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Past Imperfect: Facts, Fictions, Fraud American History from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   315
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1" Width: 5.5" Height: 8.25"
Weight:   0.65 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jul 2, 2007
Publisher   PublicAffairs
ISBN  1586484451  
EAN  9781586484453  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Woodrow Wilson, a practicing academic historian before he took to politics, defined the importance of history: "A nation which does not know what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today." He, like many men of his generation, wanted to impose a version of America's founding identity: it was a land of the free and a home of the brave. But not the braves. Or the slaves. Or the disenfranchised women. So the history of Wilson's generation omitted a significant proportion of the population in favor of a perspective that was predominantly white, male and Protestant.

That flaw would become a fissure and eventually a schism. A new history arose which, written in part by radicals and liberals, had little use for the noble and the heroic, and that rankled many who wanted a celebratory rather than a critical history. To this combustible mixture of elements was added the flame of public debate. History in the 1990s was a minefield of competing passions, political views and prejudices. It was dangerous ground, and, at the end of the decade, four of the nation's most respected and popular historians were almost destroyed by it: Michael Bellesiles, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stephen Ambrose and Joseph Ellis.

This is their story, set against the wider narrative of the writing of America's history. It may be, as Flaubert put it, that "Our ignorance of history makes us libel our own times." To which he could have added: falsify, plagiarize and politicize, because that's the other story of America's history.

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More About Peter Charles Hoffer

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Peter Charles Hoffer is professor of history at the University of Georgia. He is a member of the American Historical Association's professional division, which audits the standards of academic historians' work. The author of many books of academic history, he was also invited to advise the AHA on plagiarism. He lives in Georgia.

Peter Charles Hoffer currently resides in the state of Georgia. Peter Charles Hoffer was born in 1944 and has an academic affiliation as follows - University of Georgia.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Insightful & Enjoyable history of historical writing  Jul 24, 2007
In an effort to provide a history of historical writing, Peter Hoffer has taken an unusual approach - looking at scandals that have plagued historical scholarship in the very recent past, but comparing that against the earliest histories of our nation.

Hoffer gives the reader a good, strong understanding of the different schools of historiography (i.e. consensus history, neo-consensus, and "new" history). He then explains how the "new" history led to a rise in popular history and the conversion of four academics into the realm of popular history, which nearly destroyed all of them.

The cases of Stephen Ambrose, Michael Bellesiles, Joseph Ellis, and Doris Kearns-Goodwin all share one thing in common - they are associated with a lack of careful historical scholarship and, in some cases, outright fraud. Hoffer provides the reader with an insightful look at the sins committed by these four historians and explains why the transgressions were so significant, even if the errors made by the historian were in the classroom and not in the written text.

This is a valuable book, and one that all students of history should read. It is enjoyable and teaches us valuable lessons about how a failure to be careful can spell disaster or doom for a historians' career.
Can Historians Police Themselves?  Nov 29, 2005
Initially I thought this book, by the distinguished University of Georgia historian Peter Charles Hoffer, would be limited to examining cases of historian inappropriate conduct, including plagiarism, falsification of data, and outright fabrication. That he does, but the book is so much more. In order to establish the context for his discussion of recent misdeeds by some prominent historians, Hoffer essentially writes a substantial history of the how the concept of history has developed in this country--i.e., a history of historic writing.

Of course, the issue has always been relative to historical writing whether there are absolute truths, or whether interpretation and bias make it impossible to write value-free analytical history. Hoffer discusses several traditions which sets the stage for his later discussion: Consensus history (things are great); the new history (much more critical, especially as to the role of slavery, women and immigration); professions of history (which developed as the discipline became more professionalized (H.B. Adams and Johns Hopkins); Progressive history ala Charles Beard; and Cold War History (Daniel Boorstin's "The Americans" Trilogy). Along the way, the author also discusses the "National History Standards" and the American Historical Association's guidelines for professional conduct and its former "Professional Division" which enforced them.

Hoffer then moves on(in the second half of the book)to looking at some prominent recent cases where inappropriate conduct was alleged: Bellesiles' book on the extent of colonial gun ownership (alleged falsification); Doris Goodwin and Steven Ambrose (alleged plagiarism); and Joseph Ellis (alleged fabrication of his Vietnam background). For the most part, Hoffer's analysis of these cases is judicious and balanced--he is, however, unduly harsh re Ellis, apparently assuming that if Ellis fabricated his Vietnam involvement, he then became a much less careful historian and exaggerated findings suggested in his research. In passing, Hoffer touches on the key problem--how historians must adjust to the lure of fame and riches in order to reach the popular history market. A whole book could easily be written on this issue alone. A very substantial introduction to a vitally important topic by an outstanding historian who has participated in several AHA ethical reviews.
Pretty dry, but good  Sep 26, 2005
I would only recommend this book to people who a really interested in not just history, but the profession of historian. This book basically asks what is the role of the American historian, and how has it changed over time. What does the historian owe to his/her readers? Past Imperfect discusses the failings of Ambrose, Bellisles, Ellis, and Goodwin, and the relatively nonchalant reaction of the public. As an aspiring historian, it is nice to hear someone championing integrity over book sales, and this book asks serious philosophical questions that I think all historians need to ask themselves. It wasn't particularly exciting or engaging, but I felt I got a lot out of it.
Great transaction!  Sep 5, 2005
Great transaction - the book was in excellent shape and sent in a timely manner. Seller is highly recommended!
Very Thought-Provoking  Jul 13, 2005
Please take our fellow readers' nay-saying with a grain of salt. If you are a serious reader of History, I guarantee you will get something from this book. Hoffer presents a very illuminating introduction to American historiography as a predicate to his discussion of the curious cases of Ambrose, Bellisles, Ellis and Goodwin, and while he doesn't go easy on them, he is in no way mean-spirited in treating with their respective indiscretions. Indeed, his well-documented (and concisely written) description of their misdeeds raised more ire in me than it apparently did in him. Guess I have always been naive enough to assume that when I pick up serious works of History by respected authors, I am getting the benefit not only of their independent thought and analysis but of their research integrity as well. I for one will never read another such book without wondering whether and to what extent it is "original". Hoffer's obviously is, and is well worth the read.

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