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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Monday, October 28, 2002
10:11 PM

Breathtaking Chutzpah... The following is by Jerome Sternstein (Brooklyn College/CUNY professor emeritus of history) at the History News Network, pointer via The Volokh Conspiracy. It's a response to a piece in the Nation by Jon Wiener defending Michael Bellesiles, author of Arming America. This is just one part of the Bellesiles saga, and I broke out the following sentences from the original one-long-graf to give everyone chance to absorb the massive scale of evasion constructed by Bellesiles. And to ask why anyone would even bother trying to defend that book--I mean, what's the point? Why go to bat for this guy:

...on WBEZ public radio in Chicago, Bellesiles said that all the inventories were available on microfilm, when in fact thousands of those he claimed to have read have never been microfilmed.

And months earlier, when confronted by the fact no probate microfilms were in the federal archives in Georgia, Bellesiles revised his story completely and said he read most of the probate inventories in the original in about 30 different state and local depositories scattered across the country. Then, he added that he read hundreds of inventories in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and that he read the San Francisco ones, averaging about 10 pages in length, at the Superior Courthouse in that city.

Then when he was told they were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, he changed his story again and said he was unable now to recall where they were located.

Then in an article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education he changed his story once more, claiming he had found the San Francisco inventories and was having them sent to him.

Then, when Emory University asked for them, he changed his story yet again and was forced to admit that he really had no idea where they could be found, a stance he repeated in an article in the Nov. 2001 Organization of American Historian's Newsletter.

Then, in Jan. 2002, he invented a new story: he claimed he had tracked them down in the California History Center in Martinez, CA. There is no such center housing general California records, but there is a Contra Costa History Center, which does not contain San Francisco inventories but only case files of the probate court of Contra Costa County, and only a couple of dozen of them at that in his sample period, not the hundreds of San Francisco probates Bellesiles said he read....

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