Enemy inside the gates

[Cross-posted at Society for Military History Blog.]

Despite appearing in the Times Literary Supplement a month ago, Eric Naiman's astounding exposure of independent historian A. D. Harvey's fraudulent scholarship seems to have been little remarked upon by historians. (Naiman's piece is quite long, but worth the read; for a much shorter version try here.) Admittedly, the true extent of Harvey's transgressions, which includes fabricating primary sources and reviewing his own work under pseudonyms, is unclear; but as Naiman argues, from what we do know they are not the sort of thing the academy can let slide:

It is not only that the apparent practice of submitting articles under fictitious names to scholarly journals might well have a chilling effect on the ability of really existing independent scholars to place their work. Nor is it just the embarrassment caused to editors who might in an ideal world have taken more pains to check the contributions of Stephanie Harvey or Trevor McGovern, but who accepted them in good faith, partly out of a wish to make their publications as inclusive as possible. The worst thing here, if they are fictitious, is a violation of the trust that remains a constitutive element of the humanities. There is, it seems to me, a fundamental difference between posting partisan, anonymous reviews on Amazon, where there is no assumption of proper evaluative standards or impartiality, and placing similar reviews or hoaxing articles in academic journals, which are still the most hallowed sites for the development and transmission of humanistic ideas. The former is a cheap act of virtual graffiti; the latter may be the closest a secular scholar can come to desecration.

Some prominent academic blogs in cognate disciplines have discussed the affair, namely Crooked Timber, Languagehat, and Lawyers, Guns and Money, but with some exceptions the predominant reaction in the these posts and comments seems to be wry amusement, rather than concern, say, or disgust. Harvey himself (apparently) twice commented himself at Languagehat (without quite defending or explaining his actions), but strangely was all but ignored by the other commenters.

Perhaps I feel more strongly about it than most. Harvey is an independent historian and has been for much of his career, apart from some periods inside the academy. I'm also currently an independent historian, and worry that this sort of misbehaviour will make it harder for people in my position to contribute to academic scholarship from outside the academy proper. That's unfounded, perhaps; I've encountered no undue difficulties so far and Harvey's case is probably odd enough to be sui generis. Also, I own one of Harvey's books (Body Politic: Political Metaphor and Political Violence) and, I notice, praised him on Twitter. Certainly I was impressed by the range of his research in period, topic and discipline, from sex in Georgian England to literary criticism. So I feel foolish for having been taken in by him. Finally, and most importantly, a significant proportion of Harvey's prolific output comprises military history, and even airpower history (though ironically this is the part of his work I'm least familiar with): Arnhem, Collision of Empires: Britain in Three World Wars, 1793-1945, A Muse of Fire: Literature, Art and War, English Literature and the Great War with France, 'The French Armée de l'Air in May-June 1940: a failure of conception', 'The Spanish Civil War as seen by British officers', 'Army Air Force and Navy Air Force: Japanese aviation and the opening phase of the war in the Far East', 'The Royal Air Force and close support, 1918-1940', 'The bomber offensive that never took off: Italy's Regia Aeronautica in 1940' and so on. To be fair, as far as I know there is no evidence that any of these works is fraudulent in any way. But how can historians extend Harvey the benefit of the doubt now? If we should be patrolling the borders of our discipline against incursions by pseudohistorians, then we should also sound the alarm when there's an enemy inside the gates.

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16 thoughts on “Enemy inside the gates

  1. I was a shocked by this when it emerged and meant to comment on it at some point. It is a shocking revelation in many ways an I think we now have to be careful of his writing and cast a more critical eye over it.

    I have to admit that I have never been that impressed with his work on air power. It has a fairly derivative feel to it. There was never anything that original about. I was often surprised to see it published in scholarly journals such as War in History and have wondered how that happened. Surprising given one of the comment in the piece concerning his supposed attention to archives is the fact that I never thought they had enough archival research in them to consider them original pieces.

  2. I had a quick look into his publications but he apparently hasn’t done anything close enough to my patch for me to judge whether there’s anything wrong with it. As I said on Twitter, I’m a bit suspicious of the Hitler speech that he claimed to have discovered in the PRO as there have been well-known Hitler forgeries before, and combined with the probability that Harvey made up the Dickens met Dostoevsky thing, someone with the necessary skills and time should really check it out.

    I’m also concerned about the effect this could have on independents, especially as my work sometimes involves some eclectic influences and eccentric approaches, but like you, I’ve never had any trouble yet – both the articles I’ve submitted to journals have been published. Then again, maybe journals should be more careful. According to Naiman, Harvey was banned from History in the 1980s, but I see that he still got into prestigious journals such as Historical Journal in the 90s.

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  4. Christopher

    Sadly this is not an unknown practice even within the world of serious historical research (witness the Hamilton-Williams affair) or for that matter literary or scientific research. Small or respectable journals seem to be especially vulnerable but as we know the bigger journals can also be fooled.

  5. Post author

    I had listed as one of A. D. Harvey’s articles ‘The Italian war effort and the strategic bombing of Italy‘, but actually this is attributed to Stephen Harvey, so I’ve removed it from the post. I’m actually not convinced that they are not one and the same person, given (1) among A. D. Harvey’s many aliases is Stephanie Harvey (2) there’s no author affiliation given for Stephen Harvey, nor can I find any other publications by him (though I could easily have missed something) (3) the topic seems similar to A. D. Harvey’s other airpower articles (4) A. D. Harvey cites Stephen Harvey in Collision of Empires. It could all be meaningless coincidence but paranoia is what you get after a violation of trust. In any case, if Stephen Harvey is a real person I apologise for mistakenly associating him with A. D. Harvey.

    Ross:

    You did better than me then in your estimation of Harvey’s work (though I’ve never really had cause to look at it closely). Interesting comment about the weakness of his primary source research, since that’s mostly what he seems to be known for (until last month, anyway…)

    Gavin:

    And War in History as recently as 2008, a journal in which we’ve both published! I’ve had problems publishing, but they had nothing to do being independent. No problems getting conference abstracts accepted either, and never a hint of condescension. And on the flipside, there’s no reason to think that had Harvey been a full professor, say, that he couldn’t have gotten away with this. (Naiman’s speculation that Harvey’s motivation is bitterness over not securing an academic career apart.)

    You’re right to be suspicious of the Hitler article. A surprising archival discovery about a well-known figure fits his modus operandi. On the other hand, being at TNA it wouldn’t have been too hard for somebody to check. Anyway, I can’t find much evidence that German historians/Hitler biographers are aware of Harvey’s discovery.

    Christopher:

    Yes, academic fraud is nothing new (though I’m not familiar with the Hamilton-Williams case — looks like this has the gist of it). What surprises me is the lack of interest shown in the Harvey case by other historians (and it was a Russian literature specialist who found him out). Maybe it’s just that Harvey is to obscure to worry about? But if we let academic fraud pass without even any comment then we’re not sending a good message to non-historians or to the next generation of historians. It’s times like this that I regret the passing of Cliopatria, which would certainly have had a post up about l’affaire d’Harvey.

  6. Unfair, perhaps, but I’ve always been a little suspicious of careers built upon unexpected “discoveries” of key documents. Occasionally, important things really are discovered, of course. At my own university, a previously unknown original letter by Mary Queen of Scots was recently unearthed in the library archives. But it seems to me that most interesting historical work is built upon reinterpretation of evidence that’s been sitting in plain sight for years, but which nobody previously thought about in the same way (or at all).

  7. Ahem. Fire in the hole.

    Academic publishing is signalling. Think of it as lighthouses around a harbour. A light that isn’t on the harbour doesn’t matter to anyone. Brightly clarifying, dimly casting shadows, nauseous paisley flashing? It doesn’t matter, because it’s not a lighthouse.

  8. Post author

    Alan:

    I tend to agree. But what’s interesting in Harvey’s case is that the Dostoevsky letter about his supposed meeting with Dickens is really quite uninteresting. Harvey’s alter ego made no grand claims about it overturning or even really revising scholarly views of anything, but just presented it as an interesting little archival find which confirmed a rather bland hypothesis about Dickens. As Naiman says, ‘The hoax wasn’t clever because it convinced so many Dickens scholars; rather, it was clever for the same reason it convinced them: because it was modest’:

    Although Christopher Hitchens, in a sceptical piece written just before his death, would with a decade’s hindsight call Stephanie Harvey’s revelation a “bombshell”, her article actually seems designed to muffle its contribution to Dickens scholarship. Nothing about it screams “Dickens met Dostoevsky!”. The author is concerned entirely with demonstrating that Dickens drew on his own experience in his creation of characters. A competent writer of expository prose, Stephanie Harvey would not appear to have an acute interpretive faculty. “Poor thing”, a more ambitious scholar might think, preparing a work designed to have wider scholarly or popular impact; “she didn’t know what she had.”

    There’s the same sense with Harvey’s find of the Hitler speech mentioned by Gavin (which of course has not been proven to be fraudulent): it’s not presented as an earth-shattering discovery, he just quotes it, provides a brief interpretive gloss and leaves it for others to assess. Which gets back to the question of why bother? It clearly was not to build a career, since the Dostoevsky-Dickens article was published under an alias. Since Harvey never revealed the hoax there doesn’t seem to be a principled reason for it (as with the Sokal hoax, for example). My suspicion is that it was done simply for the sake of amusement. People are strange.

    Erik:

    I’m not sure I take your meaning. If you’re saying that a hoax published in an obscure journal doesn’t matter because few people will ever read it, then I disagree. Clearly in this case the hoax did eventually get read and then widely disseminated. In this era of digitisation, old back issues of obscure journals become far more prominent with the right keyword searches. And there’s the principle of the thing: if you can’t trust the scholar in the archival foxhole beside you, then who can you trust? But perhaps I’ve misunderstood you.

  9. I’ve just found another reaction, by David Rundle, but again, he doesn’t seem to think it’s very bad. Despite what he says about the academic club, it seems that us independents are more concerned about Harvey than the insiders. Then again, academic publishing moves very slowly, so maybe there are things going on behind the scenes that will come out in print two or three years from now.

    (Also it’s depressing to see anti-intellectual internet trolls trying to defend Hamilton-Williams in the thread you linked to.)

  10. Post author

    Thanks for that. Indeed, Rundle seems bemused by Naiman’s outrage:

    Note the phrasing of the last sentences — ‘hallowed’, ‘desecration’: are academic journals, then, sites of religious devotion? And does Harvey stand charged not just of irreverence but of sacrilege? It sounds as if this is not just about ‘good faith’ but ‘faith’ itself, a belief-system which is being underminded by one of those ‘independent scholars’ whom learned editors , in their innate generosity,want to help. Earlier in the article, Naiman dissected one of Harvey’s articles to lay bare a bitterness worthy of Jude the Obscure for not being allowed within the inner sanctum of academe. The implication — and I do not suggest that Naiman was fully conscious of this — seems to be that a proper academic would not have perpetrated such impieties.

    I didn’t really read Naiman as drawing a distinction between ‘independent scholars’ and ‘proper academics’, though clearly I’m worried that others will do so. Rather it’s about good scholars vs bad scholars, with Naiman speculating that Harvey’s failure to be accepted into academia bred resentment and a desire to play pranks upon it. But it’s hardly unknown for those inside academia to be bitter; and as Alan suggested above the desire to find some startling discovery for fame and fortune could drive some to faking data, no matter their position. Rundle himself says ‘But, of course, we know that proper academics can behave badly’, but that bad behaviour has been and will always be with us doesn’t mean there’s no point in trying to police it (otherwise, let’s decriminalise murder). He ends by asking ‘if the rules of the club do not allow a certain playfulness or a challenge to standards by testing their perceptiveness, then should we really want to be members?’ Playfulness, sure. Testing perceptiveness, sure. Making stuff up and pretending you didn’t? No.

    I found another opaque comment by Harvey himself, where he again offers no defence or explanation but says that ‘my pseudonymous non-fiction represents only about 2% of my published non-fiction, so even if I am not really a (very) serious writer I am nonetheless someone ultra-serious scholarly editors take seriously’. What a strange person. (He also says that ‘amongst the four pseudonyms Naiman ought to have discovered but didn’t there’s another Harvey, who in fact has/had a pivotal role in the saga’, so maybe Stephen Harvey should in fact be looked at more closely.)

  11. I hope Harvey is having fun with his little mind games. I wonder whether it’s ever occurred to him that these wizard japes can have unintended consequences? The system of ‘ultra-serious scholarship’ ultimately rests on trust – that people may make bad arguments and weak interpretations of the data, but all the same they are who they say they are, they are not simply inventing their sources, and they are not consciously trying to deceive anyone. Take that trust away and what you’re left with is a bunker mentality in which you have to assume bad faith all around, and in which you waste most your time verifying things you ought to be able to take for granted.

  12. Post author

    Yes, that’s exactly what worries me about all this (and why I found the general tone of amusement so odd). Of course, it’s just one person, and on the margins at that, but you know, straws in the wind etc. I reckon he probably is enjoying it, judging from the comments he has dropped. But hopefully no ‘ultra-serious scholarly editors’ will take him seriously from now on.

  13. Post author

    Thanks, Margaret. At last we have a response from Harvey which is not entirely evasive, though it’s not quite satisfactory either. Of his reasons for the Dostoevsky hoax he says ‘It was a jeu d’esprit. Yes, I was misleading the editor of the Dickensian, but it’s caveat emptor.’ No hint of an apology, then. He denies revenge on academia as a motive, but he does seem to have some very sour grapes:

    “I’m not an independent scholar,” he says, “I’m a scholar who couldn’t get a job, a rejected scholar. I didn’t choose to be independent. The fact that I was producing books and by 1979 had had half a dozen scholarly articles published, half of them in English literature, half of them in history, to anyone else that would look interesting, but to an academic it looks ‘Why can’t we do this? There’s something wrong with this man.’ What makes it look interesting to other people makes it look appalling to academics.” Harvey reckons he made 700 unsuccessful applications for academic posts.

    And it turns out that I was right to be suspicious of ‘Stephen Harvey’, as Harvey claims this as another of his pseudonyms. In fact, it was his very first one:

    In condensed form, what he alleges is a conspiracy by history academics to turn him into a non-person. As evidence, he cites the way in which the Historical Association’s annual bulletin stopped including references to his publications. He also says he got the impression that the association’s quarterly journal, History, was turning down articles he submitted because they were by him. As a test, he sent them his article on the Italian war effort, researched while he was working in Italy, under the name Stephen Harvey. “I think I was perfectly entitled to do this,” he says. “If I was having work rejected because it had my name on it, I was entitled to send in a perfectly decent piece of work with another name.” It duly appeared, feeding Harvey’s suspicion that he was being singled out.

    Sure, publishing under another name is one thing. But making up sources is another thing altogether.

  14. I can’t decide whether the Guardian interview is lazy, irresponsible ‘he said, she said’ journalism, or whether they’ve slyly given Harvey enough rope to hang himself. Although it appears sympathetic and avoids some awkward facts and questions, Harvey still comes across as dishonest, vindictive and paranoid.

    Speck claims that Harvey wasn’t banned from History until after the Trevor McGovern incident, and this is at least plausible. It’s usually reckoned that 90% of submissions to peer-reviewed journals are rejected, so there’s no reason for anyone to assume that they’ve been blacklisted just because they can’t get published. We’ve already established that Harvey was able to publish under his own name in other prestigious journals after being blacklisted from History for doing something that he’s now admitted, so there’s no evidence that he’s been treated unfairly.

  15. Post author

    Yes, I know what you mean. I was hoping for some more direct questioning, if not direct answers, but even so he can’t help but look shifty. There might have been something to his paranoia; I can imagine it was much harder to be an independent scholar back then, before the internet, and it would have been a big step to publish an article under another name (since then you couldn’t use it on your CV). But none of that excuses what he did after.

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