Check out what a few Ph.D’s can accomplish with an internet connection and e-mail accounts: Ralph Luker over at Cliopatria reports that Melissa Spore at the University of Saskatchewan wrote to him with her suspicions that Robin Morgan’s recent essay, “Goodbye to All That (#2)” in support of Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic nomination, contained a counterfeit quotation from Harriet Tubman. (The Morgan essay has been linked to on a lot of feminist blogs, and appeared in the comments to this post at Historiann.com, courtesy of Heather Prescott.) About the women who aren’t supporting Clinton in the primary election, Morgan writes, “Let a statement by the magnificent Harriet Tubman stand as reply. When asked how she managed to save hundreds of enslaved African Americans via the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, she replied bitterly, ‘I could have saved thousands-if only I’d been able to convince them they were slaves.'”
Spurred by Spore’s question, Luker contacted authors of recent books about Harriet Tubman, Kate Clifford Larson (Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero, 2004), and Milton Sernett (Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History, 2007), who both confirmed Spore’s suspicions. They can’t prove it’s not a Tubman quotation, but they both suspect it’s a misattribution from a fictionalized twentieth-century Tubman account. Luker also found that there were more than 200 websites that attribute the quotation to Tubman, which pretty much obviates his challenge to Morgan: “Robin Morgan: Cite your source or quit pimpin’ out Harriet Tubman!” I think we all know what her source was. . .after all, it’s on more than 200 websites! As obsessive readers of Historiann.com know (hi, Mom!), our own commenter rootlesscosmo used the internets last week to find the accurate source of what most of us thought was the famous bon mot attributed to Gloria Steinem, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” (Answer: Irina Dunn. Well, we think rootlesscosmo is right, although he cites a web page, not a published, peer-reviewed source.)
So, let’s invent a new game: what famous quotation in history do you want to take credit for by jacking the internets? If we can get enough high-traffic websites to attribute the quotation to you, we might be able to re-write history on the open-source, non peer-reviewed but extremely prestigious internet. (As they used to say in Scooby-Doo cartoons, “it’s so crazy, it just might work!”) Bonus points for jacking a quotation that’s just about the least likely thing you would actually say. So, here is the quotation Historiann wants to take credit for: “God Almighty in His most holy and wise providence hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity, others mean and in subjection,” (Historiann, 1997). So wrong, on so many levels, and yet it just feels right!