Michael Bellesiles

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Michael A. Bellesiles is an historian who claimed that there were few guns and gun owners in early America. [1] Liberal Columbia University gave him the Bancroft prize for his book Arming America, but they revoked the award after historian Clayton Cramer proved that the book was fraudulent.

Bellesiles was a history professor at Emory University in Atlanta until he resigned amid allegations of deceit and misrepresentation of historical evidence in his pro-gun control book entitled Arming America, The Origins of a National Gun Culture (2000).

  • Columbia University's Trustees have voted to rescind the Bancroft Prize awarded last year to Michael Bellesiles for his book Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture. The Trustees made the decision. Based on a review of an investigation of charges of scholarly misconduct against Professor Bellesiles by Emory University and other assessments by professional historians. They concluded that he had violated basic norms of scholarship and the high standards expected of Bancroft Prize winners. The Trustees voted to rescind the Prize during their regularly scheduled meeting on December 7, 2002 and have notified Professor Bellesiles of their decision.[1]

Emory University convened an independent committee of scholars to examine Bellesiles' work. The committee's report, as summarized by George Mason University's History News Network, concluded as follows:[2]

Concerning the records related to Rutland, Vt., and Providence, RI, the committee concluded that though he had made extensive errors he was not guilty of fraud and misrepresentation. But the committee concluded that while "we cannot prove that Professor Bellesiles simply invented his California research" "neither do we have confidence that the Contra Costa inventories resolve the problem."
Concerning table one, which listed his probate records, the committee concluded that his failure to identify his sources "does move into the realm of 'falsification,' " in violation of Emory's policies and procedures. "The construction of this Table implies a consistent, comprehensive and intelligent method of gathering data. The reality seems quite the opposite. In fact, Professor Bellesiles told the Committee that because of criticism from other scholars, he himself had begun to doubt the quality of his probate research well before he published it in the Journal of American History."
The committee concluded that he was guilty of "egregious misrepresentation" in his handling of relevant data reported by historian Alice Hanson Jones. Bellesiles told the committee that he had not included her data in his table because it included a "disproportionately high number of guns." "Here is a clear admission of misrepresentation," the committee concluded, "since the label on column one in Table One clearly says '1765-1790.'"
Finally, the committee concluded that Bellesiles is "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work," though at all times he was "both cooperative and respectful." His responses, the committee declared, "have been prolix, confusing, evasive and occasionally contradictory." The committee specifically noted that Bellesiles's disavowal of emails he had sent to James Lindgren was implausible.
In sum, the committee found that "his scholarly integrity is seriously in question."

Gary Wills, who had given a glowing book review for Bellesiles in The New York Times before learning of all this, stated simply, "I was took. The book is a fraud."[3] Wills, a liberal, was eager to believe Bellesiles's claims simply because they were politically convenient.


  1. http://hnn.us/articles/1157.html
  2. http://hnn.us/articles/1069.html
  3. Jonah Goldberg, "Reports of the 2nd Amendment's death have been greatly exaggerated ..." Pittsburg Post-Gazette (Apr. 8, 2007).