Letters to the Editor, March 1999
To the Editor:
So Robert Darnton is going to solve the problem of unpublished dissertations by electronic dissemination ("Three Problems in Search of a Solution," Perspectives, February 1999)! Perhaps the day will come when tenure committees will accept such online publication instead of printed books. I doubt it, but I hope so.
Perhaps the problem ought to be approached from another side, namely the dull monographic monstrosities themselves. I propose: Limiting all history dissertations to 75,000 words; giving graduate history students training in writing for the commercial (general) market a la Barbara Tuchman; and accepting alternative genres—films, videos, novels, theatrical performances, and so forth—as dissertations.
Thinking back to the recent program of the AHA—perhaps the worst I have ever seen—I cannot recall one session that was not made up of three chapters from dissertations. The problem lies not with the publishing and media industries; it lies with the kind of narrow, obsolete training Professor Darnton and his colleagues offer graduate students.
Norman F. Cantor
Sag Harbor, N.Y.
To the Editor:
There's another Catch-22 that is not included in the article on the future of publishing. Copyright fees for journal articles and book chapters included in course packets have gone up astronomically in the last year or so. My course packets have doubled in cost from two years ago, making it much more desirable to assign monographs or collected works in my classes. If monographs are going to become a thing of the past, and course packets are unaffordable, what are we going to use to teach?
This question is the more crucial because it comes from someone in one of the "endangered fields"—Middle East history, where the textbooks are purely awful and there are very few primary sources in translation. Internet resources in fields like mine are abysmal at best, nonexistent most of the time (one student spent three hours on the Internet and only found half of the items on a map exercise on Central Asia). Are we only going to teach U.S. history? I thought we were trying to get away from that.
Linda T Darling
University of Arizona
Rethinking the Crusades
To the Editor:
William Urban, in "Rethinking the Crusades" (Perspectives, October 1998), labels me disapprovingly as "politically correct" for writing in Lerner, Meacham, and Burns, Western Civilizations, that "the Crusades opened the first chapter in the history of western colonialism." Well, I don't know about the "politically correct" (many of my colleagues and students would have fun with this), but I do believe that the statement is factually correct.
Whatever the motives of the papacy and the Crusaders, it is surely true that the Westerners established colonies on distant, foreign soil and conducted themselves in various ways like later Western colonialists. In fact my chapter concentrates on the story of the Crusades as "part of a chapter in papal and religious history," but to obscure the fact that it also belongs to a pattern of Western aggression and exploitation would seem to me to be doing a disservice to students interested in reflecting on the history of Western civilizations.
Urban asks rhetorically whether there is "a widely distributed right-wing interpretation of the Crusades." I wonder what such a right-wing interpretation would be. Perhaps something along the lines of Henri Daniel-Rops, Cathedral and Crusade (New York: Dutton, 1957)? In that case Urban might want students to read "in the heart of every man born of Christ the crusades remain a glorious memory .... As long as Christianity endures on earth, as long as there exists a civilization from which Christian principles have not been wholly banished, there will be men to treasure these pages of sanctity and heroism inscribed by the crusaders with their blood." But if he really wants an interpretation along these lines he is holier than the pope. I just received a call to a conference on the Crusades sponsored by Benedictine University which states: "What sets the Crusades apart from other wars fought by Christians is that they were sanctioned by ecclesiastical authority and avowed to be the will of God. The claim that these hostilities were undertaken for the honor of Christ has often left Orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslims with bitter memories of these expeditions." The call states further: "In his encyclical letter Tertio millennio adveniente, Pope John Paul II urged that Christian preparations for the next millennium include honest acknowledgment of past sins against unity, and of the times Catholics betrayed the Gospel by resorting to intolerence and even violence in support of the truth .... This conference has been organized as our response to the Pope's appeal." Not wishing to seem holier than the pope myself, I can still only say, godspeed.
Robert E. Lerner
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