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Ann Lane's Response

Editor's Note: After Nathan Williams completed his article we sent it over to Ann Lane to give her an opportunity to correct any errors and to draft a response. She emailed us a statement and sent the article to her friend Sandi Cooper. After hearing back from Lane and Cooper we made several changes and gave Lane a chance to revise her statement. The revised statement, which was dated November 4, appears below. An editor's response to her response follows.

Charges of plagiarism in the historical profession are poisonous and often sensational, so I very much appreciate the opportunity to address what I believe is a prejudicial and not entirely accurate account of an incident that took place more than thirty years ago and that in no sense can be labeled plagiarism.

Rick Shenkman, editor of HNN and someone with whom I have had what I thought was a candid series of e-mail communications and one very lengthy phone call, wrote: "I think you will agree that the piece is written in a very objective straightforward manner." I do not agree. The purpose of this HNN 'expose' remains obscure and baffling, and the reportage often misleading, incomplete and inaccurate.

I begin with four general comments.

FIRST: The claim in the first paragraph of this story that "HNN has found a fascinating example of alleged text `borrowing'" is misleading. HNN "found" this story because I acknowledged it publicly last spring. My lapse of scholarly accuracy occurred early in my academic life, some 34 years ago in my doctoral dissertation. I naively referred to it openly at a panel discussion on public intellectuals in which I was a participant at last year's Organization of American Historians convention in mid April, 2001, in Washington, D.C. I received a phone call from Shenkman three weeks later, asking me specifically what I had said at the OAH in response to a question from the floor, and then he told me he was commissioning an article about me.

This is what occurred at the panel. During the question period someone asked the panelists--who also included Julian Bond, James Banner and Gerald Markowitz--about our views of the Goodwin-Ambrose scandal. I responded first. I said that I agreed with Eric Foner's statements in his New York Times interview. Foner criticized these prominent historians for publishing their work in haste and under pressure from mass-market publishers and relying on a small corps of research assistants whose unverified work sometimes led to sloppiness and worse. In making this point I alluded to, but did not elaborate on, a l971 incident involving my own difficulties on a similar issue. This episode has never been a secret. In recent months I have discussed it with students because I wanted them to learn from my experience. They appreciated my willingness to confront an unpleasant past experience.

I never "rallied to the defense of Goodwin," as HNN claims at the end of its article. Shenkman told me that nobody from HNN was at that OAH panel. His information about what I allegedly said came from an unknown person in that audience. This informant, according to Shenkman, claimed that I had strongly denounced Goodwin, a complete distortion of what I did say. What I said was that I had some sense of how such egregious errors could occur, since I had done something similar decades before. It was I who rectified the mistaken report given to HNN. HNN then went on to another misrepresentation.

I hardly imagined that my candid reference would result in the production of this lengthy sensationalized piece.

SECOND: The errors that I first acknowledged in 1971, while inexcusable, were fortunately confined to my Ph.D. dissertation, which I filed at Columbia University in 1968. None appeared in my book, The Brownsville Affair: National Crisis and Black Reaction. (Kennikat Press, 1971) Part of the peer review process in the academy carries with it the hope that such careless mistakes can be found and rectified at the dissertation stage. Unfortunately that did not occur but at least these errors were discovered before publication. I am indebted to Seth Scheiner for his assistance in this regard, although I remain perplexed as to why he did not call that scholarly correction to my attention immediately. Rather, Scheiner told Gerald Grob, a more senior member of the Rutgers History department, who told his chair, who called my chair, who called me into his office and accused me of plagiarism. He urged me to leave the college immediately and not return. I would be paid through the year and that would end my relationship with Rutgers, he told me. I had no idea what he was talking about but went home and discovered what I had done and reconstructed how it had happened.

Some years before, probably in the mid-1960s, in an effort to complete the dissertation, I had hired a typist/assistant to copy out passages from several sources. Somewhere in that process, the texts from Scheiner and Thornbrough were altered and the quotation marks dropped. Note that in those two cases cited, there were footnotes in almost all instances to the source and to the page. In those few cases without citations, the context made the source obvious. It would have been very simple to rewrite those paragraphs in my own words, had I realized that these were not my own words, since I footnoted them anyway. I clearly was not trying to steal anyone's ideas. I was guilty of sloppiness.

My original dissertation adviser, David Donald, had left Columbia University before I began my dissertation. Richard Hofstadter replaced him. But it was John Hope Franklin, then chair of the History Department at Brooklyn College, for whom I had served as research assistant on a project for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, who suggested the dissertation subject, the Brownsville Affair. It was to become the first scholarly historical book of this important incident in the rise of 20th century civil rights organization and consciousness.

Reeling from the charge of plagiarism thrown at me that day at Douglass College, having been told by my department chair to disappear from Rutgers for the rest of the year and never come back, horrified that I had so ignominiously lost my first position in a very good university, I turned to John Hope Franklin for support and advice. He strongly urged that I not allow this unfortunate situation to be kept secret, that I call together the three Rutgers History departments--Douglass, Rutgers College and Livingston--and describe the nature of the accusations and my response. It was invaluable advice, and I took it, and I am forever grateful to him that I did. I never spoke with anyone else in the Rutgers Department or the Douglass Department about what occurred. The only discussion in which I was a part, after the first conversation with my chair who leveled the charges, was the public one I called. Both John Hope Franklin and Mark Lane, my brother and an attorney, clearly remember my calling that public event, and both urged me not to have further conversations about it, which I did not.

When I came to face the members of those three departments, it was a terrifying moment. On the advice of my brother, I opened my comments by quoting him: "Plagiarism is a tort requiring intent. A mistake, absent intent, is not plagiarism. Use of the word plagiarism in this context is actionable." The comment was designed to stop vicious and untrue accusations. That assertion could not, and I believe, did not, cause the charges to be dropped. It only meant that what I had done could not be labeled plagiarism. The charges came to nothing because there was no justification for any formal action.

THIRD: The HNN article leaves the incorrect impression that my book merely repeated research findings made earlier by Scheiner and Emma Lou Thornbrough. Their scholarly articles are subsidiary to the much larger body of research in my book.

A brief summary of the Brownsville raid. On August 13, 1906, a group of men ran through the streets of Brownsville, Texas, firing randomly, and killing and injuring bystanders. Three companies of Black soldiers had arrived there two weeks before, and were immediately presumed to be guilty. President Theodore Roosevelt eventually discharged from the armed services all the members of the battalion.

In the book I explore the implications of that raid for the presidential election and the national political scene and the response to the raid in the Black community, focusing especially on the Black press, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B.DuBois. That Thornbrough, who was asked to review the book, was disparaging is hardly surprising, given what she must have been told about the Rutgers incident involving the dissertation, not the book she was reviewing. How did HNN know that Thornbrough "found distressing similarities with her own prior work"? My book did not have those "distressing similarities"--the dissertation did.

HNN leaves the impression that the book relied so heavily on Thornbrough that it made no other contribution. But these were not the views of other contemporary reviewers. In the Journal of Southern History, the reviewer, David W. South, describes it this way: "Ann J. Lane explores the Brownsville controversy and analyzes its far-reaching ramifications. The most valuable part of her work focuses on the powerful reaction of blacks to the Brownsville episode….Well grounded in primary sources, this study is a worthy contribution to historical scholarship." (Vol.38, Issue 3, August, 1972, 495) Reid Holland, in the Journal of the West, describes the book as "making an important contribution to black history. Her work broadens the previous work done on the subject. Moreover, she places the incident within a national context." (Volume 11, 1972,p.687) The journal, Military Affairs, though disappointed in the military aspects of the book, concludes by acknowledging that: "The merit of the book lies primarily in her investigation of the political and racial ramifications of Brownsville." (Volume 36,Issue 3, Oct. 1972, 111)

FOURTH: Doris Kearns Goodwin and the late Stephen Ambrose are celebrity authors who published many popular, successful books and who appear regularly in the public eye. Their books made them authorities on all sorts of contemporary issues. They had national reputations, and I think it is right for working historians to resent and reject this kind of public authority, especially when it becomes clear that throughout quite a bit of their public careers they did not uphold the highest standards of historical research and writing.

My case was significantly different. In 1971 I was a young assistant professor whose dissertation inadvertently paraphrased and cited without quotation marks passages from two previously published articles. Fortunately, with the assistance of another scholar, these errors were rectified by the time my published work appeared. Ambrose never admitted any wrongdoing. Goodwin has done so. But years ago she paid a settlement to an offended author to keep the issue secret.

I have been open about my mistakes ever since they first came to light. One wonders what is the point or analogy HNN seeks to make in comparing a 1968 dissertation with the many, many highly successful books published by Ambrose and Goodwin in 2001 and 2002. Without denying my culpability, there is a significant difference between Goodwin/Ambrose and me in scale, impact and seriousness of the acts committed.

I now correct several specific errors within the article.


1. I do not think Seth Scheiner was then a professor but I know that I was an assistant, not associate, professor. I had just completed my dissertation; it was my first tenure-track position.

2. HNN may refer to the "various accounts" of what occurred after the discovery of my errors, but John Hope Franklin and I clearly remember what happened after I was asked to leave quietly. On his advice I requested a public meeting to discuss the charges leveled at me. The department may have decided after my opening quote from my brother not to pursue efforts "to brand" me "as a plagiarist," but I gather it did continue to explore the matter and then dropped it, not because I threatened a lawsuit but because there was no evidence to justify charges. (Note that HNN in its opening page refers to "plagiaristic activity by academics," as the opening of a story about me, but no, I am not going to sue.)

3. Peter Stearns and Seth Scheiner both refer to and say I spoke of "personal problems." I did not have "personal problems." I had a complicated life, as did many women graduate students in that period. For several years after graduating from college in 1952, I worked full time as an assistant editor of a small economics magazine published by NYU. I went to graduate school at NYU part time at night (tuition was covered as an NYU employee) and earned a Master's in Sociology in 1958. When my husband finished with his army service, I continued working full time to support him in graduate school. In the course of the next few years I began graduate school at Columbia University, continued to work part time teaching, and gave birth to two children. The first line of "The Evidence" refers to my "attending graduate school off and on for well over a decade," suggesting, perhaps, a lack of commitment to focused work. I would like to clarify what these supposed "personal problems" were and why I dawdled in graduate school.


The pseudo-incriminating side-by-side quotes that juxtapose Scheiner/Thornbrough language with mine are misleading. While I realize that dissertations are public documents, and there is no excuse for my errors, the HNN format makes it appear as if both sets of quotes are from published sources.

Still, when the first copy of the HNN article was sent to me, I sat in front of my computer and stared in horror at these quotations. I had not seen them in more than three decades, and it was an overwhelming experience. How could I have done this? Emma Lou Thornbrough's excellent twenty-four-page article, published in 1957 in The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, was perhaps the first piece of historical literature I turned to when I began my research in the early 1960s. It was an important introduction to my subject. It was a highly regarded article from the leading journal in the field. Seth Scheiner's "President Theodore Roosevelt and the Negro, 1901-1908,"a thirteen-page article published in 1962 in the Journal of Negro History, was also widely known and well respected. These were not obscure articles from obscure journals by unknown people published long before. Fifty lines from the Scheiner article and twice that from Thornbrough reproduced almost identically in my dissertation!!

It is so appalling, so transparent, so clearly going to be discovered, that unless I was on a race to self-destruction, it was a whopper of a mistake. Why did I not put into my own words the import of those less than 40 pages instead of having them typed in full? The answer is that several years later I thought they were my words summarizing work from two well-known articles. At the time of the discovery, in 1971, I was able to reconstruct how such a dreadful mistake had happened, sometime in the early-to-middle 1960s. I relived those devastating days three weeks ago.

Most of the references were footnoted with correct citation and page number. When they were not, it was obvious in the context. Changes as HNN points to, such as from "colored" to "Negro" was not my doing, but that of the typist's, a middle-aged, educated homemaker with several children at home, seeking additional income.


Shabby Journalism by HNN

1. Gerald Grob remembers me as a "delightful colleague." I describe him as "the nastiest guy of them all."
The Reality: Grob and I were not in the same department, we rarely encountered each other, and I do not know how he could describe me as a "delightful colleague." I described him in the way I did because of the telephone conversation we had in which he used language that was hostile and intimidating. HNN lifted that "nastiest guy of them all" quotation from an e-mail communication I had with editor Rick Shenkman. In the next sentence of that e-mail, not reproduced in the HNN article, I explained why I described Grob as I did, referring to his threatening to drive me "out of this profession," although we had "maybe a dozen words exchanged before the incident." Grob's perspective is reflected, assuming HNN is correctly quoting him, in his ludicrous assertion that: "80-90%" of the Rutgers faculty was on the left.

2.Peter Stearns had a favorable memory of me. I "was unable to remember his name."
The Reality: Of course I remembered Peter Stearns. I was unable to remember that it was he who chaired the Rutgers department in 1970, as was perfectly clear in that conversation.

3. I quote HNN: "Lane, however, says that her gender was irrelevant." Then my exact words are quoted. "Perhaps my gender made it easier to do, but I don't think that was a major issue, if it was one at all." Does this answer suggest that I thought gender was irrelevant, or just not major? Gender is rarely irrelevant, as it appears in this issue or in my "personal problems" or in my graduate career that was "off and on for well over a decade." It is not always the paramount question, but it is rarely irrelevant.

4. Says HNN: "Confounding expectations, Lane was not driven from the field." Whose expectations? And why did it not happen? "Her friends took care of her." (I am pleased at the change made from the first version of this article after I submitted my response. In that version it was not "my friends" who took care of me, but I was protected by a "powerful clique on the left") Who are these friends? Only one person. John Cammett, dean of faculty, at John Jay College. He was a friend, but he was also, and still is, an honorable man. He examined the material and saw "an egregious error and wrong." Is HNN suggesting that it was only our friendship that led to his suggesting I apply for a position?

I wondered why HNN contacted many old friends and colleagues of mine, but not John Hope Franklin, who was centrally involved at the beginning. I gave HNN his phone number and address and was assured that he would be approached. But he never was. And so I contacted him myself. His response appears at the end of this letter.

HNN hints that I somehow misled or did not inform Colgate University in 1983 and the University of Virginia in 1990. Both the dean of faculty at Colgate and the head of the search committee in the History Department at the University of Virginia raised the issue with me. Thus, both institutions were aware of the situation at Rutgers years before and nevertheless supported my appointment.

I have serious concerns about some aspects of the honor code at the University of Virginia, as do many students, faculty and administrators, specifically its severe single sanction and the periodic charges leveled by students about the biased way it is applied. I do not think it is "pretty stupid," and I would not say that and I do not believe I did say that in my telephone conversation with the HNN editor. My notes on that conversation do not include that language in referring to the honor code. It was more likely the decision of HNN to write this story that I thought "was pretty stupid."

In retrospect, am I sorry I made public reference to that earlier episode? As I said in an e-mail to HNN, many of the people with whom I have shared this months-long agony thought I was foolish to be so frank, at the public forum and in communication with HNN. I answered every question HNN put to me over many months. The one question I asked HNN repeatedly: "What is the purpose of this story?" was never answered. Given what followed, certainly I regret the subsequent pain I have suffered in the public re-enactment of an agonizing episode. Still, candor and openness is preferable to silence and secrets.

Ann J. Lane
Professor of History and Director of Studies in Women and Gender
University of Virginia


October 23, 2002

Dear Ann:

I cannot see what is to be gained by reopening a case that has been closed for more than thirty years, and where not a single shred of new evidence is presented. In your personal statements, especially at the OAH meeting last spring, you have spoken eloquently and honestly about your own experience. Beyond the incident itself along with your own courageous position, any further pursuit of this matter is like sifting through a pile of long-dead bones for nourishment. It is a hopeless exercise in futility!

All the best.
John Hope

We gave Ann Lane an opportunity to review our article in advance. She and her friend Sandi Cooper found several errors and we corrected them. This is "shabby journalism"? Shabby journalism is publishing errors. We corrected ours in advance of publication. And who is being sensationalistic? I think readers will agree it is Lane's statement that is sensationalistic, not Nathan Williams's careful, restrained article, which was months in preparation.

Lane insists her case is in no way comparable to Doris Kearns Goodwin's. Really? Lane admits her own mistakes were "inexcusable," but goes on to excuse them, blaming them on a typist she'd hired. This sounds exactly like Doris Kearns Goodwin's non-excuse excuse (Goodwin said she had become confused about her notes, mistaking long quoted passages for her own prose, the same explanation Lane has provided). Lane also insists that she was not guilty of plagiarism because "plagiarism is a tort requiring intent." This also sounds just like Goodwin, who also claimed that she was innocent of plagiarism because her acts were inadvertent. And anyway it was Lane herself at the OAH who drew the comparison with Goodwin. Last spring Lane evidently could see the point of the comparison she now finds so baffling. (She also linked her own case to Goodwin's in one of her classes at the University of Virginia.)

In her response Lane minimizes her transgressions, only pleading guilty to "sloppiness." She also notes that the copied passages were limited to the dissertation; the published book, she says, was free of copying. In her interview with us she further minimized the offense, recalling (inaccurately) that she had copied"just a description of the raid." The passages she copied were"just a narrative," something you might find in any newspaper--as if that were a mitigating circumstance.

Copying, however, is hardly a small matter, as Lane knows. Students at the University of Virginia where she teaches have been thrown out for copying -- a violation of the honor code. The gap between her standards and her school's is a large one. As a recent story on "Sixty Minutes" noted about the honor code at the University of Virginia, the school takes the code so seriously that a graduate who is found guilty of violating it can lose their diploma.

Lane told us she finds the honor code policy at her university "pretty stupid." Seeing her own words in print she now wishes to run away from them, preferring to impugn our journalism rather than take responsibility for her language. This is disturbing. She plainly disparaged the honor code in blunt language, calling it a relic of the eighteenth century. She was plainly not referring to our decision to do a story about her dissertation. Indeed, throughout the interview she was exceptionally courteous, not wishing -- with good reason -- to offer any obvious insults to a website that was writing a story about her controversial dissertation. That would have been "pretty stupid."

Lane continues to insist that we found out about this story because she referred to it at the OAH panel in April, though we informed her at the outset that an HNN reader had brought the controversy to our attention earlier. What she said at that panel is in dispute. One member of the audience came away thinking she had disparaged Goodwin which, if true, would have smacked of hypocrisy given Lane's own history. Another member left thinking she had defended Goodwin. Faced with contradictory accounts, we went with Ann Lane's own account. She told us that she had expressed sympathy for Goodwin and told the audience that Goodwin "shouldn't be driven out of the profession." To us this sounded like she had rallied to Goodwin's defense. She sounds the same way now in the statement above. Why she finds it necessary to dispute our statement that she had rallied to Goodwin's defense is puzzling.

Open as Lane was at the OAH about her own flawed history, she told us in May that when she was hired at the University of Virginia she had "never told anybody" about the problems with her dissertation. She now says she did tell the head of the search committee. That may well be, but it is not what she previously stated. That she said one thing last spring and says another thing now is not grounds for concluding our journalism is flawed.

Should we have contacted John Hope Franklin, as Lane recommended? Franklin had only indirect knowledge of what happened at Rutgers. His knowledge of what had taken place came from Lane. We decided it was more fruitful to contact those who had direct knowledge. But we welcome Mr. Franklin's letter in support of Ann Lane and are delighted to print it.