose heard nothing for several months, he wrote Ike’s secretary, Lillian Brown, on April 26 asking her to schedule an appointment. “I am primarily interested in the unity of command concept, the development of operations in Northwest Europe, and in the wisdom of the decision for TORCH,” Ambrose said (TORCH was the code name for the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942).

Brown passed the request to Eisenhower, who told her on May 25, “Let him ask [for a specific date] unless I volunteered when to tell him to come.” On June 15 Brown relayed the request to Eisenhower’s personal gatekeeper, executive assistant Robert L. Schulz, for his approval, noting that “DE has said yes.” Schulz told Brown to wait for further word from Ambrose “per DDE note.”

The long-suffering Ambrose wrote again on September 9 to ask if “it would be possible to see the General sometime this fall.” Schulz finally approved October 11, 1967, at 9:30 a.m. as the time for Ambrose to have his “DDE biography” appointment with Eisenhower. Schulz also approved the inclusion of Joseph Hobbs, an assistant editor on the Hopkins project, who wanted to ask the General about his wartime associate General Walter Bedell Smith. After more than eight months of negotiation, Ambrose was finally granted a shared hour—possibly one hour and fifteen minutes—with Eisenhower. It should be noted that Ambrose could have met with Eisenhower alone during this time but elected to share it with a colleague.

Ambrose’s difficulty in scheduling an interview with Eisenhower is puzzling given the various ways the two men were working together prior to and during this time. Ambrose was, of course, the associate editor of Eisenhower’s papers. But he was also acting as the General’s point man in another campaign in the war for his reputation.

The attacks on Eisenhower had grown sharper and more threatening in 1965 and 1966 largely because of the publication of four books: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.’s A Thousand Days (1965), Theodore Sorenson’s Kennedy (1965), Samuel Eliot Morison’s Oxford History of the American People (1965), and Cornelius Ryan’s The Last Battle (1966).

Schlesinger and Morison damned Eisenhower with all the sneering condescension a New Frontiersman could muster for the squandered opportunities of 1950s and the “Laodicean drift” of his administration. Morison in particular drew Eisenhower’s anger, inspiring the president to fire off a Memorandum to the Record and send it to his library in Abilene for posterity (“In my opinion the author is not a good historian, not that I condemn it as a whole but because in those events with which I am personally familiar he is grossly inaccurate.” June 9, 1965).

The Sorenson book blamed Eisenhower, among other failings, for the botched invasion of Cuba known as the “Bay of Pigs.” Eisenhower flatly rejected this claim. To answer Sorenson’s charge, he relied on a technique that has come to define his presidency, and which will shed light on his relationship with Stephen Ambrose. That technique was famously described by political scientist Fred Greenstein as the “hidden hand.”

One aspect of the “hidden hand” is the use of intermediaries to fight your battles. Eisenhower abhorred public fights and did not respond directly to Sorensen. He instead summoned a friendly journalist, Earl Mazo, to his Gettysburg office and gave him an exclusive interview. Mazo in turn reported Ike’s version of events. Ike had given him the story but retained control over the quotes he could use and the slant of the piece. He also made sure Mazo hammered home his main point: “There was no tactical or operational plan [to invade Cuba] ever discussed” on his watch. The article, “Ike Speaks Out: Bay of Pigs was all JFK’s,” appeared in the September 10, 1965, edition of Newsday.

Eisenhower’s chief complaint about the increasing flow of books coming out about his military and political careers was that few of the writers bothered to get the story from him. He pointed to Ryan’s Last Battle as an example. “The trouble is,” Ike wrote a friend in April 1966, “is that no one ever seems to take the time to go to anyone of the American High Command to find out exactly what information we worked on at the time, under what conditions we were making plans, and what was the basic character of the mission assigned to us by our bosses.”

It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Ryan’s editor, Michael Korda, sent the uncorrected proofs of the Last Battle to Gettysburg in early March for Eisenhower’s review. But Eisenhower was recuperating from illness in California and never saw them (Korda, coincidentally, would publish his own Eisenhower biography in 2007). Had Ike received Korda’s package he might never have begun the collaboration that distinguishes his relationship with Stephen Ambrose.

The Eisenhower-Ambrose relationship had progressed little following their December 1964 introduction. According to the records, they had not seen, written, or talked to each other since then. This began to change in early 1966 when Eisenhower received the galley proofs of Ambrose’s West Point history, Duty, Honor, Country from the Johns Hopkins University Press. Ike wrote Milton Eisenhower on January 29, “I find the document, with one exception, remarkably accurate and interesting.” The “one exception” was a perennial sore point with Ike, that as a soldier he lacked political judgment, especially in regards to the intentions of Soviet leaders. Ike responded to Milton with what amounted to a three-page memorandum to the record documenting his early awareness of Soviet treachery. This seems an odd response to a sibling only if you forget that Ike knew that whatever he wrote was for the ages. Eisenhower tacked on a postscript, also written with an eye on that horizon where future historians would gather to judge him: “On page 102 of the galley, in the second paragraph at the end of the fifth sentence there is a typographical error; the word should be ‘understand’ not ‘understanding’.” Clearly, Ike was saying, I am a man on whom nothing is ever lost.

Eisenhower’s response to the West Point manuscript, though overwhelmingly positive, panicked its young author. “He was profusely apologetic,” Milton told Ike, “for he did not intend to give the impression that you … lacked political judgment. He wants to write you, presumably after changing the offending sentence.” Ambrose removed the disputed passage. Eisenhower wrote the book’s foreword, something he did for few writers.

If this was a test, Ambrose had passed it. And the summer of 1966 would see him begin a new and truly cooperative relationship with Eisenhower. Milton would no longer separate the men as a go-between. Ambrose would work with Ike directly. Eisenhower would need the extra help in the next phase of his campaign to protect his legacy, and the direct line of communication to Ambrose would improve the rate he could return fire on his critics.

The battle for Eisenhower’s reputation intensified that summer. The Schlesinger and Sorenson memoirs were still riding high on the New York Times best-seller list. They were joined in May by Ryan’s Last Battle, which soon moved to number one. Ryan presented an old charge but a new threat. The author of The Longest Day, a popular account of D-Day that sold more than five million copies, Ryan threatened to spread the charge of Eisenhower’s political naiveté and misjudgment to millions of readers around the world.

Ryan’s criticism was this: because Ike was duped by Stalin and stopped his forces at the Elbe River seventy miles short of Berlin, he was responsible for the Cold War problems that beset Germany after the war. Ryan also charged Eisenhower with an excessive fear of a “National Redoubt” of Nazi troops in Austria and Bavaria, and thereby wasting troops that could have been used to capture Berlin. If Eisenhower had realized that Stalin’s objectives late in the war were political rather than military, he would have taken the city and the world would be a safer place.

Eisenhower counterattacked with a review essay written by Ambrose in the Wisconsin Magazine of History entitled “Refighting the Last Battle: The Pitfalls of Popular History.” The piece appeared in the summer 1966 issue. The essay had been discussed in telephone calls, manuscript reviews, and correspondence between Ambrose and Eisenhower.

The records don’t tell us exactly when the planning for this campaign began. Eisenhower and Ambrose met in person, along with Alfred Chandler, on July 6, 1966, for a publicity session to push the Hopkins project. Did they discuss Ryan then? The Berlin book was in the news, and the charge of poor political judgment was one Ambrose was acutely aware of, given Ike’s reaction to his West Point manuscript. But we just don’t know. The records do tell us, however, that Eisenhower called Ambrose on August 9, 1966, at 10:20 a.m., only to learn that he was out of the office on vacation, and that he called again on August 11 at 10:40 a.m. We do not know the length of this conversation (Eisenhower’s schedule notes that he went to lunch at 12:30. He and Ambrose could have spoken for as long as an hour and fifty minutes). But we do know what they discussed over the phone that day from an August 18 letter from Ambrose to Eisenhower thanking the General for his help on the manuscript and noting that he had “made all the changes in the article that your very good comments called for.” Ironically, Ike’s “very good comments” on the manuscript (specifically that taking Berlin “would not have had any effect on the subsequent ‘cold war’.”) were made too late to affect the published version of the essay.

Ike had apparently received a copy of the manuscript sometime prior to August 9. But who initiated the contact? This remains a mystery, but my money would be on Eisenhower. Ike’s post-presidential records contain numerous examples of him reaching out to authors to make sure they knew and disseminated his version of events. It’s a trait of the “hidden hand” style. He was also by now familiar enough with Ambrose to know he had a smart, ambitious, hard-working, and eager-to-please ally at his disposal. Who better to send into the breach?

The Last Battle review is interesting in that Ambrose questions Ryan’s stylistic technique as much as he does his facts. He criticizes him for using “a device often employed in … political novels—an abundance of detail.” This technique gives such stories an “aura of verisimilitude,” Ambrose writes. “Anyone who knows the size of the star of the epaulettes of a Russian field marshal,” Ambrose says, “or the make of Stalin’s favorite pipe, surely must be on firm ground when he quotes entire paragraphs of Stalin’s conversation.” Eisenhower, in his comments on the manuscript, also raised an eyebrow at the reputed Stalin quotes: “How silly can a writer be?” Ike asked. “Was he there?”

Ambrose also accuses Ryan of overdramatizing the importance of taking Berlin. Even if the Allies had captured the city, they would have been obligated to withdraw to predetermined zones of occupation after the war. “The drama in all phases of World War II is inherent,” Ambrose writes. “No author needs to exaggerate, overdramatize, or invent, for the straight story is better than any imaginable one.”

Eisenhower’s decision to stop the Allies short of Berlin captured Ambrose’s imagination. Displaying the productivity that would put so many of his books on the best-seller lists in the years to come, Ambrose expanded his interest into a monograph on the Berlin decision. Once again he had Eisenhower’s help in its preparation.

Eisenhower received the Eisenhower and Berlin, 1945 galleys from W.W. Norton and Company at his winter home in Palm Desert, California. He wrote Ambrose on February 28, 1967, that he had read the manuscript and made a few notes. “I have written them frankly and with no thought of modesty,” Ike said. “If you want them I shall be glad to send them on but only after you have agreed to read them and then return the document to me, without transfer of any notes anywhere else.” The galleys are in the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. Eisenhower’s comments would have as little effect on the final manuscript as his annotations on the Ryan review had on the final version in the Wisconsin Magazine of History. Ironically, Ambrose includes one of Eisenhower’s notes from his review of the Ryan essay in the Berlin book (see page 87).

Ambrose replied on March 6, 1967, thanked Eisenhower for his comments on the manuscript, and added, “I will of course abide by the conditions you specify; specifically, I shall read your notes and then return the document, without copying anything you wrote.” And then he writes a prophetic sentence that expresses the legacy of the Ambrose-Eisenhower relationship. “I must in fairness add a warning… what you say will undoubtedly influence my future work on this subject.” It did obviously, and it paid Eisenhower in dividends of generous appraisals from Ambrose for many years, dividends that are still accruing to his reputation, and dividends that informed our discussion of Stephen Ambrose last November.

We are still left with a mystery, however. How could Eisenhower be so distant when Ambrose wanted to interview him for his biography but so accessible when he wanted Ambrose to fight his battles? The records suggest that Stephen Ambrose knew two Eisenhowers, whose willingness to see or write him was contingent on the immediacy of the action. Given the heat of battle in the mid-1960s, when Eisenhower’s reputation as a military and political leader was under fire in bestselling books, one Eisenhower called the young historian to come to his defense. But when the battle lay safely in the distance, outside the sound of trumpets, another Eisenhower, ensconced in Gettysburg or Palm Desert, had little time or use for conscripts or volunteers.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Administrative Note 11

Due to travel, both official and unofficial, the blog will be taking a short summer vacation. New postings on July 19, 2010.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Administrative Note 10

After several attempts, there is a new image in the column on the right. Amazing how a little thing takes so long to implement.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Blog LIV (54): The History Ph.D. as Journalist

Another career path open for the history Ph.D. is to go into journalism. Given major transitions within this profession, though, this is career path is one that a historian should make with a good understanding of its limitations.

First things first, history and journalism are professions that are quite similar in many ways. If a history Ph.D. is looking for a job outside of academia, journalism would be a nice fit. With that point made, journalism is a profession that is in major turmoil and transition at the moment, which is a consideration that anyone must take into consideration when making their career plans.

The similarities between journalism and history and significant. Both basically are doing the same thing: communicating information and explaining what happened. “Good journalists have a drive to seek the truth without bias,” Steve Komarow, deputy chief of the Associated Press bureau in Washington, D.C., stated.

The two fields basically require practitioners to research and then communicate their findings in writing. “Ultimately journalism is all about writing,” Jamie McIntyre, formerly a reporter with the Cable News Network and now an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, explained. Business Week editor-in-chief Stephen Adler, observed that few journalists working for magazines write well, so his advice is that reporters really work at honing that skill. Editing resources are shrinking and a reporter that needs little revision will have an advantage over others.

Do you need to major in journalism to become a reporter? The short answer is no. A number of reporters have made this point. “It’s not necessarily appropriate,” Siva Vaidhyanathan, a former reporter for the Austin American-Statesman and now a professor of cultural history and media studies at the University of Virginia, said. Vaidhyanathan was a history major as an undergraduate before earning a Ph.D. in American Studies. “Aspiring journalists should stop going to journalism programs and go to some other kind of grad school,” Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker, remarked. “If I was studying today, I would go get a master's in statistics, and maybe do a bunch of accounting courses and then write from that perspective. I think that's the way to survive. The role of the generalist is diminishing. Journalism has to get smarter.”

Can a history Ph.D. be a journalist? The short answer is yes. The James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia has conducted a number of surveys on the hiring practice of media outlets. Print news organizations show a healthy willingness to hire people from other professions. The numbers vary from year to year, but on a percentage basis, the figure is in the high teens. (The figures are lower in broadcast journalism).

The skills that a history Ph.D. has are useful for a career in journalism. These include research, foreign language, writing, subject matter expertise, critical inquiry, storytelling, and analysis. David Nather, formerly a reporter with The Dallas Morning News and Congressional Quarterly was a history major at the University of Texas. He called history and journalism “complimentary or adjacent fields.” Good historical understanding adds depth of understanding to a story and allows the journalist to see parallels. So, for example, a legal historian, might be very good at covering the courthouse beat, a military historian might do well as a defense correspondent, and so on.

That is the good news; the bad news is that the Ph.D. itself is not an asset. “No one ever asks if you have an advanced degree,” McIntyre observed.

Finally, becoming a journalist does not mean the end to a career in history, or even as a scholar. Many journalists write books. In fact, many media outlets have sabbatical policies for their reporters that are working on a book. There are many, many universities, foundations, and think tanks that have fellowship programs for journalists. Having a degree in history and working experience as a reporter would expand the number of academic jobs one could apply for if an individual wanted to return to college teaching. Having been a working reporter or editor is often one of the main criteria for employment at journalism school.

While the skill sets of the historian and the journalist are similar, both professions are facing serious professional problems. Journalism is “undergoing incredible seismic change,” John D’Anna, a reporter for The Arizona Republic and an adjunct professor of journalism at Arizona State University, said.

Two major social phenomenon account for the problems facing the profession at the moment. The first was the rise of the internet and the other new communication technologies. The power and potential of this new medium caught journalism off guard, challenging a business model where the major revenue stream was from advertising. Many publications gave their content away for free while at the same time failing to understand the power and reach of the internet. Many websites—even those that one might not think of as competing with news organizations, Facebook and MySpace come to mind—derive their principle source of income from advertising, increasing competition for a revenue stream that had not increased in size.

The second phenomenon was the downturn in the economy. The biggest source of revenue for news organizations is advertising. In any downturn in the economy, advertising is one of the first things that businesses cut.

Either change would have been tough to handle. The combination has been devastating. Some publications, like the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, have gone out of business. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ended its print operations and is now available only on-line. Many media corporations like the Tribune Company have filed for bankruptcy. There have also been massive layoffs—generally of senior, more expensive journalists—in the industry. There is even a website Paper Cuts documenting layoffs, and this phenomenon served as the backdrop to novelist Michael Connelly’s recent book The Scarecrow (2009).

As a result, journalism can be very rough for someone wanting to make their living as a reporter. The average starting salaries in journalism are $30,000, which is less than that of an average new assistant professor of history. The important thing to remember is that most of these jobs are advertising for someone with a bachelor’s degree and not a Ph.D. Although the labor market is depressed, the situation is “not hopeless at all,” according to Nather. D’Anna notes that he is still encouraging people to enter the profession because there is still a market for the reporter. Nather explained, “It’s pretty bad, but if your young and just starting out, there’s still hope.” He also added, “There are other kinds of journalism jobs that are opening in non-traditional outlets.”

What do those facts mean for the history Ph.D.? Well, first they have to be creative in looking for employment opportunities. They might need to consider working for media outlets that are primarily based on the internet. Second, journalism appears to best treated as an early career option. Being a reporter is a good activity for ten years or so, but individuals working in the field need to be developing another career path. For a historian with a Ph.D., the obvious path is to return to return to academia. As a result, the historian should be working to get their academic work accepted for publication during this time, which will make them viable candidates for jobs among the professoriate.

With those points made the crisis in journalism could easily end in a short while. “I’m just waiting for the pendulum to swing back the other way,” Kimberly Dozier of the Associated Press remarked. Once the economy becomes stronger, advertising revenue will increase. More importantly, it will be easier to plot a career as a journalist once the new media formats stabilize and the leaders of media companies understand how to use them to turn a profit. For example, the trend right now is towards specialization and narrow, niche markets. This tendency runs counter toward the general effort of most media companies in the twentieth century of reaching as big an audience as possible. Blogs were all the rage four years ago, but they seem to be on the decline now. While there might be an audience for a blog about education policy and politics in Wisconsin, the ability of individual bloggers to make their enterprise economic sustainable seems suspect. The quality of that effort is equally questionable. Reporters have repeatedly noted that individual efforts do not produce the same quality product as that which comes from bigger news agencies.

So, how do you go about getting a job in this field. Having a portfolio of your work is important. “Any place you can get published of any kind will help you,” Nather observed.

With that point made, academic publications are not going to be particularly useful. A good rule of thumb is you have to be published in the media format in which you wish to work. If you want to be a print journalist, you need to have a collection of newspaper, magazine and web site clippings to your name. If you want to be a broadcast journalist, you need a collection of your stories on a DVD.

The historian also must develop certain abilities that are not encouraged in graduate school. “The best and worst journalism skill—both—is being a quick learner,” Vaidhyanathan said. Journalists need to challenge cursory judgments but know when to accept easy answers and when not to. Hitting that balance is difficult. Historians, Vaidhyanathan explains, are good at rejecting quick assessments, but in compensation they are “too much like Hamlet.” He means they are narrow, not bold and “wishy-washy.” He also notes that reporters need to be interesting and fast. Basically, a reporter must know how to catch his readers attention and how to produce on deadline.

Adapting to this different environment might be a challenge for the history Ph.D, but all journalists are adapting at this moment. McIntyre notes that a major trend in the profession is that “everybody does everything.” There will no longer be reporters who only work in television or those that only work in newspapers, and those that work in television need to be prepared to do camera and editing work in addition to being on the air. “You have to be really good at a lot of things and excellent at something,” McIntyre added. Since blogs allow people to use various media formats in combination, this is a format all journalists need to learn. “If you want to be a journalist, you ought to be blogging,” he explained. He said a blog is now a reporter’s “calling card.”

Dozier of the Associated Press agrees. She came to national attention as a reporter for CBS News after an early career in print and radio. “I was an unlikely television correspondent in 2003.” She went into television because it had resources that other news agencies did not have available. After writing a book about her experiences in Iraq, she recently left CBS to write on the intelligence community for AP. Her advice to new journalists: “learn all the mediums.”

It is fairly easy for historians to go about acquiring the needed clippings and sample stories needed to seek employment in journalism. School newspapers, magazines, and stations (radio and television) offer good places to begin. Many news organizations offer summer internships. Having a summer internship has often been a critical component in professionally advancement as a journalists. These positions are usually designed for advanced undergraduates, but grad students will have an advantage in maturity and experience. As media outlets downsize, they are depending more and more on interns to make up the difference. The quality of reporting is not necessarily as good as what the reader would get from an experienced report, but these programs allow rookies to get more experience sooner than they would have under other circumstances. Since most history graduate programs have little for their students to do in the summer, an internship would fit in nice into their academic schedules. College placement offices are good places to start looking for internship announcements.

Another thing worth noting is that just as there are many different types of specializations in history, so there are in journalism. Many of these groups are similar to fields of historical inquiry. A military historian will be happy to learn that there is an association of military journalists. If a career in journalism seems like a possibility, it might be wise to consider joining one of the many professional organizations that exist to get a feel for the profession and issues of concern in the field, since those concerns are different from those of historians. Organizations with websites include: Military Reporters and Editors: The Association of Military Journalists, Association of Food Journalists, Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Criminal Justice Journalists, Football Writers Association of America, Garden Writers Association, International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association, National College Baseball Writers Association, and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

There are three publications worth consulting to get a feel for the profession. They are: Columbia Journalism Review, American Journalism Review, and Editor & Publisher.

So, if you are interested in a job in journalism, where do you go to look for a job? The good news is that there are many places. College placement offices are good places to start. Editor & Publisher has a job listings section. Many professional organizations have job listings. Some, though, require membership to access this section of their websites. The biggest one is Sigma Delta Chi: The Society of Professional Journalists. Others include: the Association for Alternative Newsweeklies, National Education Writers Association, the Association of Health Care Journalists, National Association of Science Writers, National Conference of Editorial Writers, North American Agricultural Journalists, Society of American Business Editors and Writers, Society of Environmental Journalists, and the Religion Newswriters Association.

There are several useful websites that list jobs available in journalism: is as its name implies all about sports reporting. The web site has listings for all types of media. The website is about work in radio and is a site listing employment opportunities in television broadcasting.

The Poytner Institute is basically a journalism think tank, but it has also a section on its website showing available jobs and another listing people looking for employment. The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication is an association of journalism faculty.

Some of the bigger media corporations and new services have sections on their web sites listing jobs. These include the Associated Press, Gannett, Cox, the Tribune Company and The Washington Post Company.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Blog LIII (53): Stephen Ambrose: A Counterargument

There are always two sides to any story. A few weeks ago, an article in The New Yorker magazine exposed the fact that historian Stephen Ambrose had exaggerated his association Dwight D. Eisenhower. He said he had interviewed Eisenhower, but the former president's appointment records show that Ambrose was no where near Ike on several of the occasions the historian claims in his footnotes. As I explained in Blog XLVIII several Ambrose books were critical in my own intellectual development and I was extremely disappointed in his actions. I also thought Ambrose's career served as a good model for a new historian. Much of that seems suspect now. Needless to say, Hugh Ambrose, the son of Stephen Ambrose and a writer in his own right, views things differently. He offered a defense of his father in this essay appeared on the History News Network under the title "Eisenhower and My Father, Stephen Ambrose". Here is his take on this recent controversy:

The recent accusation that the late historian Dr. Stephen E. Ambrose, the author of numerous national bestselling books, was guilty of “fabricating” a relationship with former President Eisenhower has left readers to ponder its meaning. An examination of the evidence reveals a few mistakes which, while regrettable, hardly outweigh a towering legacy: through decades of scholarship, Ambrose pioneered the evaluation of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s career as a general and as a president.

In early 1964, at the start of his career Steve Ambrose (my father), accepted a prestigious appointment as a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and as the Associate Editor of the Eisenhower Papers. The latter job involved combing through thousands of documents encompassing Eisenhower’s distinguished career to create a multi-volume reference work for use by scholars. At the end of 1964 Ambrose had a meeting with Eisenhower.

Thirty years later, my father often said that the meeting had come about because Eisenhower had read one of his books, about a Civil War general named Henry Halleck, and had thought so highly of it that he had called the young historian to determine his interest in writing a history of his service as the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II. The story contained an unfortunate exaggeration, since it is clear that Ambrose initiated the idea of writing the book in a letter to the president.

The story’s main point, however, is true. Before their first meeting on December 14, 1964, Eisenhower replied on October 19 to the young historian’s letter. The president liked Ambrose’s approach because “From the nature of your suggestion I recognize that your interest is only in the truth. This, together with the confidence I have derived from your work by reading your two books—especially the one on Halleck—give the reasons why I should be ready to help out so far as I can.” In short, the president had taken the measure of Stephen Ambrose and had decided to trust him to write his military biography.

The relationship between the former president and Ambrose lasted for several years. In their written correspondence, the historian asked detailed questions and Eisenhower gave substantive replies. These letters indicate that they also spoke on the phone. On at least one occasion Eisenhower encouraged Ambrose to “give me a ring.” The two men also met at the president’s home in Gettysburg. How many times they actually met is in dispute. Six discrepancies between the president’s schedule and Ambrose’s footnotes exist. As proof that the daily schedule was sacrosanct, an archivist at the Eisenhower Library recently claimed that Eisenhower’s “full schedule demanded that anyone wanting an appointment with him needed to begin the process months ahead of time.” In February 1967, though, three years after their relationship began, the president instructed Ambrose: “If you will call Miss Brown in my office I think we could set up an engagement on twenty-four hours notice.”

The six discrepancies (in a book containing 1,153 endnotes) remain a problem and the critics have made the most of them. Based upon some records that he acknowledged are spotty, the archivist proffered his opinions about what Eisenhower may have or may not have told Ambrose. The reporter, who wrote the story about the archivist’s allegations, included these speculations to prove that Steve Ambrose “fabricated” his relationship with Eisenhower. The reporter, however, admitted to me later that he had not examined all the evidence—he published what he had before someone else beat him to the punch.

The career of Stephen Ambrose deserved better. Two years after they met, Eisenhower wrote a forward for Ambrose’s book, Duty, Honor, Country, in which the former president praised his scholarship. Having one of the world’s most respected and popular men add his name to the cover of one’s book is the kind of thing all young historians covet, even though prominent historians of the day ranked Eisenhower’s importance near the bottom of the list of U.S. presidents.

An equally important contribution came a year later, in 1967, when
Eisenhower read the draft of Ambrose’s first work to emerge from his years of research: Eisenhower and Berlin: 1945. In it, Ambrose began a reassessment of General Eisenhower’s handling of the end of the war. Ambrose challenged assertions made by the eminent historians John Toland and Cornelius Ryan. This was big time scholarship for a young historian. He was moving from assembling Eisenhower’s papers to interpreting them. General Eisenhower went through the manuscript line by line, writing notes in the margins. “I have written them very frankly and with no thought of modesty,” he wrote to Ambrose. The former president offered to show his notes to Ambrose so he could revise his book—but “only,” however, “after you have agreed to read them and then return them to me, without transfer of my notes anywhere else.” Since Ambrose had no copy he could not cite his source. In sum, Dwight Eisenhower was secretly helping Steve Ambrose take a big step forward in his career. It would be difficult to imagine a more emphatic endorsement.

It is clear, though, that Ambrose did not spend “hundreds of hours” with the president. This quote, used by the reporter, struck me and others who had worked with Steve Ambrose as strange, because we had never heard him say it. Both the reporter and the archivist told me where to find the quote. Ambrose said it to a group of high school students in 1998. He should not have said it. Like many an embarrassing moment, it lives online. Readers can decide for themselves, whether, out of a hundred TV appearances and a thousand more on radio and in print over the course of forty years, one exaggeration in an interview Ambrose did as a courtesy for some young people should be the measure of the man or his career. What kind of reporter uses this source to charge Steve Ambrose with misrepresenting his relationship in order to sell books?

The first five volumes of The Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower were published in January 1970 and were critically acclaimed. The editor, Alfred Chandler, kindly wrote his associate editor, Ambrose, “you should be pleased, as your work was certainly the core of the volumes.” That same year, after six years of immersion in the documents, Ambrose published his second book about Eisenhower. It debuted at a time when America struggled with the war in Vietnam and the public’s regards for its military leaders sank to new lows. Publishing a book entitled The Supreme Commander could not have been viewed as a path to fame and fortune. The New York Times reviewer stated “It is Mr. Ambrose’s special triumph that he has been able to fight through the memoranda, the directives, plans, reports, and official self-serving pieties of the World War II establishment…” to write “…an extraordinarily fascinating book.” Henceforth, General Eisenhower would no longer be portrayed as an officer who arrived in Europe ready to lead all Allied forces (as other historians had it), but understood as a man capable of growing into the job.

Steve Ambrose grew into his job in the 1970s, publishing a number of books that received critical acclaim before returning to Eisenhower at the end of the decade.

Ambrose’s two volume masterwork on Eisenhower was so significant that the staff of the Eisenhower Library celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of its publication. In these books, Ambrose joined a handful of historians who proved that the common understanding of President Eisenhower as a befuddled golfer had been wrong. A decade of reading the documents—and becoming good friends with Eisenhower’s brother Milton and his son John—allowed Ambrose to reveal him as an active president, deeply involved in the creation and direction of his administration’s policies. The perception of him as an old duffer had been, in fact, created at least in part by the president himself. Eisenhower had astutely recognized that the country held him in such high esteem that he could ignore challenges that other presidents could not. Ambrose’s interviews with Eisenhower—whether through the mail, on the phone or in person—comprise only a sliver of the mountain of research upon which this work stands.

Throw out the hyperbole. What the archivist found and what the reporter wrote amounts to, by their own count, six questionable endnotes out of the thousands of endnotes in all of his books on Eisenhower. While it might be tempting to attribute these to typographical errors, the date of an interview with the former president was too important to get wrong. How to weigh these items in the light of his body of work is not a judgment, however, that should be left to a reporter and an archivist who wish to become the talk of the town. Stephen Ambrose wrote great books about Eisenhower. I find it unfortunate that my father did not take his own history, and how he came to meet the former supreme commander, as seriously as he took the subjects of his books. As for President Eisenhower, he kept a few treasured possessions from his decades as a public figure on a bookshelf in his private dressing room in Gettysburg, now a national historic site. Two volumes by Steve Ambrose stand there; one of them is Halleck.