Talk:Andrew Dickson White

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Former good article Andrew Dickson White was one of the Social sciences and society good articles, but it has been removed from the list. There are suggestions below for improving the article to meet the good article criteria. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
Article milestones
Date Process Result
May 29, 2006 Good article nominee Listed
February 16, 2009 Good article reassessment Delisted
Current status: Delisted good article
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The material removed on White's conflict thesis book is valid; judging something as bad history isn't necessarily a POV violation... in this case it's an indication that historians now recognize that it got a lot of things wrong. Please explain exactly what is objectionable about the version I am about to restore.--ragesoss 22:33, 13 March 2006 (UTC)

Regarding "ahistoric grade-giving," the idea with what I added is to flesh out the history of the acceptance/rejection of White's ideas and point out things that are now recognized as wrong (and incorporate a little of the info from some of those external links at the bottom). To say that historians have reached a consensus about the failure of the conflict thesis is hardly a stretch (see the recent discussion at Talk:The relationship between religion and science).

PS: Just because I'm a grad student doesn't mean I'm a crank. ;) --ragesoss 22:57, 13 March 2006 (UTC)

I didn't guess that my edits would start an edit war so quickly! Let me add to what ragesoss said. The NPOV policy does not mean that we cannot ever note when something from the past is wrong. It's done all the time with science; nobody would object if I wrote that Ptolemy has been rejected by modern astrophysicists. It's the same with history. Sometimes, a book written over a hundred years ago is just plain wrong, and it is not POV to say so. I would be surprised to find one practicing historian, whose work is in the least bit relevant to religion and science, who would endorse White in any way. If you don't believe me, start with the link to the Lindberg and Numbers article; they are about the most eminent living historians on the subject. I can recommend more from there. Maestlin 00:29, 14 March 2006 (UTC)
No, no, that's not how it works. :-) Ragesoss, I would say that it is usually PhD students who know most about a (= their) subject matter; more, usually, than tenured professors; what is often annoying about them is a certain cocksureness and absoluteness that is not appropriate for scholarship and that usually mellows over the years, if not always. ;-) But there is a difference between assessment and historic grade-giving; I don't mean to be a relativist here, but it would also be wise to realize that one's own position in time, and the episteme of what one believes to be right, is, well, open to revision later on. As regards NPOV, there is a difference between assessment and judgment; nobody expects a science book from 1900 to be fully "correct" a century later. It's therefore gratuitous to say so, and it therefore seems to me that there must be an axe to grind somewhere (maybe I'm wrong here). The Ptolemy example is a good one - who would say in an article on him that he was "wrong" by today's standards, let alone that he is "rejected"? I would be surprised to find many practicing historians (you always find a few for almost any view), whose work is in the least bit relevant to religion and science, who would "reject" White in any way, rather than placing him into context and trying to understand him (well, okay, a majority of historians of science is not hermeneutically inclined, so scratch the "understand" part). I may also add that, apart from the historiography of the relation of The relationship between religion and science, there is also a metalevel element to this discourse that is naturally beyond the (normal) reach of the history of science, because it is part of it itself. Therefore, the general literature mentioned here is not germane to the question at hand. But be that as it may, I don't think I'm up for an "edit war" here, although it's of course sad that we can't come up with a compromise formulation but rather have one opinion pushed through. Clossius 08:11, 14 March 2006 (UTC)
The axe to grind (as you suggest on the conflict thesis page) is that, unlike with Ptolemy, the incorrectness of White in particular and the conflict thesis in general is not widely understood, except among scholars. The most important function of Wikipedia, to me, is bridging the gap between popular understanding and esoteric scholarship. But I certainly haven't given up the hope of reaching a compromise here... that's why I brought it up on the talk page, so we could talk about it. Maybe I'm just blind to the problems, but I thought placing it in context is what my version does. Do you have a better solution than deletion?--ragesoss 08:38, 14 March 2006 (UTC)
(I wrote this while ragesoss was writing the above, so some of it may be repetition) Yes, there is an axe to grind in a sense. To continue the Ptolemy analogy, you would probably go to the trouble of saying he was wrong, and explaining a bit of why, if you were a scientist writing for an audience raised in a geocentric society. What I have learned from teaching, from just talking with people, and from being a student myself, is that a whole lot of people in the US (don't know about elsewhere) have a vague feeling that science got attacked by religion. I have also learned that when I start looking closely at examples, they just fall apart. And a whole lot of other historians have found the same thing. I have GONE THROUGH the experience of telling students the historiographical equivalent of "Ptolemy is wrong" lots of times; it IS necessary unless you want most of them to leave class thinking that Columbus wanted to prove the earth is round. Yes, historians of science do still sometimes go to the trouble of mentioning White's being basically wrong, because his book has a strong historiographical influence up through the 1950s or 60s at least, and it needs to be sorted out when discussing older histories that do have some useful bits. You do know that you sound a bit "absolute" yourself, Clossius, when you make that generalization about historians of science not being interested in "understanding" historical figures? I am not trying to pick a fight, just wondering about your knowledge vs. assumptions about the field. And I would NOT get into an edit war (waste of time) but I would like to work things out through talk. Maestlin 08:59, 14 March 2006 (UTC)
Ok, lots of good arguments. Let me try to address them in a systematic way. I think that one's perspective is necessarily informed by who one is (I hope that doesn't sound too Marxist; I only mean that nobody thinks except people), and I think for both of you, the context is clearly that of fine academic surroundings and the history of science. However, this is not the only discourse that matters for something like the "conflict thesis", and again, while not being relativistic here, the context is what creates the meaning and importance of the model - and the context is not what we today (rightly or wrongly) believe to be true or false, but the situation of the time in question. I think to ignore this would be exactly the kind of positivistic 19th century science history scholarship that you seem to want to avoid.
Okay, but let's not lose sight of the context of Wikipedia, which is modern readers who are curious and online. I appreciate your concern, but how many readers of this article will, unless niceties of scholarship-then and scholarship-now are spelled out?
I'm not sure what your point is here.
I also will repeat here from the conflict thesis talk page that you may also wish to consider why exactly White is still read today - there is obviously an interest in this kind of book precisely because the "enemy" seems to be, or actually is, still there - at least in certain parts of the world, and of certain countries. If a 19th century history of science book that is that polemical is still used today, what does it say about the perceived "enemy"?
It says that some modern readers probably see an enemy, but not necessarily that there actually is an enemy of the nature they perceive. It may also say that some modern readers are polemical. To go back to your point that only people think, I do have my own background and my own opinions, and they aren't formed exclusively from the fine (as you call them) setting of academia.
That's true, but if I look at the debate over Darwinism (and mind you, I'm not a Darwinist in the classical sense), for instance, although the actors might have somewhat transmogrified, the "enemy" is still there.
Penultimately, Maestlin, I'd be sorry if I sounded absolutist, but I said that "a majority of historians of science is not hermeneutically inclined," which is a far stretch away from "mak[ing a] generalization about historians of science not being interested in "understanding" historical figures", as you claim. On principle (and perhaps nobody regrets that more than me), the issue of personal competence is not germane to the issue; if you think it's necessary, though, I can assure you that I have been at the occasional conference on the history of science, even read a book or two, and perhaps even written one. :-)
Let's see, you made a statement about a majority, which is a general statement, and you said that since this group was not hermeneutically inclined, we should scratch the part about "trying to understand him." Do you mean that this majority is interested in understanding historical figures, but does not try to do so? What am I missing? Maestlin 23:29, 14 March 2006 (UTC)
Sure I made the statement about a majority, and I think it is fair to say that a majority of historians of science are not hermeneutically inclined. Would you disagree with that?
Finally, I think a compromise on White - and on the other subjects as well, if necessary - could be to indeed create the context, as well as to simply narrate what you say above, not just the result. Viz., to separate White's work when it was written from the use that is made of it today, to be a bit less judgmental about the assertions and a bit more modest about the respective claims, etc. Clossius 10:33, 14 March 2006 (UTC)

In my experience (limited as it is), the reason White is read today (as opposed to 30 years ago, perhaps) is to show how wrong he was and illustrate how the conflict thesis arose. So I suppose (in the Marxist sense) the conflict thesis stuff does reflect a biased/self-interested history of science disciplinary perspective... perhaps comparable to the rampant scientism on WP (and surely other disciplinary domains with which I'm less familiar as well). I agree about the need to contextualize White in is own time as well as the intervening years, and (to the extent appropriate in this article) narrate the changing political and historioriographical context leading up to the current "result." I tried to do that a little bit, and make it more of a detatched narration, as you suggested. Perhaps you can fill in more about White's specific context and motivations.--ragesoss 18:16, 14 March 2006 (UTC)

The "reason White is read today (as opposed to 30 years ago, perhaps) is to show how wrong he was" - is this a serious statement? ;-) I don't think that there are so many historians of science around that this would make readership for such weighty tomes - and if it were so, then surely dismissing White would be like dismissing Ptolemy, no? You're right on the scientism on Wikipedia, and I'm usually in your camp; I just don't think that this argument is fairly and appropriately argued here in the White article and related ones. White's motivations are indeed the typical 19th C. scientistic ones that see dogmatic religion as hostile to science and progress, and I think this is what explains his popularity (ostensibly not amongst historians of science) in the US today. Clossius 06:31, 15 March 2006 (UTC)
By "limited as it is", I meant limited to history of science classes, the only context I've see people read it in. I was trying to be subtle about conceding the limits of my knowledge, but you had to go and make me say it outright.  ;)--ragesoss 07:01, 15 March 2006 (UTC)
Oops, most importantly: Ragesoss, I think your last edits are very good. I would leave out the very last sentence after the semicolon, but after all this debate, it can also remain (as in the end, it reflects, i.m.o., more negatively on the critics than on White). Clossius 06:39, 15 March 2006 (UTC)

GA status[edit]

Err, it seems that after actually looking at the bibliography more closely, that this article does have references after all. However, I found this odd statement, "like most educated Americans at the time", which unless its a supportable generalization with verifiable statistics or something, sounds like a POV violation, so im going to remove it so this can be a GA. Homestarmy 23:46, 29 May 2006 (UTC)

There is, of course (i.e., the statistics), but under the circumstances, it's hardly worth the bother. Clossius 14:13, 1 June 2006 (UTC)

Oh, and as for suggestions, I recommend trying to attribute various information in the article to inline citations, and if there's anything else at all important about this person, well, try to find it :/. Homestarmy 03:08, 30 May 2006 (UTC)

GA Re-Review and In-line citations[edit]

Members of the Wikipedia:WikiProject Good articles are in the process of doing a re-review of current Good Article listings to ensure compliance with the standards of the Good Article Criteria. (Discussion of the changes and re-review can be found here). A significant change to the GA criteria is the mandatory use of some sort of in-line citation (In accordance to WP:CITE) to be used in order for an article to pass the verification and reference criteria. Currently this article does not include in-line citations. It is recommended that the article's editors take a look at the inclusion of in-line citations as well as how the article stacks up against the rest of the Good Article criteria. GA reviewers will give you at least a week's time from the date of this notice to work on the in-line citations before doing a full re-review and deciding if the article still merits being considered a Good Article or would need to be de-listed. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us on the Good Article project talk page or you may contact me personally. On behalf of the Good Articles Project, I want to thank you for all the time and effort that you have put into working on this article and improving the overall quality of the Wikipedia project. LuciferMorgan 03:07, 13 December 2006 (UTC)

Removed citation[edit]

I removed:

<ref>See also [[John Polkinghorne]]'s works such as ''Science and Religion.''</ref>

Because John Polkinghorne does not mention White, or the idea of the flat earth in his book. Both "white" and "flat" in a google book search[1] have irrelevant reference to these two words. Columbus doesnt even appear.

I attempted to find references to John Polkinghorne talking about White and the flat earth, because the reference mentions "works such as" but I could not find them.Travb (talk) 02:53, 10 November 2007 (UTC)

GA Reassessment[edit]

This discussion is transcluded from Talk:Andrew Dickson White/GA1. The edit link for this section can be used to add comments to the reassessment.

I'll be honest, I don't see any qualities of a GA here. It's not a comprehensive biography, the referencing is decent but not great, and it just doesn't feel complete. I'll give it a week or two to see if anyone wants to fix it up, but I'll likely delist it shortly. Wizardman 21:46, 27 October 2008 (UTC)

GA Reassessment[edit]

This discussion is transcluded from Talk:Andrew Dickson White/GA2. The edit link for this section can be used to add comments to the reassessment.

This article seems to have been promoted in a less strict era. At the moment it doesn't seem to fulfil the GA criteria; here are some of the problems:

  • MOS: the lead section is almost non-existent. Also, there's use of external links in the text, rather than in footnotes.
  • Lack of in-line citations, especially in the biography section. Some assertions, like "his farsighted leadership set the university on the path to becoming an elite educational institution", need references.
  • Focus: the "Contribution to the conflict thesis" is important, but it takes up disproportionally much space compared to the biography. This is after all a co-founder of Cornell University.

I will leave this notice here for a week, to see if anyone is willing to address the concerns. Lampman (talk) 14:53, 31 January 2009 (UTC)

I just realised that someone else recently put it up for reassessment, but failed to follow up. No-one seems to have taken action then, so it's unlikely that it will happen now, but I'll still give it a week. Lampman (talk) 15:01, 31 January 2009 (UTC)
Noting has been done to address the issues, so I'll go ahead and delist. Lampman (talk) 13:39, 16 February 2009 (UTC)

Alternate house images[edit]


Notyourbroom (talk) 17:01, 21 May 2009 (UTC)


White, when talking about comets, depicted science as totally beneficial. The passage might be worth including in the article. See "A History of the Doctrine of Comets" by A. D. White. This is the same as a chapter in White's later History. See page 42, also called page 146. I think it is on the archive site. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:52, 27 January 2010 (UTC)

This article should really have some quotations from White. His work on comets could be supplemented with his opinions on the Franco-Prussian war. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:30, 3 February 2010 (UTC)

German American? No. He was English American[edit]

"At the onset of World War I, White, an ethnic German-American with strong professional and emotional ties to Germany, vocally supported the German cause, but, by the summer of 1915, he retreated from this position, refraining from offering support, publicly or privately."


Both his mother("Dickson") and father("White") were from New England families. Where is the proof that he had Germany ancestry?

The source indicates that he (because of his role as Ambassador to Germany) received letters from, German Americans, complaining about treatment towards Germany and its people. It does indicate his admiration for Germany and its culture, and this might be where confusion arises.

"His last years were clouded by the Great War, for his love for Germany was rooted in both reason and sentiment. He shared the heartbreak of all patriotic German-Americans , and, although convinced of the duplicity of Germany in breaking international agreements and affected by the courage of the American forces, he could only ever wonder at the spectacle of virtuous hatred displayed by Americans toward everything German."

Source: Andrew Dickson White Papers(on Microfilm) at Cornell University

This sentence is quite ambiguous. It doesn't mean that he was a patriotic German American -- more that he sympathised with them.

This article needs to be changed to show this. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:35, 9 August 2014 (UTC)

It seems that White was never quite clear on his ancestry and spent some of his final decade traveling around New England, tracing his roots. Unfortunately, when the Whites showed up in NE was never fully ironed out. Source Xtreambar (talk) 02:49, 11 August 2014 (UTC)

External links modified[edit]

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