Day By Day

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Another Academic Scandal at Duke and Columbia -- Ho Hum!

Dorothy King, the Ph Diva, reprints a scathing commentary by a fellow academic who prefers to remain anonymous [for obvious reasons]. It involves the decision by Duke to award a Ph. D. to a raving loon and Columbia's decision to hire her.

Her name is Nadia Abu El Haj, she is Palestinian and she hates Israel. She asserts in a book, published by the University of Chicago Press that the ancient kingdom of Israel never existed, that Israeli archaeologists have created a founding myth out of whole cloth, and that they have systematically destroyed evidence of Palestinian occupation of the land in order to legitimize a "settler colonial society."

The archaeology of ancient Israel is hotly contested terrain, with pitched battles currently raging over such issues as whether a centralized Israelite kingdom emerges in the tenth century or the ninth, and whether or not Eilat Mazar has uncovered a tenth-century royal Judean building. I am not, however, aware of a single archaeologist or historian who would support Abu El Haj’s contention that the Israelite kingdoms are mere fiction constructs, the Jewish “nation’s origin myth,” comparable, that is, to the Aeneid, or the founding of Japan by the sun goddess.

This sort of silliness would ordinarily be dismissed as mere crank writing – heaven knows no academic discipline is subject to a greater output of crank scholarship than archaeology – except for the fact that this book is published by the University of Chicago Press and based on a PhD dissertation accepted by Duke University. We are forced to conclude that theories historians and archaeologists regard as daft are actually seen as plausible by at least some anthropologists.


Daft is a good word to describe Abu El Haj’s use of evidence.

None of this is to deny that archaeology and national narratives are inextricably entwined. Nationalists like Abu El Haj will undoubtedly continue to appropriate and misappropriate facts that come out of the ground.

What we can hope for, however, is that Duke University, the University of Chicago Press, Barnard College, and Columbia University will rediscover a commitment to uphold responsible standards of scholarship with regard to the use of archaeological evidence, and, certainly, refuse in future to accept work in which the author makes wild allegations based on the informal remarks of unnamed “student volunteers.”
Read the whole thing here.

Well, we can hope, but don't hold your breaths. My own interactions with the bigoted radicals at Duke and Columbia [I can't speak for the University of Chicago Press] have convinced me that they are so committed to their ideological insanities that they are impenetrable to reason and fact. All they care about is the narrative.