Talk:Ira Berlin

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Oakes' "Criticism" Section[edit]

Finding the expression of unqualified criticism cited in the current section on James Oakes' criticism of Ira Berlin's Many Thousands Gone rather surprising, I ventured to read the review and was less surprised to find little trace of the sentiment purported here in the actual document. Oakes' review is largely positive and, while critical of Berlin's treatment of many subjects, especially paternalism, it in no way makes the criticism that Joelrosenblum ascribes to it regarding slavery and capitalism. The relevant passage, which actually quite clearly states the contradiction between slavery and free market capitalism, is copied below:

With the Age of Democratic Revolution the slaveholders were finally trapped within their own contradictions. They had committed themselves to bourgeois religion and bourgeois ideology. They had hitched their fortunes to global capitalism. They defended themselves through the means and mechanisms of the liberal state. Then-as Berlin so effectively demonstrates-the slaves themselves started talking about universal rights and the equality of all men in the sight of God. They often aspired to wage labor, which they called "freedom." They sued in courts and petitioned in legislatures. And where, at that point, could the slaveholders go? Most turned toward a newer, harder racism, as Berlin shows. For some, a great reaction was in the offing. In either case, the slaveholders were fleeing the implications of their own revolutionary heritage, a heritage whose origins Many

Thousands Gone cannot adequately explain.

Since this review clearly makes a point that is, if anything, in opposition to the one made by Joelrosenblum, and since I think the intent of placing this single book review in such a position of prominence in the article was to continue advancing the views of the user without proper citation, I am deleting this entire section. This article is not the place to make statements of original research, a point already made quite clearly by Quatloo below. If Joelrosenblum or other users would like to carry on this debate, a peer-reviewed journal is the appropriate forum. For the purposes of this article, any mention of controversy should be succinct, fully and properly referenced, and should make reference to the well-developed views of a representative set of many historians in the field, not simply a single, seven-page book review cherry-picked because of an ostensible relationship to the point that a Wikipedia user had in mind before reading it in the first place. StephenECox (talk) 15:42, 1 April 2009 (UTC)

"Controversial Book Passages"[edit]

I'm again deleting this entire (above named) section of the article, for reasons I will explain in the following section of the talk page. I'm also deleting the so-called "controversial book passages" section from the talk pages (which I had originally placed here after deleting it from the article) because of libel issues. Those who are concerned with this deletion can obviously find the original content on the history page. What follows below in this talk page section is my initial comment (12-31-06) on why I removed the now-not-visible passage interspersed with joelrosenblum's reply (1-4-07) as edited by joelrosenblum when he replied. In "Controversial Book Passages II" below, I try to explain why I again took this section off of the article page and this time even the talk page.--Bigtimepeace 11:21, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

(first paragraph and those that follow on the left margin from bigtimepeace and indented paragaphs from joel rosenblum)

I removed this before and am removing it again for several reasons. A couple of explanatory sentences were added to the beginning of this new version of the section but to me it only improves the case for removing it. With no disrespect to the Germantown Friends School (I happen to know it's an excellent school) I'm not sure that a class from that school is the best source for this article on Mr. Berlin. More to the point, the so-called "inconsistencies" don't really seem so inconsistent to me. I am not at all a partisan of Professor Berlin, but I am quite certain he does not have a pro-slavery bias and I have never heard anyone so accuse him other than a couple of people on this wikipedia page.

Whether or not you personally have heard or seen other critiques of Ira Berlin's book as being slanted toward slave masters, does not negate that Berlin constantly uses toned-down language (what you call "nuance"), and consistently highlights the benevolence of slave masters and the benefits slaves got from living in this country. Take a look at the following excerpt:
In the years following the [American] Revolution, slave cemeteries appeared much more frequently on plantation plats, signaling...(134)
How could that sentence be completed? Could the increased number of slave cemeteries have possibly signaled an increased number of slaves killed? That is always the obvious conclusion when we hear of mass graves in different countries: that some horrible massacre has occurred, but the honorable Mr. Berlin concludes otherwise:
[signaling] planters' recognition of the permanency of the slaves' sacred grounds
This is nothing but conjecture, how could you say such a thing without being on the side of the slave masters? What slave would claim the plantation as his or her "sacred ground"? Africans did have sacred ground - IN AFRICA. If the slave masters were so concerned with the slaves' sacred ground, they could have attempted to ship the dead slaves back to their families' sacred ground where they were abducted. Furthermore, if the masters had a genuine interest in honoring the slaves, they would have emancipated them or at least stopped killing them with such rapidity.--Joelrosenblum 05:14, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

Scholarship on the history of slavery has become extremely nuanced in the last few decades, and it has become widely accepted that slaves had greater or lesser degrees of freedom at different times and in different places, while at all times of course remaining ultimately unfree.

I'm sorry, but what you just said is A) completely obvious and goes without saying, which is why no one has bothered to write whole books about it in the past, it is a feature of every situation in history, nothing is completely static, but to highlight the changing levels of oppression in slavery is to de-emphasize the fact that at every point in history slavery has been an inhuman system of domination enforced by violence. B) Your sentence sounds like it was word-for-word extracted from Mr. Berlin's book, which makes me suspicious of your true identity (but, in accordance with Wikipedia's talk page guidelines, I will not make any accusation). C) "Remaining ultimately unfree" sounds to me like it could be describing just about anyone today, and is another example of the kind of toned-down language which Berlin uses (as do you, apparently). Slaves were not ultimately unfree - they were enslaved.--Joelrosenblum 05:14, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

The fact that African Americans in bondage were able to "establish families" does not contradict the fact that slave owners emancipated parents while continuing to keep their children in slavery. I assume the author(s) of the above section finds this to be a contradiction, but just to say that African Americans were (sometimes) able to establish families even under slavery does not excuse slavery or suggest that white owners did not break up families. They did (often), and Berlin would not and did not say otherwise. I don't see what the inconsistency or contradiction is here.

If you didn't see the contradiction there, you probably won't see any contradictions in the following passage either:
Although denied the right to marry, they made families; denied the right to an independent religious life, they established churches; denied the right to hold property, they owned many things. (4)
How is this conception of a "family" different from a couple of monkeys allowed to breed in a cage to make more monkeys to be experimented on? They have no right to parent their children at the moment the master decides to sell them or their children, firstly, and secondly, what kind of monster would "emancipate parents while continuing to keep their children in slavery"? How can such a thing be called emancipation? --Joelrosenblum 05:14, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

The longer paragraph about slavery being "negotiated" which the students of Germantown Friends also had a problem with is likewise not pro-slavery. "Negotiation" here as Berlin is using it is not the same thing as negotiation between equals (such as in a business deal), but rather is a concept that many historians have employed to give slaves "agency"--i.e. to make them historical actors. If the master gave an inch, the slave took a mile--there was a constant tug of war between masters and slaves and the latter were able to exert a bit more power than what we might expect.

The masters gave an inch, and the ungrateful slaves took a mile, huh? Well, first of all, the masters didn't just "give an inch" because they were good-hearted, it was more as you suggest, a constant battle in which slaves won occasion victories. Would you call the entire Civil War a "negotiation" between the North and the South?--Joelrosenblum 05:14, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

This fact is testament to African Americans' struggle against the evil institution. Likewise Berlin's mention of a concession of the "legitimacy" of the opponent by either side (master and slave) is of course not Berlin saying slavery itself was legitimate, and reading the passage that way is odd. The fact is any number of slaves did often concede the legitimacy of certain aspects of the slave system--this is part of the horror of it.

Yes, and to highlight to one or two Uncle Toms throughout the entire book is a travesty of justice, if you ask me.--Joelrosenblum 05:14, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

Likewise at times slaves were able to legitimate some of their own practices in the eyes of the master, though at other times they were not. All of this is fairly standard in the historical literature as anyone who has read multiple books about the topic would know, and it's a product of the post-1960s turn among historians of slavery that emphasizes slave resistance. Thus the passage is not pro-slavery, it is saying essentially that slavery was complex and not static, that slaves and masters both shaped the institution, albeit with the latter having much more power.

Slave resistance is mentioned only sporadically in the book, most "concessions" from the masters appear to come out of their good Christian souls and nowhere else. Slaves did have agency in slavery when they fought it, but Berlin assigns them "agency" by detailing how they either went along with everything Massuh told them to, or minor requests that were made by slaves.--Joelrosenblum 05:14, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

The last quotation (all in boldface in the article) obviously refers to the earlier period of slavery in the U.S. A large number of historians agree with Berlin that slaves in the early colonial period had a bit more freedom than they later would. Saying this does not make one "pro-slavery," but rather serves to acknowledge changes in slavery over time. It may sound odd to those who view history as one solid line of progress, but in fact being a slave in Virginia in 1640 was probably on average better than being a slave in Mississippi in 1850, at least in terms of the amount of personal freedom allowed. Again, I see no inconsistency or pro-slavery bias here, but rather a fairly standard argument that many historians would agree with.

You are repeating your argument over and over, that "nuance" is the most important thing to consider when we think about slavery. The fact that slaves died daily and fought rebellions to kill their masters and get out of slavery even though they generally had no chance in succeeding tells me more about the history of slavery than Berlin's entire book, which would have me believe that the major struggle of slaves, if they were alive today and in slavery, would be to get permission to use the washing machine.--Joelrosenblum 05:14, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

For book passages (or anything else) to be "controversial" it takes much more than one or two wikipedia editors saying they are--there needs to be evidence of a controversy and I don't see that in the passage I deleted.

Maybe you should look more closely at those passages and debate with some leftist race studies teachers, especially Black ones, and then see if you can reach the same conclusion. In the meantime, I will repost the quotations in the book. Wikipedians can decide for themselves.--Joelrosenblum 05:14, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

Berlin is a widely respected scholar on this history of slavery in the U.S.

And the U.S. is certainly one of the least racist societies today. Don't you agree?--Joelrosenblum 05:14, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

Of course many have criticized him (and I personally find any number of authors more insightful than he is) but I've never heard him criticized for having a "pro-slavery bias" and in fact I think most who know his work would find that notion laughable. Thus I'm deleting this section, and I would ask that other editors who want to reinstate it would think carefully before doing so.

So, because you think some people would find this perspective laughable (I also know many such people, for example, the late, great, Strom Thurmond), it is not worthy of the consideration of intelligent readers? What then, would you give people to consider? Just a list of every award this man has won? Is that less biased?--Joelrosenblum 05:14, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

If you put it back, please provide a better explanation of how Berlin has a "pro-slavery bias" before tarring him with that nasty epithet on a widely-read web site, please explain what precisely is "inconsistent" in the passages you cite rather than just putting some things in boldface, and please make reference to some publication or individual who has called Berlin "inconsistent" or "pro-slavery" other than students at a high school. Their opinion is not sufficient to create a controversy on this matter as far as I'm concerned.--Bigtimepeace 23:47, 31 December 2006 (UTC)

I will send this out to some race studies professors and other respected intellectuals to get their input as well. I will also explain with more detail, for people such as yourself, what is inconsistent about the passages listed. I thought it was pretty self-evident.--Joelrosenblum 05:14, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

Controversial Book Passages II[edit]

I have posted a more detailed reply to the above at User talk:Joelrosenblum which explains some reasons for my deletion of these passages other than what I construe to be wikipedia protocol. Beyond the "you-know-little-or-nothing-about-slavery-in-the-U.S-or-how-historians-write-about-it" arguments that I have carefully (?) constructed at the above User talk page, I think the "Controversial Book Passages" section violates aspects of the rules described at Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons. Namely, poorly sourced material which risks charges of Libel (joel rosenblum read the libel article carefully) should be promptly removed. Apparently some-Jimmy-Wales-guy has said:

I can NOT emphasize this enough. There seems to be a terrible bias among some editors that some sort of random speculative 'I heard it somewhere' pseudo information is to be tagged with a 'needs a cite' tag. Wrong. It should be removed, aggressively, unless it can be sourced. This is true of all information, but it is particularly true of negative information about living persons.

Basically previous versions of this article said Ira Berlin has "pro-slavery biases" and I have removed such accusations because I think they are utterly wrong and unsourced and risk legal challenge if Berlin, a living figure, ever gave a damn what was written here.--Bigtimepeace 11:21, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

Bigtimepeace's detailed reply, along with Joelrosenblum's reply to his reply[edit]

"Bigtimepeace" writes, on my talk page:

Hi Joel, I think it's better to conduct our debate on Ira Berlin on our own talk pages as we try to come to some consensus rather than just cluttering up the Ira Berlin talk page. However if you want to move what I write here over there that's fine, although it's really just an attempt to dialogue with you personally before I make any other edits. Since I'm trying to engage with you directly I see no reason to put it on the other talk page.

I don't see why you are trying to engage me directly. You say we are cluttering up the talk page by talking about the subject? That's a new take on it. I want everything said to be out in the open so that people can agree, disagree, or enter their own thoughts into the discussion. --Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

Let me just mention some things about myself because I think you are forming some incorrect impressions about me. First of all I am not secretly Ira Berlin and furthermore I do not know him in the slightest, nor do I admire him. The professor who has most influenced me regarding slavery has written scathing reviews of Berlin (though not for the same reasons that you do). Hence please do not think that I removed your work because I am a Berlin partisan. I'm not.

Ok, well my implicit accusation regarding your identity was mostly just a return-fire - it was you who first questioned my identity by asking "who I was" to think I had the authority to post controversy about Berlin. So, your professor, who you wish to remain nameless(?), has scathing criticism of Berlin? I'll bite. What is it? And how can he criticize a living figure - my God, that could be libel! --Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

I study American history in graduate school, and although it's not my primary area of focus, I have spent a great deal of time on the history of slavery. I say this not to invoke expertise (I'm not an expert and wikipedians don't do that anyway) but just to let you know where I'm coming from. Last year when I taught pre-1865 U.S. history to college undergradautes the primary topic we discussed was slavery and its many ramifications for American society. I can assure that I strove at all times to drill home the horror of slavery rather than to minimize it. We spent a lot more time talking about slavery than we did "great white men" as they are called. I can't prove that to you but I hope you'll take me at my word.

Of course, "great white men" are an essential component of understanding the slave system. But I'm sure you made that clear.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

I've taken classes with leftist "race studies" (unsure what that means) professors--even African Americans. I myself am a deeply committed leftist and have been for years, which is not to say that I don't like Bush (though I obviously don't) but rather to say that I am opposed to capitalism and believe that we live in a patriarchal world with severe, systemic inequities of class and race. This obviously applies to the U.S., a country that is far, far away from escaping its white supremacist roots. I don't know whether or not the U.S. is one of the least racist societies, I only know that our society is still deeply racist and white dominated. An enormous part of my political stance is to be an anti-racist which, given that I am white, often takes form in efforts I make to convince other whites that race is an enormous issue in our society and that even though they might say "I'm not racist" they actually are (in the 60s--before my time--the Black Panthers and others said whites should join the struggle by working to decrease racism among whites, and I think this is still true). Of course none of this matters on Wikipedia, but I say it in the hopes that in the future you won't imply that I am going soft on slavery or that I think about things the way Strom Thurmond does (or did--may he not rest in peace).

Ok, I accept that you think of yourself as an anti-racist leftist. However, that doesn't mean that your take on the history of slavery is not racist. It is, and as long as you defend Ira Berlin's books, it will be.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

I truly admire your passion and would be right there with you exposing covert racism and pro-slavery talk in history books if and when it was really happening, but in Berlin's case I'm afraid it is not. To be blunt, I think you need to read more about these issues before you are so confident in your judgments. I can't respond to all of your points, but let me mention a few things. You say "to highlight the changing levels of oppression in slavery is to de-emphasize the fact that at every point in history slavery has been an inhuman system of domination enforced by violence." This goes to the heart of it, and I think you are quite wrong here. What historians of slavery generally do is this. They say, "at every point in history slavery has been an inhuman system of domination enforced by violence." Then they detail differences which are quite important. For example, if you were a slave in the rice fields of Carolina you were much more likely to die of disease or overwork than you were in the tobacco fields of Virginia. However in Carolina you were able to associate with more slaves (and thus better preserve African traditions) and had a bit more free time than you would in Virginia where tobacco required constant attention. Do you find that a relevant fact about the history of slavery? I do, and so does most everyone who studies the subject seriously. To discuss how the oppression of the slave system functioned at different places and at different times does not de-emphasize the fact that slavery was inhumane and oppressive. Your suggestion, that if you talk about temporal or geographic changes you essentially play-down slavery, is illogical and kinda strange.

Well, my (and others') gripe is with the entire tone of the book, which depicts slavery and all of its "nuances" such as the above in a rosy fantasy world without context. I'll explain some more further down.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

You also said (first quoting Berlin): "Although denied the right to marry, they made families; denied the right to an independent religious life, they established churches; denied the right to hold property, they owned many things. "How is this conception of a "family" different from a couple of monkeys allowed to breed in a cage to make more monkeys to be experimented on? They have no right to parent their children at the moment the master decides to sell them or their children, firstly, and secondly, what kind of monster would "emancipate parents while continuing to keep their children in slavery"?" Again, a very strange reading of this passage. Berlin's point is obviously that in spite of everything slaves were prevented from doing, as individuals they were at times able to go against--though never defeat--the system of slavery. And you should think twice about what you wrote. Is your argument that a man and woman who were African American and enslaved and who had a daughter together were not a family, that they did not try their damndest to be a family in spite of the constant threat of being separated or killed? I find what you said more offensive that what Berlin wrote by a long shot. You're correct that family life under slavery is unbelievably stunted and limited, that it is an awful, awful way to live, but you essentially say that blacks did not have families under slavery while comparing them to monkeys (which shows you did not think so well about what you wrote). There are hundreds of books written about slave family life. Read one before you talk about the topic anymore.

I hold to what I wrote. It is not racist to say that they did not have families. If they did have families they would not have been fighting all the time to be able to keep their children. The problem with Berlin is he just says things like, "Slaves were able to have families, to practice Christianity..." as if it were all given to them benevolently. That's very different from saying, "They fought their damnedest TO have famliies..." He denies slaves the dignity of agency while he claims to do the opposite. --Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

Also you did not object to Berlin's mention of African Americans creating churches and owning property because of course they did those things. I hope that you are able to see that those facts and the fact that slavery was the most abominable institution ever created (which it was and is) are not mutually exclusive.

What is the point of a history book which does not explain history? He talks of slaves creating churches and "learning to be Christian" without any insinuation at all that this was forced on them. PLEASE.
As for slaves having property? They did not own anything, because PROPERTY CAN NOT OWN PROPERTY. They had in their possession certain things, maybe, but as slaves they had no legal right to own ANYTHING.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

You said: "The fact that slaves died daily and fought rebellions to kill their masters and get out of slavery even though they generally had no chance in succeeding tells me more about the history of slavery than Berlin's entire book..." Well, actually it hasn't, because you don't seemt to know much about the history of slavery and what you said is wrong. There were very few slave rebellions in America (more in places like Brazil, Cuba, and of course Haiti).

And you would prove this to me how, exactly? Have you read Herbert Aptheker? He is a well-known historian who seems to disagree with you here. Either way, I maintain that the dominant characteristic of being a slave is resisting and fighting slavery. You probably believe all of those historical newspaper articles of the slave-masters which claim that there are no rebellions.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

Masters were certainly murdered (often by "house" slaves, the kind you would call Uncle Tom) though this was not a frequent occurence.

I would never call a house-slave an Uncle Tom for murdering his master!--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

Slaves did run away, steal shit,

"Steal shit"? Please. If they took anything they had a right to do so. You paint slaves the way Blacks are painted today, as criminals!--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

break tools, work slowly or poorly, refuse to work, hit their overseers or get them fired, make children and raise them as best they could given the circumstances, create new African-American subcultures, etc. etc. Most of the time they did not revolt.

Again, this is historical conjecture on your part and there is no book or set of books that can prove the validity of that statement. Watch what you say.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

Why? Because you got killed. No slave revolt in the U.S. was ever successful, and slaves knew this.

Every slave revolt was successful, in that it said to the masters, "We won't make this 'easy profit' for you." Those which killed the slave masters were especially successful. Again, you deny slaves the dignity they deserve for fighting back by labeling them as failures.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

During the Civil War Southern slaves ran away in huge numbers and thus greatly contributed to the Union victory (as well as freeing themselves). However this was the exception.

Maybe those who stayed were smart enough to realize that the North would just sell them down the river in a few years anyway, better to war against slavery on their own terms. Or there could have been logistical considerations (how far away was the Union Army, and how would one find it, having never left the plantation?).--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

You might be bored by hearing about how slaves negotiatied for less work hours or the right to build a church (Christianity, incidentally, was not imposed on African Americans--the earliest mass conversions were not until the mid 1700s and they were generally voluntary--many masters were not happy about it)

I am tired of hearing that subjugated people accepted the Christianity of their masters based on that it was a pleasing religion to them. They had their own religions in Africa, and they HAD to modify them because those religions were not tolerated by Christian slave-masters.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

but those acts of resistance had a lot more to do with how African Americans fought against slavery and lived their daily lives than whatever glorified notion of revolt you have. Had you been a slave in 1820, you likewise might have chosen to try to raise your children in whatever limited way you could rather than running out to revolt and dying. That wouldn't have made you an Uncle Tom.

Maybe those who chose to raise children were a necessary component of the resistance. The children rearing strategy did, after all, provide for generations of slaves who warred against their masters. Can you understand that every conclusion you make about the valor of slaves is based on your own feelings that slaves were content with what they had? Things can be seen in another light, one which honors every day of struggle, one which does not call slaves lazy, thieves, aspiring "Christians," or happily submissive.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

I could say more about your points in your reply (I basically disagree with all of them incidentally) but won't. Just bear in mind a couple of things in a general sense. You are making a very serious accusation against a living public figure. You are saying a historian of slavery is biased in favor of slavery on the web site people are most likely to go to look up information on this person. At least one person with at least some knowledge of the topic (me) is telling you this is way, way off base and that you kinda don't know what you are talking about. Also I think a wikipedia admin would say you can't say these kind of things about someone who is alive without backing it up. You're bordering on slander if what you say about Berlin is wrong (I'm not saying that as some kind of threat, it's just true).

Do you think you will get anywhere as a leftist with this type of argument?! You can't talk down to working people and say they are "unqualified" to speak the truth. You can't tell working people that they must not slander the big guys, because doing so is illegal. Working people are slandered every day by the rich, just as the slaves are slandered in every book by Ira Berlin, and that is certainly no less of a crime! The only difference is, working people don't have the resources to hire lawyers to defend their good name.
Anyway, as Wikipedia is supposedly not a place for personal attacks, I will make more of an effort to present the criticism without personally attacking Berlin.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

You might also think about what makes something controversial as I said in my original note on the talk page. Is something "controversial" just because one or two people say it is? You make reference to "leftist race studies teachers, especially Black ones" who apparently would find Berlin controversial but you don't produce any who agree with you.

I can, I just need to get their attention. Give me some time. Either way, there are people who criticize Berlin as racist, and I know those people. They have not written academic articles on the subject (yet), but they exist, and they are the reason I am writing the critiques of Berlin on Wikipedia.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

You say "Wikipedians can decide for themselves" but wikipedia is not a web site to throw out all types of nonsense and see what sticks, or a blog with a comments section--it's an encyclopedia. Do you really feel like you know enough about Ira Berlin and the history of American slavery to be confident that your personal criticisms of him belong on his encyclopedia entry?

Absolutely, yes, though they are not only my personal criticisms, those I know share them.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

If you can't find other historians who say Berlin is pro-slavery, can you admit to the possibility that you are wrong, and would you admit at the least that your remarks probably don't belong on this web site since you cannot back them up?

Anything is possible in some sense, though the fact that you can't find other historians who criticize Berlin as a racist does not mean all that much to me. Have you read the children's book, "The Emperor's New Clothes"?--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

Do you believe that Berlin would have been elected head of the Organization of American Historians if he was pro-slavery?

I know that he is pro-slavery through what he writes, though he may deny it. The fact that he has been elected head of that organization proves to me that it is a racist organization.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

Maybe you do, but then you don't know much about the state of the field of U.S. history right now. You can reply to me on my talk page, or better yet e-mail. If you do, please don't accuse me of being conservative or racist or Ira Berlin's lover or the man himself. I'm going to wait awhile for your reply, but eventually I'm almost certainly going to take down what you have put up on Berlin because I don't think it bears inclusion in the slightest. Actually the whole entry sucks (you're right that it's just a list of his achievements) and should be revamped, but for now I'm focused on convincing you that your stuff should not be on there. I do this in the spirit of trying to resolve a dispute and not make it personal, and of trying to make this a better wikipedia entry. Peace.--Bigtimepeace 06:05, 5 January 2007 (UTC)

That is quite noble of you, Bigtimepeace... to give your precious time freely to help make this article better by cutting out what I write. I salute you, Sir. And I will follow your example of attempting to better the article by once again adding the criticisms so that people can understand exactly who this man is, and why his history books are tools of the capitalist white power system.--Joelrosenblum 18:47, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

Joelrosenblum and I obviously disagree about this content. I do not feel that he has established any "controversy" and merely has a bone to pick with Mr. Berlin. He cannot cite anyone other than the Germantown Friends School who feels the way he does. He is not well informed on the history of slavery or on how historians write about it. He believes that the OAH is a racist organization because Ira Berlin was president once and he "knows" Berlin is pro-slavery so therefore the whole Organization of American Historians is racist (and presumably pro-slavery). The fact that he actually believes this absurd idea should be enough to show his obvious bias and lack of knowledge on these topics. I'm excited for joelrosenblum to edit the OAH entry to explain to us all that the organization is actually not just racist, but pro-slavery! That will be fun.

My concern is not to suppress working-class people from speaking truth to power as joelrosenblum suggests (a suggestion that is quite beyond the pale). My concern is that making reference to pro-slavery biases held by Mr. Berlin without providing evidence of that could constitute libel of a living person. I don't want to war with joelrosenblum about this anymore because he resorts to personal attacks and seems to assume that anyone who disagrees with him is an evil racist. I am instead posting this entry on the Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons/Noticeboard where hopefully someone can weigh in and see if my concerns are justified.

To Joel, your most recent edits are sloppy. For example you spelled "have" wrong (and also phraseology) and put "apparent pro-slavery biases held by Mr. Berlin" in quotations. Who are you quoting? Me? Yourself? Why the quotes? (Incidentally, as I said before, I posted on your talk page because this is a standard way to discuss things on wikipedia. I was not trying to keep my comments out of view (I invited you to post them on this talk page which you did, including my e-mail address I had given you if you wanted to contact me--try not to do that again) but was just hoping we could discuss the issue since we were the only two people writing about it. It's hardly a "new take" to talk about things on user talk pages, but you apparently construed that to be further evidence of my nefarious intentions.)

I'm leaving this passage in until someone else can take a look at it and hopefully remove it. I'm all for criticism of living figures, but not defamatory nonsense which is what, in my opinion, has been repeatedly posted here.--Bigtimepeace 21:26, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

The entire section is original research. Regardless of the merits of the argument is, it does not belong here. See Wikipedia:No original research. Quatloo 07:51, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

The Debate Continues (in the open) Re:Libel And Original Research[edit]

"Bigtimepeace" writes:

Hi Joel--As I noted on the other talk page I listed the Ira Berlin article on the Biographies of Living Persons Noticeboard so someone else can take a look at it since our discussion is not getting anywhere. Let's wait and see what another party says, okay? I just wanted to mention a few things to you, and I really hope we can keep the tone more civil. Some of these points don't even relate to the article but just to things you or I wrote on the talk page. They relate to a couple of factual matters and to ways in which I feel you have mischaracterized what I wrote.

1) The fact that a professor I know criticized Berlin's work is not libel and I assume you know this. Libel is when you write something defaming about a person that is not true. Okay?

Again you refuse to name this professor and you refuse to mention what the criticism is. Why is the criticism I posted on the article libelous if his is not? First of all, I didn't call him racist in the article, though I do in the talk page... but I argue that even that is not libel, because he IS a true racist.--Joelrosenblum 15:13, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

2) I do make clear that "great white men" ran the slave system when I teach U.S. history. I assume you were sarcastically saying I did not.

I was not being sarcastic in that instance. I am glad you teach that way.--Joelrosenblum 15:13, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

3) I am not defending Ira Berlin's book, I am saying what you are saying about his book and his point of view is wrong. Because I disagree with you does not mean that I like Ira Berlin or his work. Incidentally, to suggest as you do that anyone who defends a book you happen to think is racist are themselves racist shows an intolerance for other points of view on your part. Your idea seems to be that if someone disagrees with you they are racist oppressors. That kind of moral certitude is really annoying and frightening.

When you defend a racist and claim he isn't one, you are yourself at risk of being called a racist. Obviously you don't think he is racist and you don't think you are racist. I already know your point of view.--Joelrosenblum 15:13, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

4) When I made reference to slaves "stealing shit" it was not a negative moral judgment as you assumed.

Don't use that language, then. Stealing has a negative connotation, and in fact the dictionary definition is: "taking that which is not yours." If you have a right to the thing you take, it is not stealing.--Joelrosenblum 15:13, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

All I said was that stealing was a form of resistance to slavery which it was. Interestingly, slaves often referred to it as "taking", suggesting they felt entitled to "steal" which sounds about right to me. I fully agree with your assertion that "If they took anything they had a right to do so." I did not say otherwise--you're just reading into my comment until you see what you want to see. I am not painting African Americans under slavery as criminals and I agree with you that this portrayal persists today as you suggest which is racist and wrong. Please quit trying to turn everything I write into some form of covert racism. You should assume good faith as wikipedia says rather than assuming I'm a secret racist and trying to hide that from you somehow.

You may be doing all of this in very good faith, but you are using the language in a derogatory way and defending the same by Ira Berlin, which is inexcusable if you ask me.--Joelrosenblum 15:13, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

5) I said there were very few slave revolts in the U.S. relative to other places. Believe it or not, most historians agree with this.

I believe it, because it serves the interests of white power/capitalism to write such history. Also, history is written based on historical documents, especially with regard to slavery, because no one is alive from that period. The historical documents are very often favorable to slave-masters.--Joelrosenblum 15:13, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

I am well aware of Herbert Aptheker's book and it was and is important, but it was not the last word on slave revolts. They happened in the U.S.--I did not say they didn't--and Aptheker changed how we thought about them (convincing many to view them as positive rather than negative which is a perspective I fully agree with) but they just were not that frequent. Here's a passage from a very recent book (2006) by David Brion Davis (one of the foremost scholars of the history of slavery) called Inhuman Bondage which is considered an excellent general study of slavery in the Americas. Davis writes: At the outset we need to note the striking contrast between North America and the many other slave societies to the south with respect to the frequency and size of slave revolts as well as slave escapes to fairly durable maroon communities. Although the population of slaves in the United States eventually dwarfed the numbers in Brazil and the Caribbean, there were no significant revolts in the colonial Chesapeake from 1619 to 1775 or in the nation as a whole from 1831 to 1865. In Brazil, by contrast, slave revolts were more common, and in the 1600s thousands of fugitives found refuge for nearly a century in the maroon community of Palmares...Major slave insurrections continued to erupt in British Jamaica from the 1670s to 1831... (Inhuman Bondage, 207). My point in quoting this passage is that what I was saying about fewer revolts in the U.S. relative to other slave societies is not conjecture--it's generally agreed upon. This does not mean that slaves were happy in the U.S. or that slavery here was good. Slaves were not happy here and slavery here was awful--there just were not as many revolts. It may seem odd, but it's true.

I might agree that there is less documented evidence of slave revolts here, but that does not mean that there were fewer revolts. History is not something that is unarguable. Being a pre-eminent historian doesn't mean that you are right about everything. Bias is one of the most important things I look at when I look at the work of a historian. Everyone has a bias, the question is, what is the bias?--Joelrosenblum 15:13, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

6) You're correct that slaves were generally prevented from practicing African traditions including religion. However, in the U.S. at least, forced conversion to Christianity was not the norm as you assume (incidentally, I'm not a Christian and am not defending the religion so don't jump to that conclusion as you have to so many others). Not until the Great Awakening (i.e. the mid 1700s) did a significant number of slaves convert to Christianity. A larger number converted in the early 1800s. More often than not white masters were not happy about it, because they felt stories like those in the book of Exodus would give slaves ideas about getting out of slavery. Later slaveowners would try to instill in slaves passages from the Bible that were pro-slavery (there were a good number) but African Americans of course generally rejected these aspects and often found liberatory messages in the Bible and the religion generally. Afro-American Christianity is unique though, as it obviously contains aspects of African religious traditions. It's an interesting topic that you should look into rather than assuming (and loudly proclaiming) that Christianity was forced upon slaves and they hated it. Assuming that you are white, which I'm guessing is true, I'd be interested to watch you go into an African American Baptist church someday and try saying that.

I already made this point clear. I am not the first to make it. You need to do some more reading about the history of non-European Christianity. It was adopted/synchretized because there was a desire to continue the indigenous spiritual/religious traditions which had become illegal/repressed. There would be no point in telling Black Christians that they were forced to become Christians. Many will deny it, many will agree (and have), and many will agree but at the same time say that it was a blessing in the end. You have no ground to stand on here.--Joelrosenblum 15:13, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

7) You say to me: "Can you understand that every conclusion you make about the valor of slaves is based on your own feelings that slaves were content with what they had?" Let me state this categorically and please believe me here. I could not disagree more with the idea "that slaves were content with what they had" and as such the idea does not represent my own feelings. Okay? I believe European enslavement of Africans is the greatest moral crime in the history of humanity. Slavery is always awful, but this was the worst kind, and in no way were African Americans or anyone else whoever lived under slavery content. Again, you are forcing a viewpoint on me that I do not hold. Just because I disagree with your characterization of Berlin does not mean I am an apologist for slavery. I think you need to work on demonizing those who disagree with you a bit less. It's not a good way to deal with issues on wikipedia or in life.

Well, you have yet to criticize anything Berlin has said (for all you say about your harsh view of him), and the tone of his book certainly is that slaves were content with the great things they got in America that they didn't have in Africa, despite the sometimes brutal treatment. You say it is first and foremost important to correct my criticism of him, but where does that get us in the end? It truly looks to me like you have no qualms with him. If that is not the case, I challenge you to explain them to everyone here.--Joelrosenblum 15:13, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

8) Your contention that I am speaking down to working people is outlandish. I work, I have worked since I was 15. I don't know what in the name of God you are talking about.

I didn't say you are not a working person, but that the way you talk is as if you are on a level above everyone else because you are a graduate history student. Guess what, buddy, that ain't gonna get you anywhere in the real world. Working people don't care what kind of PhD you have or will have, they use their own minds to analyze arguments.--Joelrosenblum 15:13, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

I believe that what you have written on Ira Berlin is a violation of wikipedia's policy on biographies of living persons (have you read that yet?). Wikipedia takes lible very seriously and you are writing on wikipedia so you should take it seriously as well--otherwise you should start a blog and put all of this stuff there. I have a problem with what you (not working people--you don't represent them even if you are a worker) wrote because I think it is inaccurate and defamatory. It has nothing to do with working people or speaking truth to power. It has nothing to do with being a leftist. Is your argument that leftist's should not care about libel, that leftists should not be angry when, for example, someone lies about Noam Chomsky and says he is a Holocaust denier as people sometimes do? In the kind of non-capitalist society I hope we create someday, I would think slandering people will still be a no no. It's ridiculous to even be talking about this subject in these terms, but then again it's ridiculous for you to accuse me of oppressing the working class when I merely suggest that an article is not being written according to wikipedia guidelines. Please try to tone down your rhetoric.--Bigtimepeace 01:02, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

Please tell me what is libelous about what I wrote in the controversy section. I did not say he was a racist, or that he was pro-slavery. I did say those things in the talk section, and I believe them to be true (thus not libel). I agree that libel is improper and uncalled for, but of course our argument was never about whether libel is good or bad, as you well know.
Someone has taken the controversy section down, calling it "original research." I would like that to be argued some more. It is not my research; I am reporting on the research of GFS students, their parents, and others, though I did some research in order to make sure theirs was worthy of putting on Wikipedia. Look at the controversy PAGE on Hugo Chavez (it's not just a little section like with G.W. Bush) - if so much controversy about Chavez is appropriate for Wikipedia, why not controversy about Ira Berlin? I am completely perplexed.
I will repost the controversy section and I ask that if someone feels the need to take it down again, they at least give a more cogent argument for WHY.--Joelrosenblum 15:13, 8 January 2007 (UTC)
It is original research because it is "reporting" things that cannot be given proper citations. It is not from a reliable source. It is an assemblage of arguments attempting to prove a point which is not stated in any reliable source. Any such assemblage is clearly original research. This is the clause in WP:OR which is relevant: "It introduces an argument, without citing a reputable source for that argument, that purports to refute or support another idea, theory, argument, or position." Quatloo 18:45, 8 January 2007 (UTC)
Another clarification, you cannot cite Ira Berlin's work to elucidate your arguments to draw conclusions about Berlin's work. That in itself is original research. You need to cite other scholars, not in some classroom, but scholars in actual reputable publications which make the point. A scholarly journal, a book of criticism, a book of history, a magazine article, etc. Quatloo 18:51, 8 January 2007 (UTC)

More work to be done[edit]

The Bio section--i.e. the whole article--needs more work. The last anonymous deletion from was helpful in terms of describing Berlin's most important book but not sounding like a commercial for the man pulled from his university bio page (which the page previously has been). This page should probably be in line with those of other Organization of American Historians presidents.

--Bigtimepeace 11:21, 7 January 2007 (UTC)

Assessment comment[edit]

The comment(s) below were originally left at Talk:Ira Berlin/Comments, and are posted here for posterity. Following several discussions in past years, these subpages are now deprecated. The comments may be irrelevant or outdated; if so, please feel free to remove this section.

Hardly any information. Needs a picture. When there is enough information, divide the article into sections.--(Wikipedian1234 (talk) 21:42, 2 May 2008 (UTC))

Last edited at 21:42, 2 May 2008 (UTC). Substituted at 19:05, 29 April 2016 (UTC)