SHEAR calls for its president to resign (and some thoughts on today’s Twitter mob)

SHEAR

There are now multiple calls for historian Doug Egerton to resign as president of The Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR)By the time you read this he may already be gone.

Here is a July 19, 2020 letter from the voting members of the SHEAR Advisory Council:

The digital plenary on Friday, July 17, 2020, violated the ethical norms, academic standards, and established procedures of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. The SHEAR Advisory Council deeply regrets and sincerely apologizes for these failures.

These failures included the president’s lack of full consultation with relevant elected and appointed committees during the planning of the session and neglect of procedures that encourage a diverse set of participants at all SHEAR panels.

We are therefore recommending that Douglas Egerton resign as President and step down from the Executive Committee, and that President-Elect Amy Greenberg step in as President. In consultation with the Nominations Committee, the remaining members of the Executive Committee should then proceed immediately with this year’s elections.

We also wish to strongly endorse and co-sign a letter sent to SHEAR leadership and signed by a group of concerned SHEAR members (see below). It represents the outpouring of communications we have received over the weekend. SHEAR is the collective creation of its members and we are grateful for the letter writers who created this statement.

Although this moment is difficult, this incident has served to strengthen our resolve to foreground diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism as core tenets of our professional work and to build an organization that properly reflects the diversity that is a hallmark of 21st century historical research. New leadership is essential to move SHEAR forward and we invite our membership to participate actively in this process. In the meantime, the Council will meet with the remaining members of the Executive Committee to discuss further steps.

Sincerely,

Susan Branson, 2018-2020                            

Kevin Butterfield, 2020-2022                         

Jonathan Earle, 2018-2020                            

Nicole Eustace, 2018-2020                            

Leslie Harris, 2020-2022                                 

Ronald Angelo Johnson, 2020-2022              

Jessica Lepler, 2019-2021                              

Caleb McDaniel, 2019-2021                           

Margot Minardi, 2020-2022                             

Amanda B. Moniz, 2018-2020                        

Sarah J. Purcell, 2019-2021                           

Daniel Richter, 2020-2022                              

Tamara Plakins Thornton, 2019-2021            

Attached to this letter on the H-Net e-mail list (where I saw it) was a July 17 letter. It reads:

We are writing as long time members of and boosters for the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic to express our outrage at the plenary panel on Friday, July 17.

The online plenary offered an opportunity to showcase the broad and diverse membership that SHEAR has been working to cultivate, and which President Doug Egerton referenced in his opening remarks. Unfortunately, the panel provided just the opposite. The collection of scholars who were part of the panel featured a lack of intellectual diversity, a lack of career stage diversity, and most importantly, a lack of racial and ethnic diversity. Indeed, the panel did not even follow SHEAR’s own guidelines for panels, which advise that “the best panels have a mix of presenters—by gender, graduate students and professors of different ranks, racial diversity, people from a range  of institutions, non-academic presenters, people who haven’t appeared on a SHEAR program before or in a while, and people who don’t all live within the city limits of one university town.”

The result of this lack of diversity, which surely could have been anticipated, was evident immediately as none of the panelists could speak to the most pressing issues raised by the paper in question, such as Indigenous dispossession, monuments, and the role of junior, independent, and contingent scholars in engaging with the public. The narrowness of the discussion, combined with the dismissiveness of journalists and their work, does a disservice to historians who are working hard to reach audiences outside of universities and work with public-facing partners.

Moreover, the panel offered the opportunity to showcase much of the new and exciting work being produced by SHEAR members, and instead featured a paper that caricatured this scholarship rather than offering a fair critique. This is the antithesis of the scholarly engagement and intergenerational mentorship that SHEAR prides itself on providing at its annual conferences, and it works against longstanding efforts to welcome various voices into our organization.

Most egregiously, a panelist repeatedly referred to Native peoples with a racial slur. No panel participants stopped the use of this word nor did they say anything in response to this racist and offensive language. We hope that SHEAR will issue a public acknowledgement and condemnation of this language immediately and will work to repair the significant damage this behavior has done to the SHEAR community and to others who observed the session. The health of this organization depends on it.

Signed,

Whitney Martinko

Rachel Sheldon

Kelly Kennington

Joseph M. Adelman

Seth Rockman

Bronwen Everill

Adam Malka

Ryan Quintana

Hilary Green

Michael Blaakman 

Emily Conroy-Krutz

M. Scott Heerman

Adam Pratt

Zara Anishanslin

Richard Bell 

Cassandra Good

Ben Wright

Derek Litvak

Kristen Epps

Honor Sachs

Paul J. Polgar

Christina Snyder

Jacob F. Lee

Nathaniel C. Green

Mandy L. Cooper

John P. Bowes

Gautham Rao

Julia Lewandoski

Dael A. Norwood

Elizabeth Ellis

Rachel Walker

Lori J. Daggar

Emilie Connolly

Andrew Shankman

Kevin Kenny

Daniel Diez Couch

Al Zuercher Reichardt

As most of you know, I wrote a post in support of the session in question. You can read it here. I was critical of the use of an ethnic slur during the Q&A, I thought there should have been more diversity on the panel, and I was critical of Feller’s claims that other scholars were incompetent. But that was not enough for many folks on Twitter.

I appreciate some of the push-back on Twitter and I also want to thank all of you who have e-mailed and messaged today with support. I still stand by what I wrote and I am saddened to see SHEAR make this move. I have heard today from people on the left, right, and center who supported the post. I can assure you that what you have seen on Twitter over the last 48 hours does not represent all SHEAR members or all members of the historical profession.

A few final thoughts:

I realized today just how tyrannical the Twitter mob can be. Over the course of the day I have seen tweets that have mocked my integrity as a historian and human being. The college where I work and have devoted 18 years of my career has been attacked. My intellect was questioned and my politics misrepresented. Some of the folks doing the damage were people with whom I thought I had a friendly acquaintance.

Twitter is a rough and nasty place and I realized today that it is not good for my soul. I guess the silver lining in all of this is that I had the chance to look in the mirror today. I saw a lot of myself in the tweets–the anger and vitriol I level against those with whom I disagree. I realized my own potential for using a reasonably large number of Twitter followers to summon the mob, cast judgment, squelch opinion, and monitor boundaries. It was not a pleasant sight. So, for the moment, I think I need to take a break from looking at Twitter.

As I noted in my post, I have been a fellow-traveler with SHEAR for over two decades. I have always enjoyed the meetings I have attended. So I am sorry it all turned-out this way.

And now for some logistical issues for those of you read the blog and could care less about SHEAR or these academic squabbles. (In other words, most of my readers). I will continue in my commitment to use social media to reach the general public who are interested in content at the intersection of American history, religion, and politics. My posts here on The Way of Improvement Leads Home will still go to Twitter, and I will continue to write what I believe is true. But for the time being, I will not be interacting or answering messages via Twitter. If you want to reach out to me, please do it by e-mail. The same goes for my public page on Facebook. I deleted both apps from my phone.