Professor Bierce, unlike many in his profession, admires the finest practitioners of the art of journalism. For him, calling a work “journalistic” can be either a complement or an epithet, depending on the work’s literary quality, the depth of its research, and the sophistication of its analysis. Thus he tips his hat to the Boston Globe’s Chris Shea, whom he has only “met” electronically. The Bean Town Brainiac kindly announced the birth of this fine blog by your mustachioed gossip. But a restless journalist and dogged researcher he, Mr. Shea did not put the story to bed. A mere two days later, he announced that he had scooped AHB III. O cruel fate.
Mr. Shea did something that Professor Bierce, alas, cannot do without removing the mustache of anonymity. You see, Shea communicated directly with Jeremy Adelman, Princeton’s (relatively) young and ambitious department chair, who offered a rejoinder to a recent post on this site. Fortunately, Mr. Adelman did not undermine Professor Bierce’s central argument, although he added empirical detail, such as Princeton’s efforts to recruit Professor Chandra Manning, a young scholar of the Civil War, from Georgetown. In my post, I alluded to the yet-unresolved case of the young Manning, but planned to wait until her case had wended its way through the labyrinthine tenure process at the university once known as the College of New Jersey. Whether she will become the next McPherson depends, of course, on her fate at the hands of Princeton’s administrative solons and, more importantly, the quality of her future scholarship. My crystal ball is rather cloudy on that matter, as are most historians’ predictive powers. (Unlike economists, who gain their reputations by making colourful prognostications that are almost always proven wrong, we historians must be humble. We should tremble when venturing to predict the yet uncharted terrain of the history-yet-to-be).
But AHB III, he of sharp tongue, is also a man who acknowledges when he has been bested. Professor Adelman justly upbraided AHB III for neglecting the appointment of Martha (Marnie) Sandweiss, an American Studies scholar of impeccable reputation who has written brilliantly about the visual culture of the American west. Sandweiss was, of late, a greatly treasured member of the Amherst College faculty. And he mentioned Emily Thompson, the erudite historian of acoustics who rose from obscurity when she won a MacArthur grant. But methinks that Adelman spinneth too much. His case rests on the department’s recent employment of five assistant professors (the most promising of whom warranted AHB’s mention). All that Professor Bierce can say is he has never known a department’s reputation to rise or fall on its assistant professors however talented they may be. Given Princeton’s abysmal record of tenuring its own, my crystal ball, cloudy as it might be, predicts with some confidence that several of them will not be spending the remainder of their careers wearing the Orange and Black.
So Professor Bierce, in the spirit of the grade inflation rampant at Princeton, awards Professor Adelman a C+ (he would never be so uncharitable to brand such a promising if somewhat too clever bureaucrat an F). To Mr. Shea, a hard-earned A.