Associate Professor of History Michael A. Bellesiles has resigned after an academic panel released a report strongly critical of his research for a widely debated book about the history of guns in America. Bellesiles, who was also the director of Emory’s Center for the Study of Violence, said in a statement that he “cannot continue to teach in what I feel is a hostile environment.”

The book at the center of the controversy, Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), made the argument that contrary to popular belief, personal gun ownership was rare in Colonial America. It received Columbia University’s prestigious Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy in 2001. Columbia rescinded the award in December 2002, saying Bellesilles’ work was at best “misleading and unprofessional.” It was the first time Columbia had taken such an action in the fifty-four year history of the prize. Knopf has halted publication of the book.

Criticism of Bellesiles’ thesis and research, which began even before the book was printed, was originally dismissed as political backlash from the National Rifle Association and gun rights proponents. But after legal scholars and other historians started questioning his data, and publications such as the Boston Globe, the Yale Law Journal, and the National Review ran articles and editorials critical of the book and its underlying research, the allegations were taken more seriously. Bellesiles was placed on paid administrative leave while an internal investigation was completed early last year.

At Emory’s request, an independent academic panel was formed to investigate the allegations of scholarly misconduct. The investigative committee, comprising Stanley N. Katz, professor of public and international affairs at Princeton; Hanna H. Gray, professor of history at the University of Chicago; and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, professor of history at Harvard, concluded in July 2002 that portions of the book reflected “unprofessional and misleading work” and showed “serious deviations from accepted practices in carrying out and reporting results from research,” including “exaggeration of data,” errors, and discrepancies.–M.J.L.

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