A letter to the editor will be considered only if it relates to an article or review published in this journal; publication is solely at the editors’ discretion. The AHA disclaims responsibility for statements, of either fact or opinion, made by the writers. Letters should not exceed one thousand words for articles and seven hundred words for reviews. They can be submitted by e-mail to [email protected], or by postal service to Editor, American Historical Review, 914 E. Atwater Ave, Bloomington, IN 47401. For detailed information on the policies for this section, see //www.historycooperative.org/ahr/communpo.html.
To the Editors:
In “The Black Death: End of a Paradigm” (AHR, June 2002, 703–738), Professor Samuel K. Cohn, Jr. presents an intriguing hypothesis, that the disease responsible for the Black Death is not the same as contemporary epidemic plague, caused by Yersinia pestis. However, his assertion that humans do not develop immunity to this pathogen is incorrect. The fact that available vaccines require frequent booster shots notwithstanding, people exposed to plague develop long-lasting immunity and are not susceptible to reinfection for many years, if ever. The multiphasic pattern of recrudescence observed by Dr. Cohn, with lower peaks with each outbreak, is actually consistent with the observed facts about plague. Since the flea vector is not an efficient means of disease transmission, many remain uninfected during the initial outbreak. Subsequent outbreaks result in lower peak incidence of infection, since, with each recurrence, fewer are susceptible, as an ever-greater portion of the population becomes immune. A century or two later, the plague can recur in full efflorescence, as subsequent generations lack immunity. These facts do not detract from Dr. Cohn’s more persuasive arguments. Lack of predominance of inguinal buboes over lymphatic swellings in other locations would rule out flea-borne plague as a cause of the Black Death. Although some of the medieval descriptions of skin lesions could reflect disseminated intravascular coagulation—which causes the “blackness” associated with “Black Death,” if Yersinia is indeed the causative agent—multiple and various skin lesions also suggest the possibility of a pathogen other than Yersinia pestis.
Richard Crane, M.D.
Samuel K. Cohn, Jr. responds:
I thank Dr. Crane for his interest in my article of 2002 and his kind remarks about my arguments in general—that the Black Death and its recurring strikes through the fifteenth century were not Y. pestis. Dr. Crane maintains, however, that I am “incorrect” in saying “that humans do not develop immunity to this pathogen [Y. pestis],” and he continues: “The multiphasic pattern of recrudescence observed by Dr. Cohn, with lower peaks with each outbreak, is actually consistent with the observed facts about plague.” Unfortunately, Dr. Crane does not supply our readers with evidence or references for either point.
By contrast, the observations of plague doctors, from the Indian Plague Commissioners of the 1910s (for example, “Experimental Plague Epidemics among Rats,” Journal of Hygiene: Plague Supplement I—Sixth Report on Plague Investigations in India Issued by the Advisory Committee , 292–300) to recent work with developing a long-term vaccine for Y. pestis, support the conclusion that humans possess little if any natural immunity to this pathogen. In the second decade of the twentieth century, plague doctors in India discovered that rats could acquire immunity over the long term but humans could not. Plague commissioners such as Norman F. White (“Twenty Years of Plague in India, with Special Reference to the Outbreak of 1917–18,” Indian Journal of Medical Research 6, no. 2 : 190–236, esp. 215) saw the final downturn in Indian mortality rates to successive strikes of plague by 1918 as a result not of humans acquiring immunity to the plague but of rats doing so. Later scientists and doctors reconfirmed the conclusions of the Indian plague reports. In the great work on plague published by the World Health Organization, Plague (1954), Robert Pollitzer concluded: “No convincing evidence is available to show that a natural immunity to insect-borne plague exists in man” (133). And for pneumonic plague: “there can be little doubt that instances of natural resistance to pneumonic plague infections exist, [but] these are of such rare occurrence as to be of no practical importance” (511). The textbooks followed Pollitzer’s conclusions. See, for instance, the most used of the manuals for tropical diseases, Manson’s Tropical Diseases, 19th ed. (1987): “There is no known natural immunity to plague. Acquired immunity is short-lived and there is no protection against second attacks. This is borne out by the short-lived protection provided by vaccination” (591). Unfortunately, the two latest editions of this work (1996 and 2003) have no section on plague and immunity, but neither contradicts the conclusions drawn about human immunity and Y. pestis in 1987.
Further, my work (both in the AHR article and expanded in The Black Death Transformed: Disease and Culture in Early Renaissance Europe [Oxford, 2002]) shows evidence from India (where 95 percent of cases of plague have occurred since A. Yersin cultured the plague bacillus in 1894) of mortality rates from 1896 to the 1950s. These illustrate anything but “multiphasic pattern of recrudescence … with lower peaks with each outbreak.” Instead, plague cases and mortality both climbed steeply from 1896 to 1907 and then bounced up and down annually until 1917–1918, when India was stricken with its worst annual bout of plague since 1907 (see White, “Twenty Years of Plague,” 190). The same pattern is also observed with the recurrence of plague in India (again which hit the Punjab most severely) from 1939 to the 1950s, even though scientists and governments by then were better prepared with antibiotics, rat-proofing, and flea control. Similar patterns are reproduced by statistics published by Pollitzer for Java, Brazil, and other places during the first half of the twentieth century.
In keeping with these epidemiological traits, scientists have found that the age incidence of victims of Y. pestis has not changed since Yersin cultured the bacillus in 1894. In contrast to infectious diseases for which humans possess natural immunity, children have never borne the brunt of Y. pestis. Rather, as with most virgin-soil diseases or ones for which humans possess little or no natural immunity, those from age nineteen to their early forties are the group most susceptible to the disease and who die most often from it (among other places, see again the statistics in Pollitzer, Plague, 511 and 516–517).
Dr. Crane also maintains: “A century or two later, the plague [Y. pestis] can recur in full efflorescence.” But where is his evidence? We know nothing for certain of Y. pestis mortality patterns before 1894. Is he now assuming that the plagues of the fourteenth through the eighteenth centuries were Y. pestis?
Finally, with the threat of biological warfare, scientists have faced the problems of developing vaccines that might render long-term immunity to the plague. These seek to produce specific opsonic antibodies against Y. pestis’s F1 and VW antigens. I am no authority on this literature, but I find no statement among these scientists reversing what plague doctors concluded in the 1910s and reconfirmed through the twentieth century. I know of no studies that point to any place where mortality from Y. pestis has fallen at a steady annual pace or where the age structure of victims has changed, revealing Y. pestis as a childhood disease or moving in that direction, not even in the Punjab, the region to record the highest case and mortality rates anywhere in the world and where Y. pestis struck annually for thirty years or more. As a historian, however, I am open to new discoveries and new evidence that overturn old or new paradigms.
Samuel K. Cohn, Jr.
University of Glasgow
To the Editors:
At a time when any significant role for the social sciences and humanities is threatened in elementary and secondary schools with facile concentration on “basic” reading, writing, and math, it is unfortunate to see the kind of division among supporters of history in the school curriculum represented by “From Bold Beginnings to an Uncertain Future: The Discipline of History and History Education” (AHR, June 2005, 727–751). Robert Orrill and Linn Shapiro perpetuate a myth that the “social studies” and/or the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) are hostile to history’s central place in school programs. History, especially at the high school level focused upon by Orrill and Shapiro, has always been the mainstay of social studies. The integration of history and the social sciences in the form of “social studies” that Orrill and Shapiro fear and deride (except when it’s labeled “history,” apparently—see p. 738) is all but a chimera, nevertheless a persistent one.
Mythmaking about social studies—its origins and longstanding positions—refuses to go away. No significant number of social studies educators affiliated with NCSS ever suggested that history should play any but a central role. Courses not designed to center on disciplines such as history, geography, and government have scarcely anywhere or ever enjoyed more than a fraction of the curricular space afforded history. So what is the problem? One is compelled to wonder what else is at stake here in some historians’ stubborn disregard for accurate portrayals of social studies, whose position is now threatened by the emphasis on high-stakes testing resulting from the No Child Left Behind legislation.
The most obvious misrepresentation perpetuated by Orrill and Shapiro is that “social studies” supplanted “history” during the Progressive Era. Over the years, this charge has been repeated so often that it has become widely believed. Certainly neoconservatives since the 1980s have made effective use of it, contending that “reformist” social studies has nudged out a more patriotic, narrative history. The problem is, however, that this characterization is simply false.
Orrill and Shapiro uncritically accept the viewpoint that history has been squeezed out. They write that historians of social studies (Jenness and Hertzberg are the only two they cite) “take it for granted that educational activism among historians must be conjoined with advocacy for social studies reform” (728, n. 3).
We see it differently: Jenness and Hertzberg simply note that social subjects first became part of the modern American curriculum in the 1890s, and later social studies became the collective noun for that part of the curriculum which included history. The figures (e.g., David Snedden) that Orrill and Shapiro (correctly) fear would have done away with much history in the social studies curriculum were neither social studies educators nor particularly influential concerning the content of social studies programs.
Perhaps the most successful social studies educator ever—if judged by effects on school programs—was Harold Rugg. He claimed that an effective social studies program demanded more, not less, history than was conventionally offered.
Far from hostile to history, NCSS has consistently stressed its pivotal role in any defensible social studies program. Indeed, many “social studies educators” are self-described “history” advocates. Social studies teachers and teacher educators have been central to development of state curricular frameworks and standards reflecting the importance of history, especially at the secondary level.
Orrill and Shapiro are right to underscore the need for historians to be more involved with school history—their knowledge of historical scholarship is irreplaceable. But they overlook the fact that neoconservatives’ attacks on the allegedly “dark side” of American history and the perennial problem of its ineffective teaching are the real challenges confronting history in the schools.
The latter won’t be improved by simply demanding more history courses for teachers, which many states have done in recent years, but rather, as the logic of Orrill and Shapiro’s position suggests, courses directed to what is taught in schools. Moreover, as one of us (Thornton) has argued for years, it would also make sense if teaching methods courses were better aligned with what prospective and in-service teachers learn in their history courses. In other words, there is plenty of scope for collaboration between history departments and colleges of education. Charges and countercharges about whether content or method is more important—as if one can exist without the other—are counterproductive and, as we have noted, effectively leave decision making about history in schools to people who are experts on neither.
Stephen J. Thornton
University of South Florida
Margaret S. Crocco
Teachers College, Columbia University
Robert Orrill and Linn Shapiro do not wish to respond here. They took part in an online forum with readers who had questions and comments about this article, and that exchange can be read on the History Cooperative website, at //www.historycooperative.org/ahr/Forums.html.
To the Editor:
The article by Robert Orrill and Linn Shapiro on “The Discipline of History and History Education” (AHR, June 2005, 727–751) is a welcome indication that the AHA is focusing more attention and resources on the problems of history education in the secondary schools. Unfortunately, however, the essay gives a less than adequate account of recent developments in this area, failing to mention the two most important initiatives by academic historians since 1987: the Bradley Commission on History in Schools (1987–1990) and its successor organization, the National Council for History Education (1990–present). The trustees have always included senior historians; after my term as chair, I was succeeded by Professor Theodore K. Rabb of Princeton and then by Dr. Spencer Crew, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
The Bradley Commission was created to do exactly what Orrill and Shapiro suggest—that is, to address concerns about the quality and quantity of history in the classrooms of America’s schools. The seventeen-member group included four presidents of the AHA and four presidents of the Organization of American Historians, and its final report, Building a History Curriculum: Guidelines for Teaching History in Schools, was endorsed by both the AHA Teaching Division and the OAH. Since its publication in 1988, more than 100,000 copies of the 32-page report have been distributed, and its recommendations have affected curricular reform in dozens of states and scores of independent school districts. Now a “classic” in the educational reform world, it will soon be available for free download on the NCHE website.
Meanwhile, the NCHE now has almost 6,000 members nationwide, and over the past two decades it has done more than any other group to monitor developments in history requirements and teaching at the state and local level. Its popular newsletter, History Matters, goes to more than 10,000 school administrators, professors, history teachers, and publishers every month, and it is now in its eighteenth year of regular publication. Its founding members included many of the AHA’s most distinguished members, including Joyce Appleby, Bernard Bailyn, Robert Dallek, Natalie Zemon Davis, Carl Degler, Don Fehrenbacher, John Hope Franklin, John Lewis Gaddis, Darlene Clark Hine, Michael Kammen, William E. Leuchtenburg, Lawrence Levine, Arthur Link, William McNeill, James M. McPherson, Gary Nash, Mary Beth Norton, Arthur Schlesinger, George Tindall, Sean Wilentz, and Robin Winks, to mention only a few.
This is not to suggest that nothing remains to be done. The fight for history is constant, and it is continuing. However, it is important to recognize that, through NCHE and its allied organizations, many members of the historical profession have made progress since the late 1980s. And if the American Historical Association strengthens its commitment to the cause, perhaps more young people will come to share the passion of professional historians for studying and learning from the past.
Kenneth T. Jackson
Robert Orrill and Linn Shapiro do not wish to respond here. They took part in an online forum with readers who had questions and comments about this article, and that exchange can be read on the History Cooperative website, at //www.historycooperative.org/ahr/Forums.html..
REVIEWS OF BOOKS
To the Editor:
Bryan D. Palmer is the author of Descent into Discourse (1990), which upbraids my work along with that of others who stress the role of language and multiple forms of sociocultural difference as a diversion from a certain type of Marxist-oriented social history. Sections of Palmer’s rather predictable review of my History in Transit: Experience, Identity, Critical Theory (AHR, April 2005, 437–438) replicate the template he employed in his book. That template facilitates misreadings that prevent him from seeing ways in which my recent work is in fact undertaking a critique of tendencies in certain variants of poststructuralism, such as radical discursive constructivism, which I have never in fact affirmed. (I provide a more extensive discussion of historiographical issues relevant to Palmer’s review in “Tropisms of Intellectual History,” Rethinking History 8 : 499–529.)
Palmer’s approach inhibits him from at least mentioning aspects of my book that complement the features he finds worthwhile in it, including what he formulates as its concern with “history, memory, and trauma, most especially the experience of the Holocaust.” Among these complementary aspects are critical inquiries into violence, sacrificialism, posttraumatic symptoms, and specific vicissitudes and uses of the concept of trauma, including an attempt to provide a critique of certain orientations within an aesthetic of the sublime that has played a role in historiography as well as in other fields (vide the recent work of Frank Ankersmit). I also explore the role of affect and, especially, empathy in historical understanding and further elaborate a concept of working through the past that involves both differential, responsive understanding and sociopolitical practice as aspects of a broader dialogic exchange. (Palmer’s account might be contrasted with the more comprehensive approach taken in Beverly Southgate’s review in Rethinking History 9 : 375–380.)
Space limitations force me to forgo commentary on Palmer’s sharpest barbs, which displace the major concerns of my book onto but one page of the epilogue—page 250. I would simply note that it is not I but Palmer who rashly generalizes to all of Russell Jacoby’s work a comment I make about Jacoby’s recently republished essay “A New Intellectual History,” which first appeared in the AHR. In my original response to that essay, I explicitly stated that “there is much in Russell Jacoby’s work that I respect and admire, especially his attempt to keep alive the tradition of critical theory and the role of the public intellectual. But there are aspects of ‘A New Intellectual History’ that I find questionable both in relation to my own work and to broader issues in the field” (AHR, April 1992, 425–439, 425). I still find the essay questionable and think it warrants mention as one of a series of works marking a “turn away from or even against theory.”
Perhaps Palmer’s most significant misreading occurs when he asserts that I “unthinkingly articulate … a binary opposition” by believing that “the historical profession is … separated into two camps: those who seek illumination by ‘grubbing’ in the archives, the dust of facticity a badge of honor; and others who instead, however attuned to evidence, interrogate the archive and ‘turn erudition into learning’ by rising above the boundaries of ‘information.'” He refers to page 270, and asserts that “this [I assume he means the putative binary] is LaCapra’s achilles [sic] heel.” Neither on that page nor elsewhere do I affirm the binary Palmer attributes to me. (I note in passing that “grubbing” is a term I borrow from Robert Darnton and employ only in scare quotes.) On page 270 of History in Transit, after criticizing excessively abstract, self-referential theory (or theoreticism) and listing what I take to be the contributions of historically relevant critical theory, I conclude: “Theory is an attempt to understand better what one knows or thinks one knows. It must be informed but cannot be reduced to information or simply found by ‘grubbing’ in the archives. It is an attempt, however nontotalizing and self-critical, to turn erudition into learning.” I do not think one may see these statements as confirming Palmer’s projective binary opposition or as denigrating archival research and advocating a wayward attempt to rise “above the boundaries of information.”
Debate, argument, and, when needed, polemic are signs of health and openness in a discipline as well as an indication of willingness to engage criticism coming from both within and without the profession. But even if one bemoans a putative descent into discourse, one has to take discourse seriously enough to read it carefully and accurately as a premise of critical response. Only in this way can one hope to determine actual points of agreement or disagreement.
Bryan D. Palmer responds:
My review of Dominick LaCapra’s History in Transit identified “a prolific writer who has seldom met a critic, however innocuous, that did not goad him to reply” (438). LaCapra seems to confirm this observation, lashing out at a review that was, by any reasonable standard of assessment, balanced and fair-minded. In the 700 words allocated by the AHR, I wrote three paragraphs of unambiguous praise, two of critical engagement, and a concluding passage that was mixed, but not without reference to the positive contribution of LaCapra’s text.
LaCapra commences his rejoinder with a subtle red-baiting reference to a book I published fifteen years ago, Descent into Discourse. Content that he has pigeonholed me, he finds my review predictable. Yet my commentary actually moved well past any template of opposition that might be construed from a skewed reading of Descent, contained no barbs, and was anything but polemical. The larger misreading is certainly LaCapra’s.
In responding to my review, LaCapra repeatedly calls on other authorities, rather than accepting responsibility for what he wrote in the book under review. He asks readers to consult the pages of another journal, Rethinking History, directing them to an essay he has written on intellectual history (which, incidentally, is largely about himself, fifteen of the approximately fifty references cited being his own works) and a sympathetic review of History in Transit that he hails as more comprehensive (given almost three times the space the AHR allows for all standard reviews).
I am accused of misreadings. This is always possible, especially when authors are not themselves as clear as they might be. LaCapra ends his book referring to theory not being reduced to “grubbing” in the archives (270). Upon reflection and rereading, I may indeed have overstated an opposition in LaCapra’s text, and for this I offer my regrets.
But LaCapra himself is not blameless. The use of the term “grubbing,” in relation to archival work, was an oddly provocative metaphor to employ in closing his book. Placing a term within single quotation marks can signify a variety of things, and in this case, with no reference of any kind offered, the meaning was certainly ambiguous. Noting now that he has borrowed the term “grubbing” from Robert Darnton is, surely, a rather odd admission from an intellectual historian concerned with language who has failed to acknowledge how he has used a particular term. Finally, if borrowing was indeed from Darnton’s The Literary Underground of the Old Regime (Cambridge, 1982), where intellectual historians are urged to undertake “digging downward … grubbing in the archives instead of contemplating philosophical treatises” (1), this seems to call out for engagement/clarification (and, again, explicit citation) from LaCapra, whose text contains nothing like the archival work characterizing Darnton’s historical practice. In any case, I was reviewing what was on the page of History in Transit, not what LaCapra decides, upon prodding, to tell us should have been there.
In LaCapra’s refusal to acknowledge what he wrote about Russell Jacoby, there is again an insistence that reviewers should read texts other than the book under review. We are directed to past essays and quotes in the AHR, but this is, yet again, beside the point. LaCapra claims that I “rashly generalize” concerning his History in Transit views of Jacoby. This is not true. The words are LaCapra’s: “Russell Jacoby has been lambasting academic intellectuals and excoriating theoretical orientations in a manner that at times runs together neoconservatism and seeming leftism—a strange intellectual phantasmagoria in which Theodor Adorno becomes the specular image of Leo Strauss. The antitheoretical, left-right convergence is especially evident in the collection (including an essay by Jacoby) edited by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn” (250). This statement is indeed rash in its generalization, extreme in its rhetoric, and unsupported, as I pointed out in my review, by adequate citation. It was not misread. I merely called LaCapra on his indiscriminate and ideological typecasting of another scholar. He wants to wiggle off a hook of his own making by further typecasting me.
Authors, fortunately, do not write their own reviews. LaCapra should have been content with my praise, pondered my criticism. A thin skin is unbecoming in such a productively combative scholar.
Bryan D. Palmer
To the Editor:
I want to thank Andrew Zimmerman for acknowledging in his review (AHR, April 2005, 566–567) that my book From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany contains “very good historical research,” even though he criticizes some aspects of my work. When he accuses me of “sleight of hand” and distortion, however, Zimmermann indulges in his own distortion, especially in the climax of the review, where he states: “In Weikart’s account, however, Bryan emerges only as an opponent of German militarism. In this distortion of the 1925 Scopes ‘monkey’ trial, repeated twice in the book (1, 163), Weikart’s political sleight of hand appears most clearly. The text seeks to lead readers from opposing Hitler to supporting the theocratic agenda of Bryan and more recent figures in the United States. There are thus good political reasons for setting up the book as a contest between Hitler and Bryan, although these do not make for very persuasive history.”
Here Zimmerman is practicing his own “sleight of hand.” It should be obvious why I discuss Bryan only in the context of German militarism. My book is about Darwinian thought in Germany, as the title indicates, and therefore Bryan is a peripheral figure. He is mentioned in only eleven sentences of my book, mostly in the chapter on Darwinian militarism. In two of these sentences I criticize Bryan’s position on the Darwinian roots of World War I. Thus it escapes me what the “good political reasons” are for seeing my book as a contest between Hitler and Bryan. Also, how could I have distorted the Scopes trial when I don’t even mention it anywhere in my book? Even more bizarre is Zimmerman’s absurd claim that my book supports a “theocratic agenda,” when he knows nothing about my political views. He would undoubtedly be astonished if he only knew.
Again, I thank Zimmerman, whom I respect as a fine scholar, for admitting that “Weikart admirably demonstrates the influence of Darwinism on Nazi racism and genocide,” and for acknowledging the value of my research. However, the credibility of his criticisms of my book is undermined by his wildly wrong claim that I support a “theocratic agenda.”
California State University,
Andrew Zimmerman responds:
In my review I argued that Richard Weikart’s book, for all its fine research, distorts the history of Darwinism and anti-Darwinism in Germany in ways that reflect theocratic agendas in present-day American politics. By theocratic agendas I mean attempts to trump considerations of individual liberty with religious dogma in areas including reproduction, sexuality, and end-of-life decisions. These areas are among those mentioned by Weikart in his own text, even though they were at most peripheral to debates about Darwinism in Imperial Germany. From Darwin to Hitler is structured around a contest between Darwinism and Christian ethics, which Weikart characterizes as a contest between proponents of death and life, respectively. This representation is anachronistic, projecting present-day theocratic agendas onto the history of science in Imperial Germany. It also tendentiously simplifies both Darwinism and Christianity. I pointed to Professor Weikart’s failure to mention the Scopes monkey trial in his prominent and approving citations of William Jennings Bryan not as a “climax” to my review, but rather as a dog that did not bark in the night: it signaled, but did not in itself constitute, significant and systematic weaknesses in the book, weaknesses that I discussed and documented in my review.
George Washington University
To the Editors:
In his review of my book Closer to the Masses: Stalinist Culture, Social Revolution, and Soviet Newspapers (AHR, April 2005, 588–589), Jeffrey Brooks suggests that I appropriated his work (the book Thank You, Comrade Stalin and earlier articles) without attribution. This suggestion is baseless, as anyone who reads through his and my published work on the Soviet press can discover for themselves.
In specific references I cite Professor Brooks’s influence on my definition of the “voices” of the Soviet press (23, 25), his production of culture approach to the study of prerevolutionary Russian literature (3), his demonstration that activists used the press to learn official Soviet language (72), his work on the disappearance of Soviet studies of the reader around 1930 (2, 34), his exploration of the negative attitudes of prerevolutionary Russian intellectuals to commercial culture (35, 213), his article on the decline in the circulation of books and newspapers in the USSR in the Civil War and NEP years (16, 46), and his discussion of the creation of a Stalinist “hyperreality” in the Soviet press and literature post-1929 (166). In addition, I cite most of Brooks’s published work on the Soviet press in an early footnote, as he notes in his review.
In his review, Brooks focuses on the fact that both of our books discuss a narrowing of the target audience(s) of Soviet newspapers to party activists/”insiders” during the First Five Year Plan. Brooks appears to indicate that I took this idea from him. First, I formulated this thesis in a seminar paper written for Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick in the winter of 1992–1993, before Professor Brooks had published it anywhere, as far as I know. I expanded on the thesis in my dissertation, which was complete and available to the public as of December 1997. I presented the thesis on the retargeting of the Soviet press (as well as the other core arguments of Closer to the Masses) in my short 1998 monograph Agitation, Propaganda, and the “Stalinization” of the Soviet Press, 1922–1930, published in the University of Pittsburgh’s Carl Beck Papers series two years before Brooks’s book appeared. Yet Brooks’s book does not cite either my monograph or my dissertation.
Second, Brooks mentions the narrowing of the newspaper audience in passing, and in general terms. In contrast, this phenomenon is at the center of my book. The book demonstrates that by 1930 the formerly “highbrow” Pravda and Izvestiia had come to resemble closely the “mass newspapers” Peasant Gazette and Worker Gazette, not just in language and layout, but in distribution methods and journalistic work procedures. I link this change to specific decisions of party leaders, to chronic production problems faced by early Soviet journalists, and to difficulties in distributing the newspapers. Professor Brooks does not do any of this, which is fine. His is a different book, focused more on newspaper content than on newspaper production.
I also note that our books differ greatly in source bases and use of theoretical literature. At the core of Brooks’s book is his comprehensive reading of several Soviet newspapers from the 1920s through the end of the Stalin era. My Closer to the Masses is based in part, of course, on the newspapers themselves, but also on Soviet archives, literary journals, and the trade publications produced by Soviet journalists, such as Journalist. Brooks makes a wide variety of theoretical references, but arguably Erving Goffman’s work on public performance is at the center of his book. In contrast, I make use of the work of the functional linguistics of Roger Fowler and M. A. K. Halliday as well as the work of neo-Weberian political scientists such as Ken Jowitt. My use of functional linguistics, my analysis of Soviet use of the terms “agitation” and “propaganda,” and my statistical analysis of the newspaper space devoted specifically to ongoing Central Committee propaganda campaigns in 1925 and 1933 all differentiate my investigation of newspaper language from Brooks’s content analysis, presented in his book and in earlier articles.
During the 1990s, a number of North American scholars were working in parallel on the early history of the Soviet press, including Julie Kay Mueller, Steven Coe, and Michael Gorham, as well as Brooks and myself. In addition, Russian scholars such as Evgenii Dobrenko were working on closely related topics. There was both cross-fertilization and coincidence of conclusions. My sense is that all of us were making a good-faith effort to acknowledge intellectual debts. I am sorry that Professor Brooks does not share that sense.
Jeffrey Brooks does not wish to respond.
To the Editor:
I wish to respond to Praveen Swami’s review of my book Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and the History of Kashmir (AHR, June 2005, 778–780).
Let me at the outset clarify that neither is my book about the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir nor was it occasioned by the “near war of 2001–2002.” It grew out of my doctoral dissertation, defended at Columbia University in May 1999. It deals with state-making processes in colonial India, their problems of establishing legitimate authority, and the place of rights and religion in popular resistance. Examining the strategies of the British imperial government and the Dogra rulers of Kashmir, evolved reciprocally, my work explains why and how legitimacy for the latter was derived from arenas such as the patronage of Hindu rituals and “tradition,” how the concept of subjects’ rights came to be circulated in Kashmir, why demands for rights were made in the religious mode, and what imprint this left on Hindu-Muslim relations and on expressions of regional solidarity.
I neither suggest a static set of relations between the imperial government, Dogra rulers, and their subjects, Hindu and Muslim, nor do I treat these latter groups or their experiences of the state as homogeneous. Identifying shifts in the paramount power’s terms for legitimacy, I explain their implications for the Dogras’ Hindu sovereignty. Chapters four and five highlight not only the debates and political rivalries within Hindu and Muslim communities, but also how erstwhile allies of the Dogras, Muslim and Hindu, later opposed the state in defense of endangered privileges and rights.
In paragraph seven, the reviewer draws on a final chapter kept deliberately free of footnotes (barring three) to criticize assertions in it for being unsubstantiated by footnotes. Both of his quotations come from my brief conclusion, where the aim was to summarize my arguments and to indicate some lines of continuity from the colonial past, which I spend five long chapters examining, into the post-1947 period, which is not the book’s focus.
The first passage, truncated in quotation, is: “Without conceding an inch in their own adherence to Islam, at the moment of the partition of India most Kashmiri Muslims voted clearly (and the vast majority continue to do so today) against the Pakistan option.” I use “vote” here in the general sense of an expression of opinion rather than the mechanical act of casting a ballot. My point is that the political articulation of religious identity notwithstanding, most Kashmiri Muslims did not embrace a vision of separate statehood founded on religious commonality alone—the “Pakistan option.” This assessment derives from the rhetoric of Sheikh Abdullah, widely considered the most popular politician in Kashmir at the time of partition, in which being Kashmiri was emphasized as much as being Muslim.
As for how I determine that “today the vast majority of Kashmir’s Muslims largely believe that they are scarcely better off than they were through 101 years of Dogra rule,” I would have thought a popularly based and long-lasting insurgency ample indication of widespread discontentment against the state. The problem of political legitimacy in Kashmir clearly remains.
In pointing to the “tenuous nature” of India’s secularism, specifically secularism as state ideology, I refer precisely to its “intertwining” with “communalism” in the nationalist project that the reviewer mentions. This interlocking has allowed even the Hindu right-wing BJP to call itself secular. It is the politics of religious bigotry that the reviewer seems to mean when describing “communalism” as a “brutal, experienced reality.” Without denying this, I contend that, as the history of Kashmir shows, not all politics in the religious idiom is necessarily “communal” in this pejorative sense. I do argue that religion is an important “language of both power and resistance” in Kashmir. Nowhere do I suggest that it is “primordial.” I delineate the particular historical contexts in which religious identities were politically articulated by rulers and subjects.
Finally, since no specific instances of “invective” have been cited, I am unable to explain myself. As for “secession from scholarship” in the book, I leave it to the judgment of my peers engaged in the field of history and historiography.
Praveen Swami responds:
Much of the first half of Mridu Rai’s response to my review of her book very ably demolishes arguments I did not make.
I did not, for example, dispute the irrefutable fact that her book deals with state-making in colonial India and with the role of rights and religion in popular resistance. In fact, the bulk of my review of Rai’s book dealt with her treatment of these issues, not the last chapter. The principal criticism I leveled at Rai’s work was that her notion of religious identity was reductive, among other reasons because of its failure to examine the workings of class and caste. On these points of contention she responds with flat denial; I shall not continue the debate here because of limitations of space.
Rai’s response to the two specific points I did raise about her concluding chapter, however, seem to me to underline my claim that this portion of her work secedes from scholarship. Both points were chosen to illustrate a certain sloppiness of method and language; her book is replete with similar examples. I learn with some bemusement, for example, that the words “to vote” can be used to describe a “general sense of an expression of opinion rather than the mechanical act of casting a ballot.” Despots around the world shall, without doubt, be delighted to learn this.
Leaving aside questions of language, however, Rai’s response raises more questions than it answers. How, for example, does she know for a fact that “most Kashmiri Muslims did not embrace a vision of separate statehood founded on religious commonality alone”? Rai says she based this assertion on the rhetoric of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the leader of the National Conference. Whether such conclusions about popular will can be arrived at from the rhetoric of a single leader I shall leave for readers to decide. Furthermore, there is a large body of work that disputes the contention that Sheikh Abdullah was, as Indian nationalists have claimed, the sole spokesperson for opinion in Jammu and Kashmir. Substantial parts of Jammu and Kashmir—Gilgit, Poonch, and Mirpur, for example—rebelled in favor of Pakistan at the time of the partition of India.
A similar lack of care characterizes Rai’s assertions on the current political violence in Jammu and Kashmir. Her claim that “a popularly based and long-lasting insurgency [is] ample indication of widespread discontentment against the state” might indeed be true. However, Rai makes no reference to the vibrant debate, scholarly and popular, on the extent of the popular base of political violence in Jammu and Kashmir. The truth is that insufficient evidence exists to make a categorical determination of how much support there in fact is for anti-India violence in Jammu and Kashmir. It takes a considerable leap of logic, moreover, to conclude, as Rai does, that the very existence of a popular insurgency (if that is what it indeed is) proves that “the vast majority of Kashmir’s Muslims largely believe that they are scarcely better off than they were through 101 years of Dogra rule.”
What evidence we do have—evidence, that is, as opposed to the kinds of polemic that Rai seems to prefer—suggests that residents of Jammu and Kashmir, Muslim or otherwise, are indeed better off than they were under monarchical rule. Elections, however flawed, are held regularly, and recent polls to municipal bodies attracted high voter turnout, in the face of terrorist threats, in areas traditionally considered hostile to Indian rule. Economically, the evidence of change is unequivocal. Residents of urban Jammu and Kashmir, along with their counterparts in neighboring Himachal Pradesh, live in one of the only two food-secure regions of the country. Poverty contracted dramatically in the 1990s, and Jammu and Kashmir now has the lowest percentage of its population living in poverty of any state in India, a far cry from the famines and deprivation its people faced in the pre-independence period.
Rai need not have looked far to find this data. It is available in a book authored by Parvez Dewan, a bureaucrat she thanks in her introduction for, among other things, “holding interminably probing conversations.” They were not, evidently, probing enough.