14 November 2006 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 11 comments

Fellow blogger Kevin Levin has a lengthy post on his blog today that spells out, in great detail, the plagiarism scandal that has hit the realm of Civil War academia. Prof. R. Fred Ruhlman, who teaches Civil War history at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, apparently plagiarized most of his new book on Capt. Henry Wirz and the Andersonville prison camp from the work of Prof. William Marvel.

From the excerpts posted on Kevin’s blog, it’s quite obvious that Ruhlman simply re-packaged Marvel’s work and published it under his own name. In short, it is plagiarism of the worst variety.

As Peter Carmichael points out in a comment to Kevin’s post, the process of peer review employed by university presses usually catches this sort of thing, but this one got through. Ruhlman is, of course, responsible for his own actions, but the fact that this book got through the vetting process at the University of Tennessee Press, which is a very well-respected university press, doesn’t speak well for the Press.

At the same time, I am willing to defer to Pete Carmichael on this one. Pete is the series editor for a series being published by the UT Press, and he’s quite knowledgeable about how things are done there, what the objective is for certain books, and the steps it takes to ensure that work is original and not plagiarized.

I can only hope that Ruhlman is fired immediately, and that his work is repudiated by all as a consequence of his flagrant plagiarism. I also hope that the UT Press gets over its black eye, but that it tightens things up a bit to ensure that this sort of flagrant rip-off doesn’t happen again.

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Comments

  1. Wed 15th Nov 2006 at 12:20 am

    Blogger Margaret Soltan (http://margaretsoltan.phenominet.com/2006/11/chattanooga-poopoo-not-only-is.html) is all over this one also, and points out that Ruhlman’s degree is from a diploma mill. UT should definitely have asked a few more questions about this one.

  2. Steve Basic
    Wed 15th Nov 2006 at 2:36 am

    Having just read Ruhlman’s comments about this issue on Mr. Levin’s blog, am shaking my head here. Then again nothing surprises me anymore.

    It’s funny, as I have been told by a few members of the academic ilk, that someone like me, who does not have the correct “training” to write about the Civil War has no business doing so. The last I checked, in terms of plagiarism of Civil War books, those who were caught red handed recently are not from the ranks of the “untrained” historians.

    My advice to those in academia is to clean up their own house first before casting continued derogatory comments on the “amateur” historians they seem to take issue with.

    Just my opinion, and if it ruffles some feathers, so be it, and I hope it does.

    Regards from the Garden State,

    Steve Basic

  3. Wed 15th Nov 2006 at 3:57 am

    Well, it happens in all fields not just history.

  4. Jim Epperson
    Wed 15th Nov 2006 at 9:58 am

    Actually, the worst case of Civil War plagerism prior to this
    was by a non-academic (McDonough).

  5. Wed 15th Nov 2006 at 10:35 am

    I’ve addressed the broader subject on Kevin’s blog, but I think it’s worth adding that Professor Ruhlman is an adjunct at UTC–that is, a temporary hire–and that he seems to have spent most of his adult life as an FBI agent (see link). What that means, I don’t know, but I don’t think it makes him the poster boy for the rest of us. There are a lot of people writing Civil War history, some with doctorates and some without, and I honestly can think of only one other case of plagiarism before this one. I see no need to reopen the academic vs. non-academic wound based on this case, especially when so many of us have been trying to heal it. This is one guy behaving badly.

    http://www.utc.edu/Academic/History/staff/fred-ruhlman.php

  6. Wed 15th Nov 2006 at 11:10 am

    Ken,

    I certainly didn’t intend to get into the academic vs. non-academic issue and, in fact, assiduously avoided it. I agree that we should not bring that up here.

    Eric

  7. Wed 15th Nov 2006 at 11:47 am

    I don’t know how the degree of plagiarism is calculated. However, McDonough and his co-author for “War So Terrible”, James Jones, are both academics (McDonough was a history prof at Pepperdine and Jones at Florida State at publication). Jean Edward Smith, whose biography of Grant contained passages that appear to be awfully darn similar those of Catton and McPherson, has been a poli-sci prof for over 30 years.
    Regardless of background, if we recognize that it takes some conscious effort to plagiarize, it more often takes a conscious effort to not plagiarize as well.
    The practical definition of plagiarism has changed significantly over time, and I imagine with search capability of an increasing number of digitized texts that it is only going to continue to narrow. I’ll be curious to see just how well works written prior to 1990 stand up to review via plagiarism programs such as “Turnitin”. Don’t think it’s not going to happen. People have too much time on their hands.

  8. Dave Smith
    Wed 15th Nov 2006 at 3:51 pm

    For whatever it’s worth, most of McDonough’s works were published by the University of Tennessee Press.

    I’ve shied away from McDonough’s other works for specifically the plagiarism angle.

  9. Sam Elliott
    Wed 15th Nov 2006 at 10:21 pm

    “For whatever it’s worth, most of McDonough’s works were published by the University of Tennessee Press.”

    But the McDonough work that was criticized was published by Norton, not by UT. UT Press is very reputable, and I am sad to see this particular situation tarnish it in the eyes of the public. It would appear that the reader(s) didn’t pick up on the problems.

  10. Steve Basic
    Thu 16th Nov 2006 at 4:46 am

    My apologies to Eric. Obviously I caused a problem in here, and did not mean to do so. That said, it is an issue that should not be swept under the rug. It continues to be a problem.

    I do find it funny, while reading various blogs on this subject that something I wrote was used by Kevin Levin in his blog as a lesson to all not to overreact. Mr. Levin did not have the courtesy to post whose quote he lifted from here, and yet he did so to use me as an example to amplify his point. Last I checked I said nothing about the university presses. My rant was on historians, and nothing more.

    Am not one to back away from criticism, but I do draw the line when my thoughts are used to make me an example, and makes me look like a nut.

    Regards from the Garden State,

    Steve Basic

  11. Thu 16th Nov 2006 at 10:58 am

    I wouldn’t take it personally, Steve – as Kevin explained he only used your comment without identification since it wasn’t his site that it was posted to. I’d probably do the same thing in that situation.

    As we have discussed privately on a number of occasions, I understand and agree with what you say. I know you didn’t intend to lump all academics and UP’s together – comments on a blog don’t really allow for every little detail one intends to say – and I think people get the point. As I posted on my own blog yesterday and in the comments today, I’ve seen naughtiness by both pro’s and amateurs, and neither has a lock on stupidity. Neither does one or the other have a lock on good scholarship. It’s all based on the individual, just as in Ruhlman’s case. If guilty, and I believe he is, he needs drummed out and should have one hell of a time EVER getting anything published again. And he certainly should be done teaching. Harsh, I know, but we don’t need people breaking the rules of the very institutions of which they’re a part. If we find a bad cop, he’s out off the force. Same here.

    J.D.

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