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H-ASIA November 10, 2005 Further comment re: complaining to the FTC about *1421* ************************************************************************ From: Geoff Wade <email@example.com> Dear List, Professor Goldin's response to my earlier postings is encouraging in that it suggests that people are thinking about the propositions and possible methods for dealing with some of the problems faced. However, there seems to be some misunderstanding between us on key aspects of this issue. I was certainly not advocating approaches to the FTC over every history book that offers a different take on an issue to that which one holds. There is no need to tell H-Asia readers about the diversity of opinions which exist in respect of historical events, the breadth of explanation possible for phenomena of the past, and the need for there to be healthy debate among the persons who hold such views. That is all taken as given. But with Menzies' *1421* and the upcoming *The Island of Seven Cities*, we are speaking of a very different phenomenon. We can illustrate this by taking Professor Goldin's example of the history proffered by Charles and Mary Beard in *The Rise of American Civilization*. In this work, the authors proceeded from recognised historical phenomena (that there were people known as "Founding Fathers", that there was a system of slavery in place, that there was a Civil War, etc.) and interpreted these things in a way which differed from the mainstream. Most historians will accept this as a valid manifestation of the diversity of historical explanation (surely, one of the great beauties of the discipline). But with *1421* and *The Island of Seven Cities*, we are addressing accounts which are completely fictitious. Objections to these volumes do not lie in differences in "interpreting historical evidence" or an "author's interpretations of historical evidence," suggested by Professor Goldin. There were, by universal academic recognition, no such 15th-century Chinese voyages in the Atlantic, Arctic, Antarctic or Pacific Oceans, no such celestial observation posts established, no global mapping, and no Chinese settlement on Cape Breton Island. The claims are all fabricated, and the books were created with intent to make money by deceiving the public. I do hope that the majority of H-Asia members will recognise a quite marked qualitative difference between the two examples. I initially considered such works to be simply the products of charlatans who had convinced publishers of the commercial merit of their fabrications. However, the complicity of the publishers has become increasingly apparent. Those who know the publication process of *1421* affirm that the original text offered to the publishers was nothing like the published work. It was half the size and had a very different focus. Menzies himself admits that the publishers rewrote it for him, obviously to suit their marketing needs. In the *1421* acknowledgements, Menzies cites 12 Transworld staff members and "their teams" who had been instrumental in bringing the book the market. The deception and responsibility for it is thus very much joint. What we have therefore is not a person proposing a new thesis, or "interpreting historical evidence". It is a corporation manipulating a manuscript, in itself already false, and then classifying it as history, in order to improve marketing and maximize profits. As such, it is a false product, deceitfully labelled and it is thereby subject to the various statues which guide the advertising and sale of products within our respective societies. It is thus that I took my complaints to the Consumer Complaints body in the UK and the FTC in the United States. If Professor Goldin considers this to amount to my opposition to the right of historians to "interpret historical evidence", so be it. The three books I have cited (*1421* in its British and US versions and *The Island of Seven Cities*) are all published by corporations subordinate to the Bertelsmann media group and undoubtedly these works form parts of an integrated global marketing strategy. Whether other publishers are intending to catch the same wave is moot, but the trend is worrying. Why worrying, some may ask. The classification of fiction as history is already an obvious problem, and the chauvinism which Menzies' book has induced in East Asia on the basis that *1421* is "history" is powerful evidence of this. But more importantly (and the significance of this has only begun to sink in this week as I have learned more about library systems, classifications and cataloguing), is that publishers can basically create their own library categories for the books they publish. Thus, the repositories of public knowledge reflect not what their personnel determine a book might be, but what the publisher says that it is. If a publisher calls their book "history", it appears that generally a library will accept this and catalogue it accordingly. This may have been an effective and desirable system in times of yore, when publishers' reputations were high, when everyone had the public interest at heart and when the academic world was somewhat smaller. Today, when the cynical manipulation of the book-buying public is an essential element in many publishers' profit-maximizing arsenals, is the system still feasible or does public interest demand its overhaul? In the case of these three books, I have advocated a triple-prong approach: 1) Direct approach to the publishers, noting the disquiet among the academic community about these books and their classification; 2) Formal complaints to the government bodies which implement fair trading policies and monitor infractions 3) Approaches to libraries or library associations to try and ensure some veracity in the eventual classification of the works. I do hope that H-Asia members will join in the campaign in at least one of those areas. These are but stop-gap measures. I think that the issues raised by the publication and classification of these books are extremely important, not only for historians, but also, as Ryan has noted, for how our societies classify knowledge. I thank Professor Goldin (and Dr Wood) for their responses and hope that other members of H-Asia will also go public in their thoughts on these matters. With best wishes, Geoff Wade Asia Research Institute National University of Singapore ****************************************************************** To post to H-ASIA simply send your message to: <H-ASIA@h-net.msu.edu> For holidays or short absences send post to: <firstname.lastname@example.org> with message: SET H-ASIA NOMAIL Upon return, send post with message SET H-ASIA MAIL H-ASIA WEB HOMEPAGE URL: http://h-net.msu.edu/~asia/