Saturday, March 26, 2011

Standing with Cronon

William Cronon, the guy the non-historians among us might know best for his fine essay "'Only Connect':The Goals of a Liberal Education," has made the news in bigger ways of late. First, he's now blogging at Scholar as Citizen. And unlike some of us, he isn't using his blog to talk about the endless winter we're having. Nope, in the opening post, he talks about the recent political happenings in Wisconsin (he teaches at the U of W Madison), giving us a helpful historical perspective about the backgrounds. You should read it; it's interesting and, yes, I know I said it before, helpful.

If it had ended there, I would have known about it from the network of folks with a vested interest in Wisconsin politics, but most of the blogosphere would have taken a while to take note. It didn't end there, however.

Nope, on March 22nd, Cronon published an op-ed piece in the New York Times, where he argued that the current Republican movement in Wisconsin is out of step with the state's history, and a break with its tradition. (Read it here.)

And on March 24th, Cronon wrote in his blog that he's been subject to a request under the Wisconsin open records laws asking to see his email since March 1st with a list of words and names in them. Cronon argues convincingly that the request is politically motivated, made by Republican party folks, looking for specific key words relating to exactly the names and such you'd expect. [Corrected to add: the request was made before his op-ed in the NYT was published, looks like?]

I don't imagine Cronon has much to worry about. First, he's way smarter than most of us, and keeps a separate email for non-work stuff. Second, I'm willing to guess that any number of schools would be willing to hire him yesterday if he indicated an openness to moving, at a pay raise. Third, well, you get it.

I'm willing to guess that Cronon has professional emails with those words in them, though, especially if he's been thinking about some of the issues involved, discussing them with other historians he knows, perhaps with legal folks he knows, testing out his arguments/points, etc. The thing is, that's exactly what the faculty at the university are supposed to do. As a historian, he's supposed to produce and disseminate arguments about US historical issues. Do the Republicans not think that a historian has a legitimate reason to study current historical processes and to discuss those with colleagues?

In one of the comment threads, Historiann suggested that (since the folks who requested the information in the interest of freedom of information) all public university professors should forward emails to them.

I laughed at that, really. But I think the folks who put in the request have taken on a way bigger issue than they realized, and taken it on in the form of a historian with way more intelligence and understanding than they even imagine. I think they'll be plenty busy without any extra email help.

Vaulting and Vellum also wrote about this the other day.

Tenured Radical writes about it in an open letter today.

If you're in Wisconsin, make sure to be prepared and vote on April 5th. We're electing a justice for the state supreme court, the body which will likely decide on the legality of the bill that drastically reduces the rights of public workers to collectively bargain.


Edited to add: Historiann also has a post up about the issue today.


  1. Thanks for the link, Bardiac. I posted on this today too--I'll be sure to add a link to your post today. (And thanks for finding my comment--hah!)

  2. Anonymous11:35 AM

    Bill was my colleague at Yale some years ago, but went to Wisconsin because (among other reasons) of warm fuzzy feelings for his alma mater (mine, too). I am sure we will take him back in a minute. What happened to "sifting and winnowing" ??? A sad, sad day.

  3. From what I understand, Bill Cronon left Yale to move to UW because of his love for the university and the state. He's got to be feeling betrayed right now, but from everything I've heard about him, he's a guy who will stand and fight.

    Do you think I could send him an Ian's Pizza?

  4. oh, yeah, notorious -- who wouldn't like getting a pizza during the onslaught?

    my word verification is "loaded," so i think that means he needs everything but anchovies. or maybe a beer on the side, it's hard to tell with these kinds of signs. :)

  5. Amazing. Just...amazing.

    Thanks for the links. Thinking of you all.