Second chances in research
August 6, 2010 11:31 AM   Subscribe

He was drummed out of academe after a controversy over his book about guns in America. Now the historian aims for a second chance. [via A&L daily]

The moral I take away from this story is: always use spreadsheets to analyse probate inventories (possibly several, combined into a simple database).

But I'm also curious -- I didn't follow this much at the time (it seemed like a hackjob, though this article implies that criticism can from a variety of places), but has anyone reproduced his probate research (or done similar) on gun-holding in the early US?
posted by jb (38 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read quite a bit about this at the time, and recall concluding that he was plainly being dishonest about what had happened to his research materials and notes — and that even though his critics were a nasty bunch of gun enthusiasts, they were probably in the right about most of what they were saying. That doesn't mean he set out to deceieve, of course — only that deception entered pretty heavily into his behavior in the subsequent fuss.

Still, I like this even-handed article. I suspect he has been through the wringer emotionally these last few years; I doubt he will ever again risk putting himself in a position where he feels the need to lie, and I don't see why he doesn't deserve a second chance.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:51 AM on August 6, 2010


And he's using that second chance to peddle bogus glurge. I don't doubt that people went after Belleisles' research for political reasons, but that doesn't make his research any truer. I've got no tolerance for people who fabricate history to suit their agendas, even if I might agree with their goals.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:52 AM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Like Game Warden, my recollection is that the criticism came from a variety of points and that he was thought by most to have been dishonest.
posted by pointystick at 11:56 AM on August 6, 2010


If you'd actually read the article, you'd know that the author tracked down the student who admitted to having lied about it being his brother who died in Iraq. It was, instead, a friend. The author does not try to speculate on why the student lied, but does seem sympathetic to a professor who accepted a distraught student's story at face value.
posted by hippybear at 11:57 AM on August 6, 2010


It also appears that Bellesiles cited probate inventories that didn't exist, because they were destroyed in the the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (cite).
posted by jonp72 at 11:59 AM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


And he's using that second chance to peddle bogus glurge.

If you go back and read the Chronicle's editor's note to that piece, it looks fairly convincingly like Bellesiles was doing all that he claimed to be doing in the Chronicle piece, namely recounting a story a student had told him. The student has since admitted to altering the story heavily. Also, the Volokh Conspiracy piece is written by one of Bellesiles' most obsessive pursuers throughout the Arming America controversy.

I'm not in favor of granting endless second, third and fourth chances to Bellesiles, but before I consign him to the scrapheap I'd want one fresh case that didn't have a pretty convincing alternative explanation, and wasn't being spearheaded by a sworn enemy.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:01 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


has anyone reproduced his probate research (or done similar) on gun-holding in the early US?

Clayton Cramer, mentioned in the article, wrote this book:
Cramer finds that guns "were the norm" in that period...Cramer draws on many primary sources, from newspaper accounts to probate records
It looks like he's taken down all his old blog, where he detailed a lot of his initial results.

...a sworn enemy

James Lindgren was also pretty diligent investigating claims John Lott falsified a small piece of research.
posted by K.P. at 12:18 PM on August 6, 2010


that until the Civil War, guns were relatively rare in the United States,

I'd be really curious to see how it would have been possible to track this. Prior to the Civil War, guns weren't marked with serial numbers, and the nature of the designs meant that a single gun could probably have stayed within a family for generations, so a single long rifle could have been a grandfathers, fathers and sons.

I'm not actually convinced that his premise was wrong (despite the scandal), but I don't know that less guns around actually meant less guns on hand or being used.
posted by quin at 12:19 PM on August 6, 2010


> I read quite a bit about this at the time, and recall concluding that he was plainly being dishonest about what had happened to his research materials and notes — and that even though his critics were a nasty bunch of gun enthusiasts, they were probably in the right about most of what they were saying.

Same here. A pathetic story, and this is a pretty good summary, though arguably too easy on Bellisles (which, he added languagehattically, is pronounced "buh-LEEL").
posted by languagehat at 12:22 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm curious about some of the criticism --

this bit, for example (from the wikipedia article) - "purported to count guns in about a hundred wills from 17th- and 18th-century Providence, Rhode Island, but these did not exist because the decedents had died intestate (i.e., without wills);"

That doesn't make any sense: unless Bellesiles named every testator, how would his critics be able to check whether they left a will or not? Unless some silly mistake was made -- Bellesiles counted guns from probate inventories from intestate decedents, and called these inventories "wills" incorrectly.

that said, wills would be a poor choice to study gun-holding, since they would only include items specifically willed to an individual; probate inventories, with all of their silences on various objects (cheap or not - any item willed away is often not listed), are problematic enough. The ideal thing is to analyse probate inventories and wills in tandem, but few collections are well enough organised to make that feasible. (I gave up on the wills in my own research, because it required tracking down the people from my probate sample in an entirely different collection).
posted by jb at 12:31 PM on August 6, 2010


At the same time, though, reading about this controversy wants me to do my own probate research on guns in early america, just to see what the probate story is :) With only one type of item to look for, it should be easy to create a database of guns reported in inventories; one could look at 10's of thousands.

But you'd have to add in all the usual caveats that everyone who works in probates knows about: probate inventories are biased towards the well-to-do, and don't record everything. At best you get an estimate of the frequency of holding any given object, and that estimate will be a minimal one, rather than a maximal or average. Certainly, in the English context, inventories will often exclude some expensive items that have been specially willed away (because the inventory was intended as a list of goods which could be sold to pay off the deceased debts). And they will also exclude cheap items (like clothes, wooden dishes, etc) or subsume into categories like "small things forgotten" or "and other trash".
posted by jb at 12:39 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am sure that Bellesiles new book is quite good and entertaining. The fact remains that he considered a massive sin of academic dishonesty and shoddy work and then went on to actively promote it, turning him into a media figure in the process, and he's never quite owned up to what he did wrong.

I absolutely hate these "rehabilitation media tours." Fraudulent former MIT Director of Admissions Marilee Jones has been doing the same thing and pitched her story to the Chronicle of Higher Education, as well.

Couldn't Bellesiles get a job teaching high school, open up a restaurant, or work for some consulting company somewhere without the relentless need to promote himself? Stephen Glass doesn't try to keep making a comeback as a pundit/reporter.
posted by deanc at 12:39 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


KP: thank you for the title -- I admit, I am as skeptical about a gun-proponents' work on holding of guns as the NRA types were of the original book. I was hoping that some work had been done by someone without such an emotional stake -- preferrably someone who worked with probate records regularly, as they can be tricky sources.
posted by jb at 12:43 PM on August 6, 2010


It's not clear to me from the article whether the new book is supposed to be a scholarly text or more popular or some combination of the scholarly and the accessible. I guess the latter from some googling around about the publisher. I don't know that it makes a difference, but I imagine academics and academically-interested folks are going to have a different view of Bellesiles than general history readers. In any case, the New Press trying to sell him as having been swift-boated by gun-rights advocates struck me as a low blow.
posted by immlass at 12:47 PM on August 6, 2010


I'm not in favor of granting endless second, third and fourth chances to Bellesiles, but before I consign him to the scrapheap I'd want one fresh case that didn't have a pretty convincing alternative explanation

Academic dishonesty is a subject on which I am not my usual give-everyone-the-benefit-of-the-doubt self, and I'm not sure that Bellesiles in particular deserves the benefit of a convincing alternative explanation. I'll allow as how it probably seems to be the truth that he was deceived, rather than a knowing deceiver, but I think it's fair to say that he uncritically accepted the story as true for its rhetorical value, which is the essence of glurge.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:48 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have a hardcover copy of Arming America right here. $30. I bought it right when it came out. He owes me $30.
posted by R. Mutt at 12:50 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read quite a bit about this at the time, and recall concluding that he was plainly being dishonest about what had happened to his research materials and notes — and that even though his critics were a nasty bunch of gun enthusiasts, they were probably in the right about most of what they were saying. That doesn't mean he set out to deceieve, of course — only that deception entered pretty heavily into his behavior in the subsequent fuss.

Me too - it was real 'dog ate my homework' stuff. I'm torn - if he can write a proper well-sourced book than can survive scrutiny, then the book is valid. Just because his first book was dodgy doesn't mean he can't have learned from it. On the other hand I'm disturbed that he seems to take so little responsibility for what seem very much like deceptions and fudging.

Recently I was working on a historical subject where I had become very wedded to a wonderful and intriguing story, and then I read a new book on it, and in an elegant chapter the writer blew that great story away. I phoned him up to congratulate him on the book, and to ask him to speak about it, and in the course of the conversation he told me how devastated he'd been too, when that inconvenient little piece of evidence came up in the archive - that pesky leaf of a letter - that wrecked the beautiful story. But then he'd got to grips with it, relishing the extra layer of complexity it brought to the story. 'That', I thought to myself, 'is someone to admire - a real historian. That's what it's all about.'

Maybe Bellesiles gets that now. He really didn't seem to at the time.
posted by Flitcraft at 12:52 PM on August 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


My historical writing class in grad school took on Arming America. Each one of us chased down a footnote to the original source. Everyone found some kind of error. Not huge errors, not evidence of outright lies and fabrications, but always a mistake. I looked at some inventories of Federal armories, and Bellesiles made some math errors. Nothing we found was a smoking gun or an "Oh my god this guy is a fraud" moment, but all the little mistakes added up to a general picture of sloppiness.

Like jb said, there are some problems using wills and probate records for researching gun ownership. I've seen a LOT of pre-1900 wills and estate settlement files. If they enumerate any items in there, it is usually 1. Land 2. Livestock and slaves 3. Money 4. Household Furnishings. That does not prove the person did not own any guns. Wills of that era simply didn't list every item in the household.

In my state, what most people call probate records are called "estate records." These are the papers generated as the estate is being settled. Often, these exist when there was no will. Many times, the estate records will consist of a bond posted by the administrator of the estate and perhaps a list of the administrator's expenses and some receipts. Sometimes, once in awhile, there will be an inventory of the estate or an account of the sale. That's when you get down to the lists of things like "one small iron skillet."

So at least where I'm from: the majority of the people didn't leave wills. Those that did, usually didn't list items down to the detail level of guns. Then you have your estate records, usually of folks who didn't leave wills. Out of those, there is a percentage of those with inventories. Then you factor in that the surviving records could be a fraction of what is produced. Court minutes can have pages and pages listing "so and so estate was settle, so and so appointed administrator of x estate," and there then there are no further records. What you end up with is a very small sample.

It can be super interesting and fun as hell to look at this stuff, but it is difficult to draw general conclusions from these records. At least here in these parts.
posted by marxchivist at 12:57 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I racall also that Arming America was greeted with hosannas by those whose view of firearms it supported, but as the arguments of the critics failed to collapse Bellesiles got pretty well hung out to dry. He did have some good evidence. I'm reminded of what Dr. Spock (Baby and Child Care) called over-approach and over-withdrawal.
posted by jfuller at 1:14 PM on August 6, 2010


Apparently, Arming America was his second book, not his first. I was surprised -- I had thought he was younger than he was. But he'd completed his PhD some 15+ years earlier, and already had one book (presumably based on that PhD, as they often are). This makes his sloppiness seem stranger; he'd been granted tenure, so wasn't rushing to try to keep his job.

marxchivist: I'm a probate-inventories optimist, in that I think it's possible to draw general conclusions from good household inventories. But you have to be aware of their limits: that only some people left inventories (just how many might depend on local law - in England, it's a fairly good swath of society, excepting the poor), what they do and don't record, and that what you get is a minimum at best. If an inventory says a guy owned 3 horses, he may actually have owned 5, but willed two to his daughter. But you do know that he definitely owned at least 3 horses. And then you just get plain old idiosyncrisy -- like the clerk from one village I've seen who insisted on just listing the household goods as "goods in the kitchen, goods in the hall..." So frustrating!

But I forget that the American system may have been quite different from the English, where even people who left wills might be required to leave a probate inventory if their estate was over a certain nominal amount.
posted by jb at 1:19 PM on August 6, 2010


At least in my state, there wasn't a requirement for an inventory. I know what you mean about the frustration with "goods in the kitchen," etc. The really, really neat ones are where you find an inventory of the library, with the titles of the books.
posted by marxchivist at 2:10 PM on August 6, 2010


If only someone did as much research on an Ann Coulter book. Or a book by any number of political hacks out there. The reason Bellesiles got slammed so hard was because he was a professor who was supposed to know better rather than an enterainer who doesn't [or does but plays to their crowd only].

But, seriously, there are so many political and historical books with cherry picked facts that are only presented to support an opinion it makes your head spin.
posted by Rashomon at 2:18 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


A search for Bellesiles on the History News Network's site (not to be confused with the so-called "History" channel on cable) brings up a lot more information for those interested.
posted by dhens at 2:21 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rashomon, you should pick up some of Al Franken's books. He zeroes on books by the like of Coulter and what not.
posted by Atreides at 4:27 PM on August 6, 2010


I am as skeptical about a gun-proponents' work on holding of guns as the NRA types were of the original book. I was hoping that some work had been done by someone without such an emotional stake

If you're looking for academic work on guns where the results have any kind of policy implications, it's pretty hard to find good stuff done by truly disinterested outsiders. Most of the best writing has been done by people with definite pro- or anti-control leanings who are upfront about it but make a good-faith effort to have neutral methods and even-handed analysis. The worst stuff I've read is from people who (in their own words or via back-cover-blurbs) make a point of claiming to be impartial researchers (such as Peter Squires). One notable exception would be Gary Kleck, although he's not much interested in such distant history. You might enjoy this book by Joyce Malcolm .

FWIW, Clayton Cramer has written a number of times that up until middle-age he was softly anti-gun/pro-control (in a it-was-the-default-view-where-I-lived-and-I-didn't-really-think-about-it-much way), such as in his contribution to this book.
posted by K.P. at 6:35 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


that until the Civil War, guns were relatively rare in the United States,

Numerous towns in New England had ordinances that required gun ownership, some even required taking that weapon to church.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 8:22 PM on August 6, 2010


At the same time, though, reading about this controversy wants me to do my own probate research on guns in early america, just to see what the probate story is

Me too! But it seems the research has already been done by others: see, e.g., James Lindgren and Justin Lee Heather, Counting Guns in Early America, William and Mary Law Review, 43: 5 (2002). The reason why Bellesiles's errors were recognised so quickly was that other scholars had already studied probate inventories and could see there was something wrong with the way he was using the data.

I'm curious about some of the criticism --
this bit, for example (from the wikipedia article) - "purported to count guns in about a hundred wills from 17th- and 18th-century Providence, Rhode Island, but these did not exist because the decedents had died intestate (i.e., without wills);"
That doesn't make any sense: unless Bellesiles named every testator, how would his critics be able to check whether they left a will or not? Unless some silly mistake was made -- Bellesiles counted guns from probate inventories from intestate decedents, and called these inventories "wills" incorrectly.


Lindgren and Heather address this point in their article. Apparently Bellesiles based his argument on a set of 186 Providence probate records, and claimed that all 186 included wills and inventories. In fact, about 100 of the 186 had died intestate, so there were inventories but no wills. 'He thus counted about a hundred wills that are not there and never were.' It isn't clear to me exactly how this affects his argument, but at the end of the day, when all the counting is done, Bellesiles comes up with a figure of 48% for gun ownership in Providence, which Lindgren and Heather argue is much too low. 'According to our careful count, 63% of adult male estates with itemized personal property inventories had guns.'
posted by verstegan at 3:28 AM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The unanswered question, though, is what it means to talk about 'gun culture' in America. Lindgren makes this point in his critique of Bellesiles, Fall from Grace: Arming America and the Bellesiles Scandal:

[Bellesiles] claims that we did not have a gun culture before the Civil War, but that we have had one since then. There is an obvious conceptual problem with this thesis. What would it mean to have -- or not have -- a gun culture? It is hard to judge the truth of this claim without deciding on what a gun culture is. Bellesiles gives us some hints of what he means, but he never clearly states his criteria. This is an unfortunate way to frame the inquiry. Cultural analysis is not an all-or-nothing proposition. America had one form of gun culture in the late eighteenth century, it had another form of gun culture in the late nineteenth century, and it has another form today.

Although Bellesiles never defines what he means by having a gun culture, he puts great store in owning guns, familiarity with guns, and the prevalence of guns in popular culture, such as in magazines, television and movies. If having a gun culture requires gun-lover magazines and violent film and television crime stories (or the contemporary equivalent), then we have a gun culture today, but did not two centuries ago. If, instead, having a gun culture means growing up in households with guns, learning how to shoot them, widespread participation in military training where guns are used, and using guns as a tool (such as for vermin control), then we definitely had more of a gun culture in the eighteenth century than we do today.


Bellesiles's critics are clearly much more comfortable dealing with the hard stuff of statistical analysis, probate inventories and the like, than with the bigger issue of gun culture. (Lindgren again: 'It is not even obvious how useful the concept of a gun culture is.') But at some point, it seems to me, you have to make the leap into cultural history. Okay, so 63% (at least) of adult males in eighteenth-century Providence owned guns: so what? That's where the historian's task of interpretation comes in. It would be a pity if Bellesiles's errors distracted attention from the bigger picture.
posted by verstegan at 3:59 AM on August 7, 2010


I never read Bellesiles' work that created his downfall, but it would seem a lot more practical to stop using the broad generalization of "gun" and divide it between rifle/musket and pistols. The reasons for owning a pistol are for the most part different than the reason for owning a rifle. It's completely reasonable to consider a percentage of Americans owning rifles, be it a legacy from the militia days in New England to the needs of hunting. A pistol is good only for self-defense and then, at a relatively close distance. It'd be basically useless on the frontier and for hunting. (barring those fellows with dueling kits)

The pistol more so doesn't seem to at least enter popular culture until after the Civil War. Then you have the rise of the revolver, be it a carryover from the usage in the war that carried over into the "Wild West." Then you have the romance of the law officers, cowboys, and bandits of the aforementioned West, flooding the East in various types of media.

Essentially, and I'm sure someone must have laid this out, is that you should divide gun ownership along these lines - pistol vs long gun.
posted by Atreides at 6:00 AM on August 7, 2010


thanks, verstegan!

the Rhode Island inventories have many more guns than inventories I've seen from England in the same period (Cambridgeshire c1660-1710). There I've only seen a handful of guns, almost all in gentry inventories; if farmers were hunting & fowling, it wasn't with guns.

--------

speaking about this with a friend of mine, we both have re-evaluated what happened to Bellisiles. It sounds like he was trying to be one of those famous, somewhat controversial but all the more famous for it, celebrity historians -- but got tangled up in his own sloppiness and his attempt to find the "story" rather than listen to the data.

I don't think it should end his career entirely; people make mistakes.

But my friend pointed out that many of the other most famous historians have similar levels of problems in their work. They tend not to be such simple things (like miscounting), but willful ignoring of other evidence, strained interpretation of the evidence. We wish that their work would be put to similar levels of scrutiny, esp as some problematic historians (Niall Ferguson, for example, often strays into complete bollocks as he expands his "expertise" farther and farther afield) have a great deal of sway in the public interpretation of history.
posted by jb at 6:45 AM on August 7, 2010


The guys at Volokh may have an ax to grind, but Scott McLemee (leftist and essayist/reviewer extraordinaire at Inside Higher Ed, among other places) was also unhappy to see Bellesiles back:

Bellesiles has a certain claim to fame, certainly, but not as “the target of an infamous ‘swiftboating’ campaign.” He is, and will be forever remembered as, a historian whose colleagues found him to have violated his profession's standards of scholarly integrity. Arming America won the Bancroft Prize -- the highest honor for a book on American history. But far more salient is the fact that the Bancroft committee took the unprecedented step of withdrawing the prize.

It is true that he drew the ire of the National Rifle Association, and I have no inclination to give that organization's well-funded demagogy the benefit of any doubt. But gun nuts did not force Bellesiles to do sloppy research or to falsify sources. That his scholarship was grossly incompetent on many points is not a "controversial" notion. Nor is it open to dispute whether or not he falsified sources. That has been exhaustively documented by his peers. To pretend otherwise is itself demagogic.

posted by col_pogo at 9:11 AM on August 7, 2010


(Niall Ferguson, for example, often strays into complete bollocks as he expands his "expertise" farther and farther afield) have a great deal of sway in the public interpretation of history.

Niall Ferguson's punditry has been so bad it convinced me not to read his actual historical work. I started one of his books earlier this year and raised an eyebrow at some of his comments in the work; when I ran across a bunch of his articles, I had my fears about his approach confirmed. It killed my desire to finish the book.
posted by immlass at 11:13 AM on August 7, 2010


I never read Bellesiles' work that created his downfall, but it would seem a lot more practical to stop using the broad generalization of "gun" and divide it between rifle/musket and pistols. The reasons for owning a pistol are for the most part different than the reason for owning a rifle. It's completely reasonable to consider a percentage of Americans owning rifles, be it a legacy from the militia days in New England to the needs of hunting. A pistol is good only for self-defense and then, at a relatively close distance. It'd be basically useless on the frontier and for hunting. (barring those fellows with dueling kits)

The pistol more so doesn't seem to at least enter popular culture until after the Civil War. Then you have the rise of the revolver, be it a carryover from the usage in the war that carried over into the "Wild West." Then you have the romance of the law officers, cowboys, and bandits of the aforementioned West, flooding the East in various types of media.

Essentially, and I'm sure someone must have laid this out, is that you should divide gun ownership along these lines - pistol vs long gun.


I see no reason for a pistol/long gun distinction. What is served by distinguishing between the two?

Your post implies that a generations long market for handguns is both unreasonable and driven by the media. Apparently these claims rest on the description of the revolver as being of limited use. But the hand gun was far from useless in the frontier; it was actually of crucial importance in winning Texas from the Commanche (see the Patterson and Walker revolvers which came into play in Texas in the early 1840s, or go here and scroll down to 'Jack Hayes and the Colt Revolver'). And as this article shows it has some utility for hunting as well.
posted by BigSky at 5:22 PM on August 7, 2010


In your example about the revolvers, they were used in a combat self-defense setting. Pistols are generally used in hunting for finishing off kills, filling in for the role of hunting knife.

I'm not sure where I said anything was unreasonable. I meant to imply that in the more urban arenas where pistol ownership arose, it might have been in part inspired by the media of the day with no set agenda other than entertainment. The role of the pistol and the Wild West was enough to inspire, as I was told by one gentleman, his roommate in college in the 1950's to practice the fast draw all the time in front of a mirror.

The distinction would be useful as a means of identifying the evolution of gun culture. A long arm serves multiple uses, the pistol not as many. I would expect, and research can certainly prove me wrong, that the percentage of pistol ownership was much greater in the latter half of the 19th Century than in the first half and before. If families owned a gun prior to the Civil War, it was far more likely to be a long arm than a pistol. I'd surmise that might even be the reverse today. It'd be interesting for historic purposes then to identify what factors played into this change, be it the migration from rural to urban settings or an overall sense of vulnerability to crime requiring self-defense, what role did the industrialization play? Would gunsmiths spend more time crafting long arms because they were in higher demand due to their more prevalent use than pistols? Etc.

Rather than exclaiming that gun culture in the United States is one monolithic creature, it'd be far more interesting to break it down between the two different types of firearms.
posted by Atreides at 6:10 PM on August 7, 2010


I'm not sure where I said anything was unreasonable.

From your earlier post, "It's completely reasonable to consider a percentage of Americans owning rifles..."

The distinction would be useful as a means of identifying the evolution of gun culture. A long arm serves multiple uses, the pistol not as many. I would expect, and research can certainly prove me wrong, that the percentage of pistol ownership was much greater in the latter half of the 19th Century than in the first half and before.

The story about the use of the revolvers in combating the Commanches indicates that Colt developed the repeating revolver in the late 1830s. Given this tremendous improvement in design, it's a safe bet that pistol ownership was much higher in the second half of the 19th century. While I expect that a change in culture could be tracked by the types of firearms owned, with the improvements in firearms' design and capability, the pistol/long gun distinction would be a clumsy tool.

The deer season before last, a guy I worked with took down a deer with a large revolver. Moreover, he bought that revolver to go hunting with as well. Then again, maybe in limited contexts say, firearms sales in urban vs. rural gunshops, maybe that distinction could be of service.
posted by BigSky at 7:38 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Citing records that don't exist is about as serious and premeditated as academic fraud can get. And Bellisles needs to show some contrition for what he did before we can entertain forgiveness.
posted by LarryC at 9:16 PM on August 7, 2010


I see how the unreasonableness can be implied. In that reference, I meant that I found large scale ownership of pistols prior to the Civil War unreasonable from what I would expect of society. Perhaps a better word would be unlikely.

I'm not sure how making more specific distinctions is clumsy versus keeping to broad generalizations. In a historical analysis of any topic, the more detail is taken in analyzing the subject, generally the better the analysis. If this was not the case, quite a few history books would be slimmer.

The number of people who hunt deer with a pistol are in the distinct minority. Props for him if he can pull it off!
posted by Atreides at 5:18 AM on August 8, 2010


Atreides - it may not be possible to distinguish between rifles and pistols in estate/probate inventories -- they might just say "gun" (or possibly "gunne").

Manufacturing and import records might be interesting to look at -- seeing what percentage (approximately) of given factories were making each type.
posted by jb at 6:19 AM on August 8, 2010


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