Timothy L. Wood: The Accidental Celebrity

By John Fea

Cross-posted at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

Timothy L. Wood is a good historian. I first encountered his work on seventeenth-century Puritan views of Roman Catholicism in a 1999 New England Quarterly essay. He followed this up with a solid monograph: Agents of Wrath, Sowers of Discord: Authority and Dissent in Puritan Massachusetts, 1630-1655 (Routledge, 2005). I don't know Wood, but a couple of years ago we were both recruited to serve on a panel focused on trends in colonial American history. Wood had to turn down the invitation, so we never got a chance to meet.

Recently this unassuming early American historian, who appears to have forged a scholarly career by keeping his head to the grindstone producing books and articles on Puritanism, has become the target of one of the worst forms of identity theft.

It all started when Wood realized that an on-line article was attributed to him comparing Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler. He first become aware of the piece when he started getting fan mail from the extremists who read the website that published it. Wood acted quickly. He informed the administration at the college where he teaches--Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri--that he was not the author. The administration supported him and allowed Wood to put a post on its website disclaiming his authorship. (When I read the comments on this post I was suprised to learn just how many people had this piece of political chain mail forwarded to them).

Today's Inside Higher Ed is running an essay by Wood about the lessons he learned from this whole ordeal. How does something like this happen? I am assuming that Wood still does not know how the article ended up with his byline. Moreover, Southwest Baptist is a Christian college. I hope that this false attribution does not tarnish the witness of this school, not to mention Wood's career.

Needless to say, I am sorry that Wood had to go through all of this. I look forward to reading more of his informative scholarly work in the future.


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