A historian raising questions about the New York Times’ 1619 Project got his answers in the form of a Yo Mama joke from a lead researcher.
How Twitter is Corrupting the History Profession
By Phillip W. Magness, 29 August 2019
He blamed Twitter instead of the researcher, NY Times or other guilty party, so I’ll guess he’s a doughy, shame-saddled white guy with libertophobia, the fear of living a self-directed life outside a structured environment. (I made it up but it’s a term we need.)
About as bad as I’d expected. Side note, I’ve quit smiling for my official pictures. Current Year is a bad time to intentionally give the impression that you’re nice and emotionally open.
About a week ago I began scrutinizing how the New York Times’ 1619 Project relied upon the work of the controversial “New History of Capitalism” genre of historical scholarship to advance a sweeping indictment of free markets over the historical evils of slavery.
That was everybody’s first and only guess.
The problems with this literature are many, and prominent among them is its use of shoddy statistical work by Cornell University historian Ed Baptist to grossly exaggerate the historical effect of slave-produced cotton on American economic development. Baptist’s unusual rehabilitation of the old Confederacy-linked “King Cotton” thesis is unsupported by evidence and widely rejected by economic historians. His book The Half Has Never Been Told has nonetheless acquired a vocal following among historians and journalists, including providing the basis of a feature article in the Times series on slavery.
Once again, the trustworthiness of America’s Newspaper Of Record ranks below the Babylon Bee.
Phil, you DO know why he gained a following, yes? And therefore weren’t surprised when said followers went Rabid Chihuahua on your ankles?
Curious about the following Baptist’s work had acquired despite its clear problems, I presented several questions on Twitter for its enthusiasts in the academy.
Were they aware that Baptist’s statistics, including his estimate of slavery’s share of the antebellum economy, arose from a documented mathematical error? Did they know his thesis had been scrutinized by leading economic historians, who found problems of misrepresented evidence and citations to documents that did not support what Baptist claimed? Had Baptist made any effort to respond to his critics? Or, more importantly, had he corrected his statistical mistakes, which continue to be cited in the press, in academic works, and even in congressional hearings on the legacy of slavery despite their inaccuracy?
Nope, Phil did NOT know why Ed Baptist is a popular guy despite massive problems with his work proving white men and capitalism are ohmigawd-ungood.
These should be obvious questions for historians to ask each other, given the profession’s oft-touted commitment to informing the public about the past with factually accurate and rigorous scholarly expertise.
Cuckservatives are so cute in that last moment before the learning curve hits.
Instead of an answer though, I received the following comment:
A tweet citing the work of Ed Baptist is alarming for whom troll? For you and your mom perhaps?
Yo Mama’s so fat, she’s on both sides of the family!
Abrasive remarks of this type, and worse, are an all-too-familiar norm in the sewers of social media, but the author of this one was not some random internet troll. It was Ana Lucia Araujo, professor of history at Howard University, director of its graduate-studies program, and a widely published historian of the slave trade.
Aww, he’s SOOO adorable! Thinking Internet trolls are losers in their parents’ basement, and surely not tenured department heads of prestigious universities.
Araujo is a Brazilian national, Canadian PhD, ranking member of UNESCO and American professor of history. Her research specialized in “public memory of slavery”. That is exactly what it sounds like: ARAUJO IS A BRAZILIAN NATIONAL WHO TEACHES AMERICAN STUDENTS WHAT WE SHOULD BELIEVE ABOUT OUR OWN HISTORY.
Araujo is one of the many academics who makes use of Baptist’s faulty scholarship, and she was singing praises of his book at the time I posed my questions about its use as a source. Considering the issues of historical accuracy that they brought up and the direct relevance to her own areas of expertise, questions of this sort should form the basis of a rational scholarly exchange, including challenges over controversial ideas. Instead, Professor Araujo offered only a juvenile “your mom” retort more suited for a third-grade schoolyard taunt than the halls of a leading research university.
It was not her only quip to that effect. When other academics chimed in on the thread, she continued. “CATO Institute boy, I called his mom, not his puppy,” Araujo answered a political scientist who pointed out the unscholarly demeanor of her first comment. As other scholars took notice, she unleashed a flurry of similar insults. Araujo’s continued tweeting employed intentionally demeaning references to her adult interlocutors as “boy” and “young man,” and singled out the gender in particular of anyone who questioned the unprofessionalism of her tone. In a matter of moments a tenured full professor at a major university adopted a style of language and attack usually found in the anonymous ranks of the internet’s underbelly — and all of it was precipitated by a substantive set of questions about problems in a published scholarly work that she was citing and recommending to the public on her authority as a scholar.
For a little perspective, imagine if a presenter at the American Historical Association conference or a similar venue responded to a question from another scholar in the audience about a source used in his or her presentation by shouting, “your mom,” or by unleashing a string of gender-based insults directed at the person who raised the question. Imagine if an academic dismissively referred to a PhD-holding peer as “boy” when that person spoke up against the unprofessional and derogatory tone of such remarks. It’s not improbable that such a person would be asked to leave the conference.
That was us who spoke up, and we WERE asked to leave the conference. And convention hall. And our workplace. And the local park. And Planet Earth.
Academia’s Social Media Problem
Social media brings with it a mixed bag of everything from intellectual exchange to juvenile antics to a corrosive undermining of basic discourse, as my colleague Max Gulker recently catalogued. But there also seems to be something about Twitter that brings out the very worst in academics.
Nyet, my good academic! Twitter brings out WHO THEY REALLY ARE! We now understand who our Elites are much better than they would ever have wanted. If only we had a dueling code with which to act on that knowledge, academia would be completely free of maggots and termites.
You don’t need a research grant, Phil, You need to challenge “Yo Mama” Barbie to a fistfight on pay-per-view. To the winner goes the syndication contract! I’ll pay double if you upgrade to literal mud wrestling but understand if you can’t bring yourself to hug a feminist.
A quick foray onto the site and a few minutes of reading will provide ample evidence that Araujo’s outburst is not atypical among the regulars of History Twitter. Or Econ Twitter. Or English, Philosophy, and Sociology Twitter. Politics are often, though not always, the occasion, which in practice translates into distinguished professors at elite institutions striving their hardest to reduce themselves to intellectual parity with a certain presidential account’s own notorious stream of insults and derision.
Charlie Brown is still trying to kick the football.
Araujo HATES white Americans like you, Phil. She HATES you because of WHO YOU ARE, an American of European descent living in a much nicer country than hers. When you pointed out that the reasons she HATES you are fraudulent, what were you expecting? Racial reconciliation with a professional race-baiter? Of course she spat venom at you.
Phil, the reason they slander you is not because Twitter mindfucks them into doing what they normally wouldn’t. This is who they are as human beings. If anything, writing a book adds enough time and editing to properly conceal their lies and feuds.
Yes, that means humanity is disgusting. Welcome to the Christianity that you were never told about. Although seeing as you’re a HISTORIAN, the pettiness of human evil should not have been a surprise.
At its worst moments, Twitter has effectively converted Ivy League scholarly discourse into the comments section on YouTube. It has turned academic engagement with the public into an army of pedants more interested in hectoring or — worse — “owning” them with derisive insults than disseminating knowledge or fostering education. And strangely, the very same academics are often at a loss to explain why the public is turning its back on academic history despite persistent popular enthusiasm for historical content.
A closing word of advice to Phil: tell Araujo “You are not my people. You have to go back.” You’ll be famous and see with your own eyes the truth of what I’m saying:
THEY HATE YOU.