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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Rear Window BY CHAR MILLER The Landscape of _History: How Historians Map the Past By John Lewis Gaddis Oxford University Press 192 pages, $25. 1 ast was a tough year for historians. Just how bad it was became clear in early October when a New York Times article with the grab ber headline, “Are More People Cheating?” was accompanied by a series of mugshots of the notorious and scandalousfrom Ivan Boesky to TYCO looter Dennis Kozlowski. Nestled among the tawdry thieves was Doris Kearns Goodwin, celebrated biographer of LBJ and the FDR White House. After being accused of plagiarizing, she was forced to rewrite offending portions of her oeuvre and lost her position as a PBS “presidential historian.” Kearns’ offense was not just academic, asserted Donald L. McCabe of Rutgers University-Newark, whom the Times dubbed the “cheating guru” for his longitudinal surveys of idea theft among those attending America’s high schools and colleges. “There is no question that students point to things in the larger society as rationale and justification for their cheating,” he told the Times, which itself had been blindsided in 2003 by reporter Jayson Blair’s spectacular web of lies; “whether [it’s] Michael Milken, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bill Clinton or Enron or their parents cheating on taxes,” youth ape their elders. Stunned by such assertions, some of Kearns’ august colleagues rushed to her rescue, a reflection of a larger professional hurt. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Douglas Brinkley, Robert Dallek, and David Halberstam led a distinguished jury of her peers who fired off a letter to the editor, protesting “vigorously” that Kearns’ photograph was “displayed in the company of some of the most notorious scoundrels in America.” Because she did not “intentionally pass off someone else’s words as her own,” and thus her errors “resulted from inadvertence, not intent,” they concluded that their friend’s “character and intent symbolize the highest standards of moral integrity.” Would that a strongly worded letter to the Times was all that was required to re-polish a badly tarnished career. If it were, then that much-read section of the newspaper would have been packed with letters of commendation and pleas for mercy. According to the History Network News, more than 10 prominent scholars have been charged with plagiarism since 2002. Among them is the immensely successful Stephen Ambrose, who admitted that he had cribbed paragraphs without attribution; Michael Bellesiles, who misrepresented data in his controversial Arming America and resigned from Emory University; losing his endowed chair at Mount Holyoke College was Revolutionary Era historian Joseph Ellis, who refashioned his life story to include a tour of duty in Vietnam he never endured; Ann Lane of the University of Virginia, whose 1971 dissertation was chock-a-block with borrowed passages; and David McCullough, Philip Foner, Brian VanDeMark and others whose questionable documentation raised hackles and elicited howls. All things considered, historians were lucky that only Goodwin’s grainy snapshot appeared in the Times’ lineup of early21st -century reprobates. What has gone wrong? Has the hunger for success, or fear of failure, impelled this generation of historians to risk career-ending shortcuts? Did they swipe a page from Tom Lehrer’s “Lobachevsky,” forgetting it’s actually a wicked send up of academic pilfering? Plagiarize, Let no one else’s work evade your eyes, Remember why the Good Lord made your eyes, So don’t shade your eyes, But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize… Only be sure always to call it please, “research.” So maybe historians are just grave robbers in dragcredentialed practitioners skilled in the exhumation of past scholarship, deft in the picking careful to trick them out in new garb before passing them off as one’s own. Are we but liars in cap and gown? John Lewis Gaddis doesn’t think so. Although his compact and provocative new book, which probes how historians think, and what the significance of their thoughts might be, is not a direct response to the dispiriting news of professional larceny, his conviction that the historical enterprise can add a much-needed moral dimension to human life is propitious. Central to his argument is his faith in the historian’s wide-angle lens. This perspective leads him to chide famed French scholar Marc Bloch for suggesting that humans cannot see beyond themselves, and that therefore “the student of the present is scarcely any better off than the historian of the past.” Gaddis’ reply is cheering: Those who study the past are “much better off” than those who do not because they seek “an expanded horizon.” If the past is “another country,” a foreign landscape we must come to know, “then history is the way we represent” that other time and/or place. And “it’s that act of representation 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 2/27/04