5 comments on “Why historians can’t deal with the JFK assassination

  1. As a graduate student in U.S. West/ Latin American history, I mostly agree with you. However, to maintain that historians in general have a blind spot is unwarranted. Let’s take, for example, the evolution of American historiography. There has always been tension between dominant/peripheral narratives. We should not think historians constitute a homogenous bloc. In regards to Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream, the breakdown of the Cold War consensus paved the way for gender, race, and social history. These historians, aware and troubled by the Kennedy assassination, went against the grain and formed new ways to discourse about history. That is why I encourage you to do the same. You have a true passion and my suggestion is to master the archives. But betting your career to prove there was a conspiracy (we all know there was anyway) seems like martyrdom. Instead, develop your source base and write an awesome dissertation on something like, perhaps, the social roots of anti-communism (just thinking out loud). Then as you stablish yourself at university in the UK or elsewhere, you can then get to what you feel is most important about the case. And what the hell, if a university press doesn’t publish your work, fuck it, call Trine Day. They will publish anything.

    However, your notion of a cabal regarding funding in the U.S. is somewhat absurd. When you apply for fellowships/funding, you don’t say “I’m studying the JFK assassination and my research will change history forever.” You just mention your field, concentration, coursework, and a small writing sample. Oh, and I’m pretty sure the Rockefeller Foundation providing money to Stephen Kinzer to write Bitter Fruit.

    I really appreciate your blog, but it seems you have been reading too much conspiracy and not enough Marx and Foucault. Your notion of power is too simplistic. Power is too dispersed to think of it as emanating from a room where fat cats are smoking cigars, planning the world, and making sure students don’t get money for research.

    As a historian, I love loose ends. That’s what microhistory is all about. Again, you shouldn’t generalize historians as such. You should be specific and say this group/class of historians. I’m sure if you discussed the Kennedy Assassination in private discussion with one of these professors, you would get a much different response.

    I think you’re onto something with cognitive dissonance. Why not argue that in a small article? So what if the American Historical Review doesn’t like it? Publish it elsewhere. I would read it.

    On the notion that the assassination makes historians uncomfortable-I don’t think it’s that. Most of them honestly don’t care. They would rather write a cultural history about a part of the world where they go every summer, drink cocktails, and spend half of their days at the archive. So they are more than willing to go along with the dominant narrative because they haven’t looked into it or they just rehash what their parents or favorite teacher told them…As we get into the late 2010’s/teens, I think there will be more professors/post docs who are not Cold War babies. The critical space for dialogue will open in the next ten to fifteen years. I imagine dissertations on Kenn. will exponentially increase.

    And lastly, peer review. I’m a serious student of Marx and the Frankfurt School and I could care less if a peer review claims that I assume economic determinism, because I do. Instead of trying to be objective (which is an an ideological ruse, IMHO), make your assumptions explicit. Then, you can be attacked for your evidence and sources, not for your assumptions, because you lay them bare. And if you have a good source base, make your argument as Jim Garrison did and treat peer review as your court of law. If there is a battle to be won, it is in dialogue and I think with your commitment to the case, you can do it.

    About feeling dejected for your views, welcome to the club. Being a philosophy major in a very conservative discipline such as history, and now in graduate school, I’m an outsider. So what? I exploit my position and make it known.

    But, I think you’re on target. As John Stuart Mill said, we need to constantly re-evaluate our beliefs in order to know what we believe. Let’s just hope historians heed your advice.


  2. Pingback: Why historians can’t deal with the JFK assassination | THREE SHOTS AT LIFE

  3. Pingback: Why Historians Avoid the JFK Assassination like the Plague | LBJ: From Mastermind to The Colossus

  4. Very well written. I eschew the harshness of Rico’s comments, but for the kind of claims you make, more specificity with regard to sources would be helpful. Professionals definitely shut down on conspiracy when sources of suggested evidence are not given. That is why to your peers, this post of yours would come off as whiny and insulting rather than just criticism.


  5. What aspects are harsh? I mostly enjoyed this piece, but it seems misplaced on some of the points that I mentioned above. I do not mean to come across as a polemicist. From reading your scant and somewhat vague comments, it seems that we are making the same point.


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