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A Contemporary Discussion

A Contemporary Discussion

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Published by Denise McVea
A behind-the-scenes look at how "experts" in Texas history decide what you should see..
A behind-the-scenes look at how "experts" in Texas history decide what you should see..

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Denise McVea on Sep 12, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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01/23/2013

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
A Contemporary Discussion
There is fiction in the space between The lines on your page are memories Write it down but it doesn't mean 
You're not just telling stories…
 
-Tracy Chapman, American folk singer
 Author's note: 
While researching 
Making Myth of Emily 
, the author found the environment concerning Texas history questions surprising and disheartening. The Texas history community,which should have been a place of encouragement, assistance and collaboration, in effect was something much less than that. In reality, the Texas history community I encountered was resistant (and often hostile) to new ideas and unwelcoming to diverse voices. I found an insular and exclusive place, where tight associations of "longtime friends" seem to dedicate their efforts  primarily to advancing personal ambitions rather than creating a climate of inclusion and diverse thought. Institutions responsible for promoting debate and diversifying ideas and voices lack the commitment necessary to challenge the sensibilities and biases of the established elite. The indignities and insult I endured during my search for the truth behind the Yellow Rose legend is the subject of another book, but often while visiting the archives, museums and other institutions in Texas, I felt as though I had stepped back in time, an interloper into a gathering of like-minded  people.I have added this chapter of email correspondence to this edition of the book for several reasons. First, because I believe it amply illustrates the level of duplicity that my requests for information garnered among the people most associated with the Yellow Rose mystery. Secondly,because the group to which the correspondents belong had indicated that they were waiting for the opportunity to attack the book publicly and I wanted the readers to have something by which they could put those attacks in context. Thirdly and most importantly, I believe this chapter is an education for anyone interested in legends and history, whether in Texas or beyond. It is a brief view of the negotiations, manipulations and intrigues that often exist behind the footnote. In this sense, this chapter offers compelling insights that are in the public interest.
The email 
correspondence begins in the winter of 2002. A university press in Texas has demonstrated interest in publishing the book. However, because of its controversial nature, the  press editor wants to hear from an "expert" on the subject before he places the book up for review. (University presses pay outside reviewers --usually academics with known track records on the book's subject- to read and comment on the viability and accuracy of a manuscript. Under this method, the reviewers become the virtual gatekeepers of new research trying to reach the  public through the university publishing system.) The first email is a letter from the professor to the author after he has first read the manuscript.The conversations, mainly between a respected professor and the author, begins congenially enough, but over time deteriorates as I begin to see that while the professor characterized my research in a general way as biased, he either could not-or would not-give me valid examples of 
what he generally deemed my “tendentiousness.” I began to suspect that his interest in my 
research, and his offer 
to “help” were not altogether altruistic.
 
Because I believe the dialogue reveals a larger problem that must be addressed in Texas to ensure more diverse participation in historical research, the names of my correspondents and other identifying information have been omitted or altered. In an entirely self-serving move, I have  placed key portions of the dialogue in bold type and included comments.
From: ProfessorTo: AuthorDate sent:
Dec. 6, 2002
 Subject: Emily -- one or two?Dear Author:I was about to give up on you when your manuscript finally arrived, and now I expect that you are about to give upon me. However, even with a pile of term papers still ungraded (or perhaps BECAUSE of them), I read your entirework on Tuesday and Wednesday.Finally, as things begin to get back to normal, let me give you my first impressions, and ask a question or two.(Keep in mind that I have only read through the MS once -- I would need more time to do an in-depth critique).First, I want to commend you on your exhaustive research -- even when I've disagreed with you, I have beenimpressed by your resourcefulness and cleverness in making your case.Secondly, I should admit that I still do disagree with your "one Emily" thesis -- though some of the issues that youraise have indicated a need for further research, without question.Thirdly,
I believe that your work still suffers from tendentiousness -- a double standard with regard to theevaluation of evidence, which ALWAYS gives the benefit of the doubt to ambiguous evidence which mightprove your case
, while at the same time simply declaring as erroneous, irrelevant, or fraudulent a number ofdocuments which tend to contradict your thesis. All of which is to say that you would make a GREAT lawyer, but I'mnot sure that this is the proper approach for a historian.All that said, I have to admit that you have raised the shadow of doubt in my mind -- and you would no doubtconvince many of your readers that we still have no clear-cut answer to the question: "One Emily, or two?" That initself is quite a feat. I really must catch up with my term papers and final exams before I return to my notes on yourmanuscript and track down a few suspicions of my own -- however, let me ask you one question first. (I apologizefor not having your manuscript in front of me as a write--it is at home, while I am stuck today here at the office.)Here's the question: what is the evidence, beyond M. B. Lamar's statement that Emily de Zavala and JamesMorgan traveled from New York to Texas together on the
Flash 
in late 1835? I don't recall seeing a reference inyour notes to a passenger list, though it appears that J. P. Bryan was referring to one in the speech of his that youquote.Did I miss this in your notes, or has either a departing (from NY) or arriving (in Texas) passenger list survived --either in the form of a newspaper list or a government document? If so, who is and who is not included in the list?Can you enlighten me on this point?
Finally, I must say that I am disappointed by your dismissal of the Morgan/West labor contract foundseveral years ago by the lawyer.
I believe that it is highly unlikely that this is a forgery -- but I will withhold final judgment until I have time to devote myself more thoroughly to the subject.In the meantime, I will await your answer about the
Flash 
while I try to find time after final exams next week to followup some of my further thoughts about your manuscript.Again, congratulations on making a strong case for a very unlikely thesis
-- you know, I might even be persuadedto write a preface to your book if several of my specific questions and criticisms could be put to rest
!(Pardon my presumptuousness.)Please let me hear from you when you can.Sincerely,ProfessorFrom: AuthorTo: ProfessorDate Sent:
Dec. 8, 2002
 Subject: Re: Emily
One or Two?Yes, there is other evidence that Emily West de Zavala arrived with James Morgan on the
Flash 
, most notably a billfor Emily's passage that Lorenzo de Zavala paid to Morgan after the journey. I found that bill at the RosenbergLibrary in the James Morgan papers there. There is also a copy in the Lorenzo de Zavala papers at UT. I'm sure I
 
have a copy of it, but the vast majority of documents I have accumulated about Emily are still in Mexico. Because ofthe controversial nature of my thesis, I tried to obtain copies of all the documents I could, and placed them in bound,indexed catalogues. However, it was simply impossible for me to bring all my papers with me to Montana when Icame for this fellowship, so I only have with me here those documents I thought were most vulnerable to questionsand doubts (that is, questions about there existence). I call that catalogue "Primary Documents 1." Because Lamar'spublic papers clearly noted the arrival of Emily on the Flash with Morgan, I relegated the bill for her passage to asecondary catalogue. I believe that document is in "Primary Documents 2," which I did not bring with me toMontana. But it does exist and is easily found and replicated. I have six such catalogues.
I'm curious about your questions relating to that journey.
 
I would also like to know in what passages youspecifically see my tendentiousness,
because I am at a crossroads here and respect your observations. Despitewhat traditional historians might think, I am sincerely interested in ferreting out the truth behind the myth. If I amguilty of anything, it is the belief that the truth about Emily has been mired in a folkloric muck. The anomalies thathave plagued this story have admittedly colored my thinking, and I have struggled with how to get at the core of thisstory without falling prey to some of the tendencies that (I believe) have plagued others. I would deeply appreciate -when you have the time-- a detailed look at where I might be evincing tendentiousness
,
because I really do want thebook to be about raising questions, as opposed to pretending to answer all the questions.
I am also interested in your take on Adina, whose legacy has never before been fully considered, and whichI believe offers enormous insights into the mystery.
I know that it is in my best interest to engage your wisdom, as you are clearly one of (if not THE) most respectedauthority of this era in Texas history. (I've talked to several people). I know you are busy, Professor, and I amgrateful for any time you have to give. Please consider me an avid student.Warmest regards,AuthorFrom: AuthorTo: ProfessorDate:
Dec. 8, 2002
Subject: Forgive the obsessionProfessor,Please forgive the obsession here with the term "tendentious" but I think it is a valid term to which it would behooveme to be aware. As you know, I am more a journalist than a historian. At the same time, I have spent years goingwhere no Texas historian has bothered to go before and because of this, feel that I have some cachet as a scholarof this particular history. Your comments, however, have given me pause, and I would like to discuss them with you,not only for this project, but for others down the road.Specifically, when you suggest that my approach has been more that of a lawyer than a historian, (I cringe forobvious reasons) but I also felt coming into this project that I was emulating the historians that I initially referencedin my work. That is to say, that I took my cues from Lutzweiler, Binkley, Estep, Henson and the like, and built mywhole project on how they approached their projects. That is to say that I believed that approaching history from apoint of view was how it was done. Your comments suggest that I was wrong in that assumption.On the face of it, your comments about giving the benefit of the doubt to those documents that support my casemake sense. But I thought that if I didn't bring them up, and give them the benefit of my belief in them, that I wouldbe failing my readers.I know you are busy and have more than your share of students already, but I hope you will see in me a person whois sincerely interested in getting it right and--as time permits- I hope you will suffer my questions.All best,AuthorFrom: ProfessorTo: AuthorDate Sent:
Dec. 9, 2002
 Subject: RE: Forgive the obsessionDear Author:Thanks for your messages. I am too swamped with term papers and finals just now to give you any more detailed acritique -- I'll do my best to get back to you before Xmas, but no promises -- I have a commitment to read (for apublisher) another scholar's manuscript before I can get back to yours.Nevertheless, I want to commend you again on your determination to get to the bottom of this story -- but rememberthat no historian should let the desired conclusion determine how any piece of evidence is treated. (Take a look ifyou want to see some of my methodological work, at an article I did for
Journal 
). You're on a research adventure ofyour own -- what you must NOT do is to lose your credibility by using a double standard on the evidence, or byignoring evidence that might detract from your desired conclusion.

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