pageok
pageok
pageok
Was Woodrow Wilson a plagiarist?--

Tonight I was reading Frederick Jackson Turner's "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." The first footnote just jumped off the page:

A paper read at the meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago, July 12, 1893. It first appeared in the Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, December 14, 1893, with the following note: "The foundation of this paper is my article entitled 'Problems in American History,' which appeared in The Ægis, a publication of the students of the University of Wisconsin, November 4, 1892... It is gratifying to find that Professor Woodrow Wilson--whose volume on 'Division and Reunion' in the Epochs of American History Series, has an appreciative estimate of the importance of the West as a factor in American history--accepts some of the views set forth in the papers above mentioned, and enhances their value by his lucid and suggestive treatment of them in his article in The Forum December, 1893, reviewing Goldwin Smith's 'History of the United States.'" The present text is that of the Report of the American Historical Association for 1893, 199-227.

This is the sort of language one uses to make it clear that one's ideas might be falsely attributed to another author, who did not properly attribute the source of borrowed ideas. BTW, Turner had been Wilson's student at Johns Hopkins.

My suspicions received some support in a passing sentence in a 1933 scholarly article. Reviewing Turner's frontier thesis in the 1933 Pacific Historical Review, Frederic L. Paxson likens Turner to Columbus and calls him a prophet. In a footnote, Paxson quotes Wilson's 1893 article, noting that Wilson does not mention Turner in his 1893 piece, which in part set out Turner's thesis:

"When the great westward migration began everything was modified. . . Beyond the mountains . . . a new nation sprang up. . . . Our continental life is a radically different thing from our life in the old settlements. . . . The formative period of American history . . . did not end in colonial times or on the Atlantic coast . . . nor will it end until we cease to have frontier communities and a young political life just accommodating itself to fixed institutions. . . . Almost all the critical issues of our politics have been made up beyond the mountains." Woodrow Wilson, "Mr. Goldwin Smith's 'Views' on our Political History," in Forum, xvI, 495 (December, 1893); but though aware of the new revelation, Wilson failed to name the prophet [i.e., Turner].

So, not only was Woodrow Wilson the most racist of the post-Reconstruction presidents (a man who systematically re-segregated Washington and demoted African American government employees), but he might have been a plagiarist as well.

UPDATE: For background on Wilson's "Dixiecrat" views, see this analysis of the work of Lawrence J. Friedman:

It was Inauguration Day, and in the judgment of one later historian, "the atmosphere in the nation's capital bore ominous signs for Negroes." Washington rang with happy Rebel Yells, while bands all over town played 'Dixie.' Indeed, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who swore in the newly elected Southern president, was himself a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. Meanwhile, "an unidentified associate of the new Chief Executive warned that since the South ran the nation, Negroes should expect to be treated as a servile race." Somebody had even sent the new president a possum, an act supposedly "consonant with Southern tradition."

This is not an alternate world scenario imagining the results of a Strom Thurmond victory in the 1948 election; it is the real March 4, 1913, the day Woodrow Wilson of Virginia moved into the White House. . . .

An openly racist Southern presidency had existed fewer than 30 years earlier [than Strom Thurmond's 1948 candidacy]: Wilson's. His White House had not only approved of the South's discriminatory practices (many of which were also widespread in the North), it implemented them in the federal government. Had Dixiecrat dreams come true, a Thurmond administration would have revived Woodrow Wilson's racial policies. . . .

Wilson's racist views were hardly a secret. His own published work was peppered with Lost Cause visions of a happy antebellum South. As president of Princeton, he had turned away black applicants, regarding their desire for education to be "unwarranted." He was elected president because the 1912 campaign featured a third party, Theodore Roosevelt's Bullmoose Party, which drew Republican votes from incumbent William Howard Taft. Wilson won a majority of votes in only one state (Arizona) outside the South. . . .

Upon taking power in Washington, Wilson and the many other Southerners he brought into his cabinet were disturbed at the way the federal government went about its own business. One legacy of post-Civil War Republican ascendancy was that Washington's large black populace had access to federal jobs, and worked with whites in largely integrated circumstances. Wilson's cabinet put an end to that, bringing Jim Crow to Washington.

Wilson allowed various officials to segregate the toilets, cafeterias, and work areas of their departments. One justification involved health: White government workers had to be protected from contagious diseases, especially venereal diseases, that racists imagined were being spread by blacks. In extreme cases, federal officials built separate structures to house black workers. Most black diplomats were replaced by whites; numerous black federal officials in the South were removed from their posts; the local Washington police force and fire department stopped hiring blacks. Wilson's own view, as he expressed it to intimates, was that federal segregation was an act of kindness. In historian Friedman's paraphrase, "Off by themselves with only a white supervisor, blacks would not be forced out of their jobs by energetic white employees."

According to Friedman, President Wilson said as much to those appalled blacks who protested his actions. He told one protesting black delegation that "segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen." When the startled journalist William Monroe Trotter objected, Wilson essentially threw him out of the White House. "Your manner offends me," Wilson told him. Blacks all over the country complained about Wilson, but the president was unmoved. "If the colored people made a mistake in voting for me," he told The New York Times in 1914, "they ought to correct it."

TerrencePhilip:
yes, well, MLK was an incredibly blatant plagiarist: plagiarism means nothing to one's historical reputation.
5.16.2008 1:12am
MarkField (mail):
Did Wilson actually plagiarize (i.e., limited to actual copying of words or phrases), or did he "only" take Turner's ideas without attribution?
5.16.2008 1:14am
MarkField (mail):

plagiarism means nothing to one's historical reputation.


Depends on how relevant the plagiarism is to the deeds which made someone famous.
5.16.2008 1:15am
James Lindgren (mail):

Mark Field wrote:

Did Wilson actually plagiarize (i.e., limited to actual copying of words or phrases), or did he "only" take Turner's ideas without attribution?



Both are forms of plagiarism.
5.16.2008 1:19am
taney71:
Its like when Lawrence Tribe plagiarized Henry Abraham's book, "Justices, Presidents, and Senators." Never understood why Tribe didn't go down for that. It's not only ideas, works, or sentences, but entire paragraphs taken from Abraham.
5.16.2008 1:21am
therut:
Same reason Ted Kennedy is still a Senator.
5.16.2008 1:24am
taney71:
Here is a good website on Tribe's plagiarism. And a good National Review article placing it in context of the Doris Kearns Goodwin case.
5.16.2008 1:31am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Before concluding that plagiarism occurred, I would want to know more about how likely Wilson was to have seen Turner's paper. The interval is apparently only a few months, and the nominal dates of publication of academic publications are often not accurate. It is conceivable that Wilson couldn't have read Turner's paper before writing his own, and quite possible that he hadn't even if it was possible.

It isn't uncommon for similar ideas to occur to more than one person in the same field independently around the same time. Sometimes ideas are "in the air".

Turner's footnote is a bit kinder than I would have expected if he had thought that Wilson had plagiarized him. That is slim evidence, but it might mean that he didn't have a strong suspicion of plagiarism and was merely trying to establish priority and that he hadn't plagiarized Wilson.
5.16.2008 1:33am
Jim Hu:
What? Systematically re-segregating the government isn't enough, already?
5.16.2008 1:34am
taney71:
Sorry for all the posts, but I want to add that it has been widely reported that Tribe apologized to Abraham. However, that did not happen. No phone call, email, or letter has ever been received by Abraham from Tribe on this matter.
5.16.2008 1:34am
James Lindgren (mail):
Bill Poser:

Paxson, writing in 1933, says that Wilson was aware of Turner's revelation when he wrote his December 1893 piece.

I take it that the point of Turner's footnote is to make it clear that Wilson was aware of Turner's thesis when Wilson wrote in 1893.
5.16.2008 1:41am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
James Lindgren:

Does Paxson give the basis for his statement that Wilson knew of Turner's work?

Bill
5.16.2008 2:04am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Google Books turns up a passage in David Steigerwald's Wilsonian Idealism in America (p. 24) in which he says that Wilson helped Turner formulate his frontier thesis. This is footnote to two papers, one of which, by Wendell Stephensen, is entitled "The Influence of Woodrow Wilson on Frederick Jackson Turner". It is in Agricultural History 19.249-253 (1945), to which I do not have immediate access.
5.16.2008 2:16am
Tony Tutins (mail):
Was the idea that the West was important in our nation's history really that novel an idea in 1893? Consider all the Presidents who came from the West, like Jackson and Lincoln. The importance of the Ohio and the Mississippi. The Louisiana Purchase. etc. etc.
5.16.2008 2:38am
Snarky:
Whether or not Wilson was a plagiarist or not is totally irrelevant.

He was a racist. What does being a plagiarist on top of that add?
5.16.2008 5:44am
Hoosier:
I'll check the originals today if I can make time. This is more-or-less my bailiwick (History, that is, not plagiarizing). It may simply be an attempt on FJT's part to draw attention to the fact that a well-known and established scholar has written favorably on the fundamental idea behind Turner's innovative thesis. The historical profession was not exactly welcoming of innovation at that time.

Keep in mind that Wilson had made a big splash with "Congressional Government" in 1885. So it would not be surprising if a junior colleague sought to add "heft" to his work by associating his ideas with one of the most prominent scholars of the period—a sort of self-awarded imprimatur. (I have done this. Mea culpa.)

On the other hand, if you are at a university, and if this interests you, go to your library at lunchtime and take a look at Arthur Link's complete writings of WW. It occupies, I dunno, 4 1/2 or 5 shelves in our library, and must be seen to be believed. It is possible that someone so prolific was not terribly careful about attributions.
5.16.2008 7:13am
Hoosier:
An added bit of "color commentary": It is not the case that the gentlemen in the hall jumped up an yelled "Eureka!" at the end of Turner's reading. First, it was miserably hot and muggy—a Chicago summer—and everyone was sweating up a storm. Second, Turner seems to have been a horribly dull lecturer, and tended to bore his audiences with his narcoleptic reading style.

It really hit home when scholar saw it in print.
5.16.2008 7:18am
dearieme:
Is plagiarising better or worse than hiring someone else to write your undergraduate dissertation and your Pulitzer Prize-winning book?
5.16.2008 9:05am
wb (mail):
Dearmieme,

All are manifestations of the same ethical offense: passing off someone else's ideas as your own. The hired writer might of course be serving as an editor &technician putting the a pile of supplied ides into a coherent whole - but that would also demand attribution to be ethically acceptable.
5.16.2008 9:16am
Happyshooter:
I invoke the Boston University plagiarism rule.

If less than 1/2 of the paper is directly copied, no actionable plagiarism has occured.

The rule was adopted when it was discovered that Martin Luther King Jr's doctoral thesis was 1/3 directly copied from the papers of other writers.

Under this rule, WW commited no actual plagiarism.
5.16.2008 9:58am
Hoosier:
Is plagiarising better or worse than hiring someone else to write your undergraduate dissertation and your Pulitzer Prize-winning book?

Better. Because it's cheaper.
5.16.2008 10:24am
Thoughtful (mail):
Wow! Getting us into a major foreign war that fundamentally changed the nature of our republic, leading to the deaths of several hundred thousand Americans, a prolongation of the war, a vengeful treat of Versailles, and the subsequent rise of Hitler.

AND a RACIST!

And a PLAGIARIST!!!!!
5.16.2008 10:47am
Thoughtful (mail):
Treaty
5.16.2008 10:48am
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
About Wilson but not about unauthorized copying: Herbert Yardley in the American Black Chamber speculates that Wilson was assassinated. Yardley was a government codebreaker who claimed to have intercepted threats that Wilson would be poisoned if he went to the post-WWI treaty-making. After Wilson's trip, he was in poor health and later died. No idea whether this is true - Yardley's a somewhat unreliable source. But it could be checked out.
5.16.2008 11:05am
ERH:
Plagiarism is the least of Wilson's sins. I'm always surprised when people put him on lists of best presidents.
5.16.2008 11:42am
Mark Butler (mail):
What does Wilson's racism have to do with whether he was or was not a plagiarist?

Or have we simply come down to "well, he was a bad man, so he probably committed this wrong too."

Lousy reasoning. I'd give it an F in a freshman politics class.
5.16.2008 11:44am
jazzed (mail):
Jim Hu: What? Systematically re-segregating the government isn't enough, already?

A very Buck v Bell sentiment!
5.16.2008 11:56am
Orson Buggeigh:
Hoosier,
I'll try and check Links edited papers of Woodrow Wilson today when I'm in the library.

For those asking why WW gets a pass for militarism and GWB gets dinged, consider this: Wilson had a (D) following his name, G W. Bush has an (R). That wasn't so hard, now was it? And it is interesting, that many of the people cheering Wilson as one of our best presidents rank his disciple George W.Bush as one of the worst. Of course, it helps it you have a more academically acceptable speaking style, and are a good word smith. President Bush's efforts to explain how he wanted to bring American style democracy to Iraq just aren't as pithy as Wilson promising to 'teach the Mexicans to elect good men." But in many ways, That really what President Bush is doing.

While I'm looking, Hoosier, I'll see how the relationship between Turner and Wilson seems to fit together. But if Wilson took more credit than was his just due for an idea of a bright student, it certainly wouldn't be the first time, would it. And, you are correct - Turner was apparently a dreadful lecturer, so reading his work must have been much less painful than listening to him.
5.16.2008 11:56am
jazzed (mail):
Snarky: He was a racist. What does being a plagiarist on top of that add?

I suppose that, as offensive as the proposition is, one is entitled to be a racist. I don't know anyone who would claim entitlement to plagiarize.
5.16.2008 11:59am
JB:
Wilson tends to get a pass because his racism is hushed up. If the last part of this post were widely known, he'd be posthumously impeached.

(Why is it hushed up? Now there's the rub).
5.16.2008 12:05pm
JB:
Edit: He also gets a pass because we "won" WWI. Admittedly, we won in the same way that we won Iraq I, but then Bush I gets a pass too.
5.16.2008 12:05pm
wm13:
Just to clarify a point raised by Mark Field. Copyright law protects only the expression of ideas. Ideas themselves, or information, cannot be copyrighted. So for me to write a treatise in my own words about the importance of the frontier would not be a copyright violation. Even if I did no original research, and merely paraphrased Frederick Jackson Turner, it would not be a copyright violation.

However, academic and intellectual norms do protect ideas, and, if I am expressing ideas that I got from someone else, credit must be given to that person.

Additionally, a somewhat murkier academic norm dictates that some portion of my work must be original. If my whole paper consisted of nothing but a paraphrase of Frederick Jackson Turner, it would be unacceptable, even though the notes and bibliography indicated that I had relied on him. This is a murky area and depends in part on the student's level: a grade school paper that consisted almost entirely of paraphrase of published work would not necessarily be an ethical problem, although one would hope that the student could progress to a higher level in the secondary grades. In contrast, even in grade school, direct transcription from another work would be impermissible.

It is this rule requiring originality, not mere paraphrase, that Martin Luther King violated. His academic work consisted largely--much too largely--of paraphrase. Reading his papers and the sources on which he relied, one is struck by the jejune nature of the enterprise. King is working like the grade schooler mentioned above, producing "academic" work that is simply a paraphrase of what he has read. He isn't saved simply because he did, in fact, properly credit his sources.

But, to me, Martin Luther King is saved by what he did in the rest of his life, which was a lot more valuable, memorable and admirable than the finest scholarship.
5.16.2008 12:11pm
Dave N (mail):
Wilson's racism isn't condemned because, you know, only Republicans can be racist. Didn't Howard Dean say something to that effect?

As for Wilson being assassinated, what an idiotic theory. Was this a slow-motion assassination? Wilson went to Paris in 1919 and died in 1924. Wilson did suffer a stroke in 1919, characterized by facial paralysis on one side.

I would note that if Democrats think that history repeats itself and that there are parallels between between Wilson and George W. Bush, as an earlier commenter did, then they should be heartened. Adding to the parallel, Wikipedia noted in an article about the 1920 election, "Outgoing President Wilson was increasingly unpopular. . . . The economy was in a recession, the public was weary of war and reform."

In that election, Warren Harding defeated his Democratic opponent, James Cox, 60.1% to 34.1%--and won the electoral vote 404-127. Republicans also captured 10 formerly Democratic Senate seats and 61 seats in the House.

I don't believe in exact parallelism, and I don't think the 2008 results are going to be anywhere as bad as the Democrats were in 1920, but I thought I would share them.
5.16.2008 12:45pm
Romeo (mail):
"Wilson won a majority of votes in only one state (Arizona) outside the South. . . . "

According to this link, Wilson did not win a majority of votes in Arizona (or in any other state outside the South. Wilson in Arizona received 44%, to 29% for Roosevelt, 13% each for Taft and Debs, and 1% for the Prohibition candidate.
5.16.2008 12:45pm
CJColucci:
Wilson tends to get a pass because his racism is hushed up. If the last part of this post were widely known, he'd be posthumously impeached.

(Why is it hushed up? Now there's the rub).


How is Wilson's racism "hushed up?" It's true that a lot of people don't know about it, but a lot of people don't know jack shit. We've all seen Leno's "Jaywalking" segments. It's no secret -- otherwise, how did you know about it? -- can easily be documented in widely-available books, and is well-known to moderately informed people.
5.16.2008 12:53pm
JB:
I didn't know about it until recently, and I'm quite knowledgeable about a lot of things. The plural of anecdotes is not data, but I'd wager that rather a lot of people far smarter than the people from Jaywalking don't know it either.

In fact, I'd say most people couldn't name the second-most famous thing most Presidents are famous for. Wilson had WWI and the 14 Points, and most people don't go beyond that.
5.16.2008 1:03pm
Seamus (mail):
Indeed, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who swore in the newly elected Southern president, was himself a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.

As one who was initiated into the Knights of Columbus at Edward Douglass White Council, let me note that, while this has been the subject of speculation, I am unaware of any hard evidence that Chief Justice White had in fact been a member of the Klan. (He certainly would have been unwelcome in the second Klan, the one that was founded ca. 1915 and was as anti-Catholic as anti-black.)
5.16.2008 1:03pm
guest:
The Agricultural History article reprints a long letter from Turner detailing the chronology, as well as a quote from Wilson saying that the ideas were all Turner's. Certainly not the only time an advisor was uncharitable in absorbing the ideas of a student without sufficient credit.
5.16.2008 1:06pm
Seamus (mail):
I'm no fan of Woodrow Wilson, but isn't it just as likely that Turner's famous thesis was based on a seed planted in his head by Wilson during his studies at JHU? When I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia (and a member of the same literary and debating society that Wilson was president of, by the way), I had a professor (Charles Julian Bishko) who taught a class on "The Medieval Frontier," which was a creative attempt to apply the Turner thesis to medieval history (with frontiers in Spain, the Levant, and the German East). At the time, Bishko hadn't yet published his "Studies in Medieval Spanish Frontier History" (which in any event may not have explicitly applied the Turner thesis). If I had finished my Ph.D. and published a paper that *did* discuss the Turner thesis as applied to medieval Spanish or Lithuanian history, and had dropped an initial footnote similar to Turner's, it would certainly be unfair to read that footnote as suggesting that Prof. Bishko had plagiarized from me.
5.16.2008 1:14pm
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
How is Wilson's racism "hushed up?" It's true that a lot of people don't know about it, but a lot of people don't know jack shit. We've all seen Leno's "Jaywalking" segments. It's no secret -- otherwise, how did you know about it? -- can easily be documented in widely-available books, and is well-known to moderately informed people.

What do modern high school history textbooks have to say about Wilson?

Hmmm ... It might also be interesting to compare the treatment of Wilson and Nixon in modern high school textbooks.

Anyone out there with kids in high school? Inquiring minds want to know ...
5.16.2008 1:15pm
MarkField (mail):
Thanks wm13 for both seeing where I was going and explaining it better than I would have.


Wilson's racism isn't condemned because, you know, only Republicans can be racist.


I know this was intended as snark, but c'mon. The Democrats were the racist party in those days. Not that all Dems were racist, of course, but that the party as a whole depended on the votes of racists and catered to them.

It's true that racism was downplayed in older histories (certainly when I was growing up), but recent biographies of Wilson are quite blunt about it.

Because I'm feeling so good today about living in a state with a courageous Supreme Court, I'll leave off any commentary on today's parties.
5.16.2008 1:38pm
CJColucci:
What do modern high school history textbooks have to say about Wilson?
I imagine high school history textbooks are as dreadful now as they were in my day. If so, it's likely that one would no more learn from them that Wilson was a racist than one would learn --- well, any number of interesting and moderately important facts. (Of course, in my day Wilson was still President.:-)) I would be as surprised as anyone to find out that Wilson's racism is widely-known; but very little is widely-known. That doesn't mean it's "hushed up." Leonard Jeffries -- you may remember him -- used to rant that it was hushed up that several of our early Presidents owned slaves. It was true that shamefully large numbers of people didn't (and still don't) know that, but it was common knowledge among people with any historical knowledge at all. Anyone who read any reputable general history of the period or biography of any slave-owning President would learn it. This sort of thing may not be widely-known, in the sense that randomly-selected people off the street know it, but it's widely-available to anyone who cares to know. That's a far cry from being "hushed up."
5.16.2008 1:48pm
dearieme:
But you've got to give Wilson credit for his enabling the first woman to act as head of the Executive Branch, albeit on the sly, and in conjunction with his doctor.
5.16.2008 2:36pm
Dave N (mail):
dearieme,

Why should we give Wilson credit for having a stroke?
5.16.2008 2:50pm
TruthInAdvertising:
One of the reasons that Wilson's racists thoughts and practices don't get wider discussion is that it's hardly noteworthy of American society in the 1920s. The Klan reached its peak in the 20s and legalized racial segregation was in full-force across much of the country. These were hardly enlightened times when it came to racial issues. One can single out Wilson but he was hardly by himself in those times.

http://chnm.gmu.edu/courses/hist409/klan.html
5.16.2008 3:17pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
James Loewen had a lot to say about Wilson's racism in "Lies My Teacher Told Me," so I imagine it's a lot better known now. I knew little about it before I read that and have heard a lot of it since. (He also mentioned how all you hear in high school about Helen Keller was her childhood. As an adult, she was very radical.)
5.16.2008 4:05pm
Hoosier:
Orson--While I'm looking, Hoosier, I'll see how the relationship between Turner and Wilson seems to fit together.

Please let us know what you find. I admit that I don't know anything about their scholarly relationship.

What I do know: Wilson coached college football before moving on to Princeton. I'm just not sure why I know that. But I can't picture it, so perhaps that's why it stuck in my head.
5.16.2008 4:07pm
fat tony (mail):
I see from Turner's footnote that the academic writing style has changed not a whit in 115 years.
5.16.2008 5:06pm
Careless:

What do modern high school history textbooks have to say about Wilson?

Hmmm ... It might also be interesting to compare the treatment of Wilson and Nixon in modern high school textbooks.

Anyone out there with kids in high school? Inquiring minds want to know ...


My youngest sister graduated from high school a few years ago, 8 years after I did, and we both took AP US history. Her class covered Wilson's racism, mine did not. Of course, my teacher was a big fan of Wilson.
5.16.2008 5:26pm
Larry Fafarman (mail) (www):
It is a common myth that Jimmy Carter was the first Southern-born president since before the Civil War. There were also Abraham Lincoln -- Kentucky, Andrew Johnson -- North Carolina, Woodrow Wilson -- Virginia, Harry Truman -- Missouri, Eisenhower -- Texas, and Lyndon Johnson -- Texas.
5.16.2008 8:57pm
Orson Buggeigh:
Hoosier, Here's some background material. I checked several volumes of Wilsons letters, edited by Arthur S. Link; a couple of biographies of Turner (Billington, and Bogue, and the Wilbur R. Jacobs volume on Turner as historian). Didn't get a chance to pull the articles by Frederic L. Paxon in the 1933 Pacific Historical Quarterly or Wendell Stephenson article from the 1933 volume of Agricultural History because they are on auxiliary shelving, and I'll pull them tomorrow. I did look at the 1954 article by Jacobs in the 1954 Pacific Historical Review.

Wilson received his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins in 1888. He was teaching at Princeton in the 1890/1891 academic year, but appears to have also done some visiting lecturer work at Johns Hopkins after he received his Ph.D. This includes the time when Turner was at Johns Hopkins.

Allan Bogue's biography, _Frederick Jackson Turner: Strange Roads Going Down_, 1998 was my source for general biography of Turner. indicates Turner arranged to go to Johns Hopkins in 1888. He was able to obtain a room in a lodging house, which happened to be the same one Wilson had used when he was a student, (43-44) and where Wilson roomed when he was teaching at Johns Hopkins (49). They appear to have had a good relationship, and critiqued each other's work occasionally after Turner finished his Ph.D. in 1891. Bogue reports that Turner read the Frontier thesis paper to Wilson in 1893 after he had presented it to the American Historical Association (113), and that Wilson and Andrew C. McLaughlin of the University of Michigan praised the frontier thesis in the AHA _Report_ in 1896 (130, n.478).

The Papers of Woodrow S. Wilson, Vol. 8, 1892 - 1894 provide additional information. Wilson to Charles K. Adams,December 23, 1892 indicates that Wilson was a house guest of the Turners while attending the American Historical Association meeting in Madison, where Turner was teaching. Link says Turner read a draft of the Frontier thesis paper to Wilson at that time, citing the Stephenson article in Agricultural History (61), which suggests that Turner may have been bouncing ideas off Wilson, whom he valued as a mentor and colleague. This possibility is at least suggested by Link's description of the chronology of events in Wilson's writing his book _Division and Reunion_ for editor Albert Bushnell Hart. Hart approached Wilson in April of 1889, and Wilson contacted his former student, now returned to Wisconsin (and teaching duties while finishing his dissertation) in August. Link says that Wilson recalled discussions with Turner, asking Turner if he could provide material on the antebellum development of"self-conscious western sectionalism" for him (279-280). This would be during the time Turner was writing his dissertation, and well before his permanent appointment at Madison and his Frontier Thesis paper being presented to the AHA in 1893. Link also has correspondence showing that Turner wrote Wilson immediately after presenting the Frontier Thesis paper in July (278-279), and again at Christmas time in 1893 (417). The letters seem quite cordial and friendly, not suggesting that Turner felt ill used.

So was Wilson mis-appropriating the work of one of his graduate students for himself? I honestly can't see anything too much in it. Maybe he was, but it doesn't seem to be an especially strong case, as far as I can see.

And now a possible correction. I commented earlier on Turner's reputedly poor speaking skills. I drew from my own recollection of a graduate seminar years ago, and so I checked my notes in the file cabinet. Yes, indeed, that's what my learned Herr Doktor Professor said. But, I wonder if perhaps he had mis-interpreted something. Wilbur Jacobs, "Frederick Jackson Turner: Master Teacher," Pacific Historical Review, (2/1954), pp. 49-58 argues to the contrary. On pp. 56-57 he cites one of Turner's students remembering that Turner was a good speaker. Bogue cites a report by John Franklin Jameson (who did not care for western history) as reporting that Turner read a paper in 1888, with "his voice pleasantly melodic, pitched and nuanced with elocutionary skill." (48). However, Bogue also notes that Guy Stanton Ford remembered an 1892 undergraduate course from Turner as being disjointed, and Ford characterized Turner as not a very successful undergraduate teacher, but a good inspiration for motivated self-starters. However, graduate students like Carl L. Becker remembered Turner's seminars very fondly (64-65). So what's the truth? Perhaps Turner wasn't an especially effective undergraduate teacher, and perhaps he did not always excel in public speaking, but he seems to have had a great deal of support from his graduate students, who felt he gave them encouragement and guidance.

Having looked at it again today, I still feel much more favorably about Turner's work, both as a historian and as a man, than I do about Wilson's work. But I don't know that I would go as far as saying Wilson was clearly taking Turner's ideas as his own.
5.17.2008 12:16am