This Sentence Is a Stone’s Throw Away From Its Intent

To the Editor:

In “The Obsession with Social History” (The Chronicle, January 28), Richard Pells writes, “I do not question that those faculty members who specialize only in the plight of women, African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are in any way ignoring legitimate problems in American history from which those groups have long suffered.”

Unfortunately, the next sentence — “Moreover, academic historians before the 1960s ignored the experiences of those groups for far too many decades” — suggests that this first sentence means the opposite of what Professor Pells intended.

By saying he “does not question” that these new scholars are “ignoring legitimate problems,” Mr. Pells literally says that he is certain that they are ignoring these problems. The overall structure of the paragraph, however, suggests that he means to acknowledge in this passage that the efforts of these new scholars have not been unduly unbalanced.

Within the context of a pair of essays that discuss current problems in the discipline of History, the example above suggests that imprecise prose may constitute another such challenge. Living as I do in the glass house of an English Department whose students regularly commit such errors, I am of course in no position to throw stones. I would expect, however, that The Chronicle’s editorial staff would be able to intercept such miscommunications before they find their way into print (or, at least, online).

Joe Falocco
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Texas State University at San Marcos
San Marcos, Tex.

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