Plagiarism Charge

Tennessee Press suspends sale of new book on Andersonville Prison as author admits inappropriate and uncredited similarities to another work.
November 15, 2006

The University of Tennessee Press has suspended all sales and recalled all stock of Captain Henry Wirz and Andersonville Prison: A Reappraisal, which was published this fall, after the author acknowledged "grave oversights" in crediting another author for material.

R. Fred Ruhlman, the author of the book that is being pulled, teaches history as an adjunct at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. University officials said they were awaiting a full investigation by the press before determining whether any action would be taken.

The press would not answer questions directly about the matter, but issued a statement indicating that it was informed this month by William Marvel, an independent historian based in New Hampshire, that he believed Ruhlman's book contained material from Marvel's award-winning 1994 book, Andersonville: The Last Depot, published by the University of North Carolina Press.

That book argues that the thousands of deaths of Union soldiers in the notorious Confederate prison were not solely the fault of those who ran the prison. Marvel's book says that disease, food shortages and the Union's decision to stop prisoner exchanges were also to blame. The Tennessee press has removed information about Ruhlman's book from its Web site, but scattered online references suggest that it too was a revisionist look at the prison and Wirz, who ran it and who was executed after the Civil War.

Marvel discovered the similarities when he was asked to review Ruhlman's book for The Georgia Historical Quarterly.

The statement from the Tennessee press said that as soon as it was informed of the allegations, it suspended sales of the book. Following a preliminary investigation, it has also recalled the book, and additional steps may be announced after a more complete inquiry.

In an interview Tuesday, Ruhlman said that he worked on the book for six years and that "it has become quite evident that I still have learning to do about producing a scholarly work."

He characterized the overlap with Marvel's book as being in 8 to 10 paragraphs in which he had engaged in "very close paraphrasing" without necessary attribution. Ruhlman said he had engaged in "some soul-searching" to try to figure out what happened, and that he's not sure.

Any similarities with Marvel's wording was "unintentional," Ruhlman said. He added that he agrees with his publishers that -- in light of the similarities between his book and Marvel's -- his "does not meet the standard" to be published.

Ruhlman said he first worked on Andersonville for his dissertation at the American University of London, a distance learning institution that he said awarded him a Ph.D. based on the dissertation, without any course work. The university is incorporated in Nevis, and did not respond to calls or e-mail messages.

In an interview, Marvel said that he hadn't heard of Ruhlman's book until he was asked to review it. After he found numerous similarities -- he said that they are "more extensive" than Ruhlman suggested -- he called back the editors at The Georgia Historical Quarterly and said he didn't feel he could be objective in his review. Eventually, he was persuaded to write the review (which focuses on the similarities) and to tell the Tennessee press about his concerns.

Marvel said that the press has handled the situation "responsibly" and that he has been told that unsold copies of the Ruhlman book may end up being destroyed.

As for Ruhlman, Marvel said that he appreciated the acknowledgement that some of his work was used without credit. But Marvel added that he believed it was too much to be a simple error. "I find it very hard to believe," he said. "I don't know how you could insert that much text and not have done it intentionally."


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