The Historians of Industry

By Markowitz, Gerald; Rosner, David | Academe, November/December 2010 | Go to article overview

The Historians of Industry


Markowitz, Gerald, Rosner, David, Academe


What happens when historians enter the courtroom as expert witnesses-and start to affect legal outcomes and social policy?

Five years ago, one of us received an odd e-mail. "Dear Dr. Rosner," it began. "I am writing to introduce you to the Round Table Group, and to notify you of a short-term consulting opportunity which may be of interest. Our client is seeking an historian, highly credentialed, at a prestigious university to perform some historical research, and instruct a lay jury about what was known about a particular occupational hazard (lead paint contamination) in 1950 to 1980."

The letter went on to explain how the historian they sought "need not be a subject matter expert" but need only be a "good communicator" who could "easily communicate a story to a jury." The e-mail continued in some detail, telling how the process would work: if David were interested, he could send in his résumé, a brief explanation of his expertise, and a statement of his consulting fee. The note continued by informing him about the consulting group: it was a consortium of "several thousand professors" in "management, law, medicine, science, computer science, education, engineering, economics, and other disciplines who make themselves available to law firms and companies who are clients of the Round Table Group."

During the past two decades, historians have been brought into legal cases in unprecedented numbers. As the courts have tried to adjudicate responsibility for environmental and occupational diseases, history and historians have played an increasingly central role in shaping decisions in the cases themselves as well as in related social policy. In suits over tobacco-related diseases, asbestosis, harm from radiation, and other toxic substances, historians of technology and science, social history, and public health are being brought to the courts in growing numbers to provide expert testimony aimed at assessing responsibility for damages that have arisen years, sometimes decades, after exposure.

The basic questions asked are those with which we became familiar during the Watergate hearings: Who knew what, and when did they know it? Did industry executives understand that specific substances could cause disease? If so, when did they learn of the dangers, and when did they begin to warn their workers or consumers of their products that they were at risk?

As the role of the historian has expanded, so, too, has the controversy surrounding the participation of historians in legal cases. At the 2003 annual meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine, traditionally a collegial conclave of subspecialists, a panel on the history of childhood diseases ended in a shouting match after a well-known historian-who had been a paid consultant for the tobacco, asbestos, soft drink, and lead industries in the past-presented a paper arguing that the lead industry had done "nothing wrong" before the 1950s and that, in any case, the problem of childhood lead poisoning was vastly overblown. During the conference, the halls were abuzz with gossip and amazement (the New York Times covered the controversy in a June 14, 2003, article by Patricia Cohen). It soon became apparent that many more members of the association had been dipping into the corporate till, testifying on behalf of the tobacco industry, the lead industry, and other producers of toxic products. In March 2005, Jon Wiener, professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, reported on this issue in The Nation.

A much smaller group of historians is being called upon to study the responsibility of industry in causing disease and death. Allan M. Brandt of Harvard University (whose article "A Not-So- Slippery Slope" appears in this issue of Academe) worked for the federal government on a lawsuit against Philip Morris. Stanford University professor Robert Proctor was involved in the same suit and has worked for women damaged by radiation experiments at Vanderbilt University in the past. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Historians of Industry
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.