Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Tale of Academic Intrigue

The Guardian reports (here) on the apparent efforts of one academic historian, or his wife, to enhance his own reputation by rubbishing the reputations of other academic historians. Orlando Figes is a prominent historian at Birkbeck College, London. He is married to Stephanie Palmer, a University Senior Lecturer in Law at Cambridge (Girton College). Apparently, Palmer has for several years authored reviews of various books on the history of Russia, using the nom de plume "Historian."

Unabashedly praising the works of Orlando Figes, "Historian" pans the works of other historians of Russia, including the Cambridge-based independent historian Dr. Rachel Polonsky and Robert Service of Oxford University."Historian" also turned her poisoned-pen to attack the work of Kate Summerscale, whose book The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (Walker & Co. 2008) beat out Mr. Fige's own  work for the prestigious and lucrative Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.

Fortunately, The Guardian reports, lawyers - as usual serving the public interest - have helped to bring the truth (well, at least some of the truth) of the relationship between "Historian" and Professor Figes to light.

This is not the first time academic scandal has emerged from reviews. Perhaps most famously, the conservative scholar John Lott posted favorable reviews of his own works using the name "Mary Rosh" (see here).

Let this story serve as a cautionary tale and a reminder that academia is a mean and nasty profession, present company excluded!

UPDATE: Professor Figes has now admitted (see here) that he, not his wife, promoted his own books and savaged those of rival historians under the pen-name "Historian."

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