Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"Methosopography": Horowitz Pretends to Scholarship

According to David Horowitz on his blog, I am now a Stalinist! He headlines his diary entry: "Prosopography. A Stalinist strikes back." He's annoyed that I criticize his gobbledegook attempt to claim a methodology for his book The Professors. Let me give you the whole of his post:
Among the relentless academic critics of The Professors, one is more relentless than others. Adam [sic] Barlow is a professor of English at Kutztown University, who has attacked me on TPMCafe and EPluribusUnum [sic--it's ePluribus Media] and whom I have dealt with here. Now DailyKos, the Democratic hysteria blog has re-posted his latest effort, which deals among other things with the methodology of using a collective profile to identify patterns of academic abuse. The methodology is an academic approach known as prosopography. I asked a distinguished professor of history to comment on Barlow’s critique. The critique can be found here. Professor X: “Barlow’s arguments are worthless. If you examine the careers of Roman consuls from 40 B.C. to 20 B.C., how they got to the high political point where they got, you are not examining ALL Roman consuls (509 B.C.-476 A.D.: a thousand years of them), nor are you examining all Roman office-holders in this 20-year period (many of who did not reach as high as consul). If, even more narrowly, you examine all Roman consuls who come from Etruria in this 20-year period, you are not even examining all Roman consuls from 40-20 B.C.. Yet methodologically this is perfectly reasonable to do, and it is done all the time. If you discover patterns in how careers proceeded among our Etruscan consuls in this 20-year period, it doesn't matter that this is a sub-group of all consuls: the pattern remains. What you did was look at your 100 subjects and see if there were patterns in careers. There were. End of story. “Barlow is a composition teacher, not a historian. He knows nothing about prosopographical method and how it is used.”

First of all, I love a quote from a "Professor X." Clearly an authority willing to stand behind his or her comments! Such courage!

But that aside, my comments weren't on the validity of prosopography at all, but on Horowitz's usage of it. I suspect that "Professor X" has not read Horowitz's book, for his/her comments actually show how he/she didn't examine what Horowitz has done.

Let's take "Professor X's" example of Roman consuls: What Horowitz has done is akin to selecting certain consuls within a time period for certain pre-selected traits--and then trying to generalize from those consuls. That is not appropriate use of "prosopography." It's nonsense--and "Professor X"'s comments even make that clearer than I did.

Yes, I am a composition teacher (among other things) and not a historian--but that doesn't mean I can't identify bogus use of methodology when I see it!  Don't simply trust me, however: A "real" history professor (one with a name, not an "X"), William Culter of Temple University, agrees with my contention that Horowitz misuses the concept of "prosopography."

As to being a Stalinist... well, as a Quaker dedicated to the promotion of nonviolent political action, I don't think that shoe quite fits. It's a nice, sweeping insult, though: Don't like that someone has demolished your argument? Just call them a Stalinist.

 

UPDATE:  Shucks, David says I'm not a Stalinist:

 

Apparently Adam Barlow whose hash was settled in my previous blog wants to be called a Stalinist, perhaps so he can call me "paranoid." Barlow, who claims to be an English teacher, should look up what a period means. The title of the blog was "Prosopography. A Stalinist Strikes Back." Regular readers of the blog appreciate how we use the limited space afforded to us for announcing what's in the current post. In this case there were two items. First, a response to Barlow's critique of our prosopographical method, and second a showcase for the academic world's most preposterous Stalinist, Grover Furr. Missing the subtleties of our punctuation, Barlow has launched a new attack on TPMCafe based on his misunderstanding. In the process, he has enlisted the help of an army of enemies of academic freedom and America's war on terror that has been formed under the Orwellian banner "Free Exchange of Ideas" whom I will be dealing with shortly.

 

Guess I just don't make it with the "best."

 

Oh, and I love that he "settled my hash."   Quite an imagination, has he.

 

It's nice, though, that he seems disturbed enough by my comments to imagine that I can enlist "the help of an army of enemies of academic freedom and America's war on terror [how did that get in there?]... "

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