FACT-CHECKING #4: article in “American Literary History” (2012).

Faux-scholarship supreme…

Jennifer C. James, “‘Buried in Guano’: Race, Labor and Sustainability,” in American Literary History 24.1 (Spring 2012): 115-142. (This article can be accessed online at: http://alh.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/01/04/alh.ajr050.extract)

FINDINGS: 50 factual errors in 27 pages. 

ITEMS #5, 7, 16, 23, 36, 49: Fabrications (not just false but falsified)?

alh [click to enlarge]

OVERVIEW: This article is quite aptly titled–from beginning to end it buries the reader in  &#^%! There are ten (10) major factual errors on the opening page alone. The blunders with one “featured” literary text (Alice Walker’s novel “Meridian”) suggest the author may never have read the text at all. Indeed the fact-checkers again uncovered rife apparent fabrication. Startlingly, as the report shows, even the article’s title and thesis turn out to be historically fallacious–and based on an elaborate misrepresentation of cited sources.



1. FABRICATION? page 115. [Article’s author bio:] “Jennifer C. James is…the author of [the 2007 book] ‘A Freedom Bought with Blood’…and numerous essays on war, the environment, and disability.”

CORRECTION: “Numerous” essays is unwarranted. Prior to this essay the author (in a profession where dozens of published essays is customary) had published a total of three essays.  

2. BLACK-LITERATURE ERROR, page 115 (first page). JAMES WRITES: [First sentence:] “Alice Walker’s debut novel ‘Meridian’ (1976) opens with an African-American photographer, Truman, searching for his former lover from the days of the Movement.”

CORRECTION: The article’s opening sentence contains two glaring errors. The debut novel of the famous author is instead “The Third Life of Grange Copeland,” published six years earlier (1970); and…


3. …the novel “Meridian”‘s main male character Truman Held is not a photographer but a painterhttp://www.amazon.com/Meridian-Alice-Walker/dp/0156028344 

4. BLACK-LITERATURE ERROR, page 115. JAMES WRITES: “Pulling his [Truman’s] Volvo into the gas station of a tiny Mississippi town…”

CORRECTION: The article’s second sentence is also mistaken! “Meridian” clearly states the tiny town (“Chicokema”) is in Georgiathe main setting of the novel by Walker, who is famously from Georgia and sets many of her writings there.  

5. FABRICATION? page 115. JAMES WRITES: “[‘Meridian”s character Marilene O’Shay,] once a faithful wife, had begun to prostitute herself to satisfy a desire for ‘furs’ and ‘washing machines.'”

CORRECTION: This alleged plot-summary bears almost no resemblance to Walker’s literary text. While the article explains Marilene is an *impoverished wife who prostitutes herself to get luxury goods,* the novel explains Marilene is an *affluent wife who, lavished with luxuries by her husband, is ungrateful and carries on extra-marital affairs.* The original Alice Walker passage (“Meridian” page 5) is:

“Marilene had been an ideal woman, a ‘goddess,’ who had been given ‘everything she thought she wanted’ [by her husband, Henry]. She had owned a washing machine, furs, her own car and a full-time housekeeper-cook. All she had to do, wrote Henry, was ‘lay back and be pleasured.’ But she…had gone outside the home to seek her ‘pleasuring,’ while still expecting him to foot the bills.”   http://www.amazon.com/Meridian-Alice-Walker/dp/0156028344 

Question: In light of the article’s blunders exposed above (Items #2-5), is it possible the author, purporting to be an expert on Walker’s “Meridian,” in fact never read the novel at all?

6. BLACK-LITERATURE ERROR, page 115. JAMES WRITES: [“Meridian” dialogue:] “…guano plant outside of town. Po’ folks…The folks who don’t have to work…”

CORRECTION: Walker writes: “…guano plant outside [no “of”] town. Po’ [italics] folks…The people who don’t have to work…”  http://www.amazon.com/Meridian-Alice-Walker/dp/0156028344

7. FABRICATION? pages 115-116. JAMES WRITES: [“Meridian” dialogue:] “‘But you know what guano is made out of. Whew.'”

CORRECTION: Glaringly, the novel’s important next line of dialogue–“You’d smell worse than a dead fish, too!”–is missing from the article. Is this de-contextualization hiding something? That is, while the article’s main topic is guano–i.e. a kind of dung used as fertilizer–Walker’s novel uses “guano” only loosely to mean fertilizer made from ground-up fish. Thus “Meridian” doesn’t fit the excrement-themed article–until a textual excision lets the prestigious novel be featured, anyway.  http://www.amazon.com/Meridian-Alice-Walker/dp/0156028344

8. HISTORICAL ERROR, page 116. JAMES WRITES: “…it is safe to venture that many twenty-first-century readers do not know what guano is, no less what it is made of. They may find themselves…wondering [what] guano—animal excrement used as fertilizer—[is].”

CORRECTION: Evidently even the article’s author doesn’t know what guano is… It is not, generically, “animal excrement used as fertilizer”–but seabird (or bat/seal) dung whose unique concentration of phosphates make it by far the richest organic fertilizer. [See definition at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/guano.] Famously, the bright-white (unlike manure…) substance covers entire oceanic islands where, in the 19th century before synthetic fertilizers, there were extensive and lucrative guano-mining operations.

guano 4 guano [click to enlarge]

9. HISTORICAL ERROR, page 116. JAMES WRITES: “…using animal and human guano…” 

CORRECTION: “Human guano” is absurd. Human waste when used for fertilizer is designated as “human manure” or “night soil,” etc.–but never as “guano” and has far less nutrients than guano.

10. HISTORICAL ERROR, page 116. JAMES WRITES: “In the case of the South, planters hoped that procuring sufficient supplies of bird guano, the richest natural guano…” 

CORRECTION: “Bird guano” is redundant–and further suggests authorial ignorance of the article’s main topic.

11. LITERARY ERROR, page 116. JAMES WRITES: “…Shell Oil’s 2001 handbook ‘people, planet, profit’…”

CORRECTION: Another batch of errors. The publication year is 1997;…

12. …it is a corporate report (a “handbook” is a how-to reference guide); and…

13. …the title is “People, planet & profits” [capitalization, ampersand, plural].

shellreport   olmsted [click to enlarge]

14. LITERARY ERROR, page 116. JAMES WRITES: “…landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s [1856 book] ‘A Journey into the Seaboard States’….”

CORRECTION: “A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States.” Although a featured text in this article, it is never titled correctly.

15. BLACK-HISTORY ERROR, page 117. JAMES WRITES: “…a secretive African-American benevolent organization, The Grand Order of the Galilean Fisherman….”

CORRECTION: The historic organization was “The Grand United Order of [no “the”] Galilean Fishermen [plural].”  http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F50E17F63D5A127B93C7A91783D85F438784F9

16. FABRICATION? page 117. JAMES WRITES: “It [the guano trade] sparked…violent labor struggles. The most bloody worker resistance occurred when black guano miners on the U.S. Caribbean island of Navassa staged a revolt against their employers in 1889.”

CORRECTION: Glaringly uncited, the main but highly dubious claim “most bloody” inflates the importance of the article’s subtopic (i.e. the so-called Navassa Riot). Since the emergence of the guano-mining industry in the early-19th century there were numerous bloody incidents, including in Peru’s Chincha Islands, stemming from the notorious exploitation of guano-miners in their already, er, crappy jobs; the death-toll (four or five) in the “Navassa Riot” could have easily been matched or surpassed.

17. BLACK-LITERATURE ERROR, page 117. JAMES WRITES: “…a book further publicizing the plight of the workers, ‘The Navassa Island Riot. Illustrated’ (1889).”

CORRECTION: The slim 10-cent text is not a book but a pamphlet; and…

18. the title does not include the word “Illustrated”–which in a nineteenth-century literary convention appeared on the title-page of countless publications.   pamphlet [click to enlarge]

19. LITERARY ERROR, page 119. JAMES WRITES: “…[Peruvian seabird dung] which the indigenous collected to fertilize lands and hillsides.”

CORRECTION: Ungrammatical–“indigenous” is an adjective only. This should say “indigenous people.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/indigenous

20. LITERARY ERROR, page 119. JAMES WRITES: “…traders hocked it [guano] everywhere they could.”

CORRECTION: The malapropism “hocked” means to leave with a pawnbroker. The appropriate word is “hawked.”   http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hock

21. HISTORICAL ERROR, page 119. JAMES WRITES: “…the U.S. would acquire some sixty Pacific and Caribbean islands under that law.”

CORRECTION: America acquired at least 100 islands under the Guano Islands Act of 1856. Entrepreneurs/dp/0312103166

22. BLACK-HISTORY ERROR, page 120. JAMES WRITES: “[The] Haitian Emperor…sent a flotilla to take Navassa in 1858.”

CORRECTION: More hyperbole about the Navassa affair; “flotilla” means a fleet of warships–and the impoverished Haiti sent two ships.  http://www.amazon.com/The-Great-Guano-Rush-Entrepreneurs/dp/0312103166

23. FABRICATION? page 121. JAMES WRITES: “[Today commercial guano is] often bolstered with petroleum nitrogen.”

CORRECTION: “Petroleum nitrogen” is a chemical misnomer–and indeed appears nowhere in the cited reference (Marshall Sittig’s ‘Fertilizer Industry,’ 1979).

24. HISTORICAL ERROR, page 122. JAMES WRITES: “…Northern Democrat Olmsted’s anti-slavery feeling matured…”

CORRECTION: Featured writer Frederick Law Olmsted was famously and ardently in the Republican party.  http://www.nycgovparks.org/about/history/olmsted-parks

25. LITERARY ERROR, page 123. JAMES WRITES: “[Frederick Law] Olmsted explains, ‘ the greatest advantage had been the ground again guanoed.’”

CORRECTION: This is gibberish–and indeed there’s no such quotation. There should be an ellipsis to indicate this (nonsensical) “sentence” is spliced-together from a longer Olmsted passage–in fact more than seven whole sentences are missing from between the words “been” and “the ground.”  http://books.google.com/books?id=jFVCAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA43&lpg=PA43&dq=%22the+ground+again+guanoed.%E2%80%99%E2%80%9D&source=bl&ots=FPN0giMp8F&sig=Bc8wvgO1EqFKztkcTWAKSjanQOs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ka2kUvinO8yMkAfFjYDgBQ&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%22the%20ground%20again%20guanoed.%E2%80%99%E2%80%9D&f=false

26. LITERARY ERROR, page 124. JAMES WRITES: “… a pamphlet Peruvian sellers funded, ‘A Treatise of Practical Information for Farmers’ [1853].”

CORRECTION: “Guano a Treatise of Practical Information for Farmers” is the title by Solon Robinson.


27. HISTORICAL ERROR, page 126. JAMES WRITES: “The men [i.e. guano-miners on Navassa Island] were subjected to brutal, arbitrary punishments [such as] ‘trycing’: tied up and hoisted by rope, with feet dangling barely above ground.”

CORRECTION: The historic naval punishment (from the standard nautical term “tricing”) is “tricing up.”  http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F50916F73E5F10738DDDA10994DC405B8085F0D3

28. HISTORICAL ERROR, page 126. JAMES WRITES: “…the Baltimore-based Navassa Phosphate Company…”

CORRECTION: Significantly it was a New York City-based company representing Northern capital.    http://books.google.com/books/about/Navassa_Phosphate_Company_Owners_and_Imp.html?id=gLdnGwAACAAJ

29. BLACK-HISTORY ERROR, page 127. JAMES WRITES: “In a battle lasting the entire day, they attacked their supervisors with everything available: axes, hammers, stones, sticks, pistols, and even dynamite.”

CORRECTION: Still more dramatic exaggeration about the “Navassa Riot”–whose total length, according to the cited source, was several hours.  http://www.amazon.com/The-Great-Guano-Rush-Entrepreneurs/dp/0312103166

30. HISTORICAL ERROR, page 127. JAMES WRITES: “With no U.S. vessel available, the British sent the brig ‘Romance.’ ”

CORRECTION: The British sent the “HMS Forward”–a man-of-war. “Romance” was the company barque (freighter) of the Navassa Phosphate Company.   http://www.amazon.com/The-Great-Guano-Rush-Entrepreneurs/dp/0312103166

31. HISTORICAL ERROR page 127. JAMES WRITES: “[News coverage] reached as far as Australia, with one paper sensationalizing it as ‘A Battle With West Indian Negroes.'”

CORRECTION: The cited newspaper (“The Bush Advocate”) headline was from New Zealand.

bush [click to enlarge]

32. BLACK-HISTORY ERROR, page 128. JAMES WRITES: “They [Navassa defendants] gained advocates from black civic and religious organizations, including T. Thomas Fortune’s Afro American League [as well as] The Grand Order of Galilean Fishermen and The Mutual Brotherhood of Liberty…

CORRECTION: All three historic organizations are misnamed. They were: “Afro-American [hyphen] League”;…

33. …”The Grand United Order of Galilean Fishermen”; and…

34. …”The Mutual United Brotherhood of Liberty.” http://www.pennsylvaniaavenuebaltimore.com/introduction/civilrights.html

35. BLACK-HISTORY ERROR, page 128. JAMES WRITES: “In five trials beginning in November 1889 and lasting over a year…”

CORRECTION: More baseless sensationalizing of the Navassa Riot! The trials’ total combined time (ending February 15, 1890) was three monthshttp://www.amazon.com/The-Great-Guano-Rush-Entrepreneurs/dp/0312103166

36. FABRICATION? pages 129-130. JAMES WRITES: “…capitalism’s attempt to ‘naturalize’ the [Navassa guano] miners into decomposing detritus…..the end rumored of other guano workers: that they had been buried alive in the stuff, ’embalmed’ in guano, permanently preserved in the matter that had killed them.” 

CORRECTION: As it turns out, all of the above is an elaborate “historical” invention–and both the article’s dramatic title [“Buried in Guano”] and thesis are utterly baseless. Since the claims sounded historically suspect (what “rumors” of guano-miners “being buried alive” and “embalmed” in guano…?), the fact-checkers laboriously tracked down the two cited sources: both obscure antique newspaper articles. The revelation: Neither [!] “citation”–as explained below–corroborates the major claims.  

The first supposedly supporting citation is “Falling of a Warehouse Floor: Thirteen Colored Men Buried in Guano,” which appeared in a Savannah, Georgia, newspaper in 1869. Dr. James’s article implies it documents black miners who were buried alive in guano as they were digging it, and left to die. Quite differently, these men were not even miners–but warehouse-stockers who, after the partial collapse of a warehouse in downtown Savannah, were trapped under debris but quickly rescued. Indeed “guano” is inherently immaterial to the incident: the “thirteen colored men” were briefly covered by bags of guano but also other warehouse goods and it’s not apparent guano even touched the men’s skin. Clearly, the all-but-irrelevant “guano” (the bags might just as well have contained rice…) is in the newspaper headline for scatological humor. [See Appendix–bottom of this webpage–for the full text.]

The second arcane citation allegedly supporting central claims of the “scholarly” article “Buried in Guano” is “Embalmed,” which appeared in a Barre, Massachusetts, newspaper in 1845. Dr. James’s article implies it’s further documentation of guano-miners being buried alive in guano–but this time having their corpses chemically preserved by the substance. Yet the implication is again counterfeit. In sharp contrast, “Embalmed” proves to be about the discovery of the well-preserved body of a British sailor who died at sea in the 1790s–several decades before the guano-mining industry began–and was interred on a seabird-dung-covered island. (See Appendix–bottom of this webpage–for the full text.)

Question: Is this elaborate data misrepresentation–and obfuscation?–not academic fraud?

37. LITERARY ERROR, page 130. JAMES WRITES: “Although [Victor] Hugo slyly asserts that he is not relying on metaphor, he does: the sewers are…”

CORRECTION: Ungrammatical–the construction “although Hugo asserts that he is not, he does,” is gibberish.

38. LITERARY ERROR, page 131. JAMES WRITES: “In [Pierre Leroux’s] manifesto published a year after ‘Les Misérables’ appeared…”

CORRECTION: French philosopher Leroux’s “Aux Etats de Jersey” was published in 1853—nearly a decade before the appearance of Hugo’s “Les Misérables” in 1862; and…

leroux    hugo [click to enlarge]

39. …while the article asserts Hugo’s work influenced Leroux’s work, the opposite is true.

40. BLACK-LITERATURE ERROR, page 132. JAMES WRITES: “[Aimé Césaire’s] searing indictment of imperialist ideology, ‘Discourses of Colonialism’ (1955)…”

CORRECTION: 1950 was the year of publication of this classic text.  http://monthlyreview.org/1999/11/01/a-poetics-of-anticolonialism

41. BLACK-LITERATURE ERROR, page 133. JAMES WRITES: “[In] Act II of ‘The Tempest’…”

CORRECTION: “A Tempest”—i.e. Aimé Césaire’s play, not William Shakespeare’s.

42. LITERARY ERROR, page 134. JAMES WRITES: “Césaire’s intended readership [for ‘A Tempest’]…”

CORRECTION: Intended audience since “A Tempest” as a play was written for performance.

43. LITERARY ERROR, page 135. JAMES WRITES: “[Victor] Hugo’s early novel about the 1791 slave revolts in [the French colony of] Saint-Domingue, ‘Bug-Jargal’ (1826)…”

CORRECTION: “Bug-jargal, 1791” is the novel’s true title. jargal [click to enlarge]

44. LITERARY ERROR, page 136. JAMES WRITES: “…financially ravaged nations who might consider…”

CORRECTION: Ungrammatical–a nation is not a “who.”

45. BLACK-LITERATURE ERROR, page 136. JAMES WRITES: [Césaire dialogue:] “The day I begin to feel…just let me get a hold of a few barrels…as you fly around up there you’ll see this island…”

CORRECTION: Césaire’s character says: “The day when I begin to feel…just let me get hold of a few barrels…as you fly around up there in your blue skies you’ll see this island…”  http://www.amazon.com/Tempest-Based-Shakespeares-Adaptation-Theatre/dp/1559362103

46. LITERARY ERROR, page 137. JAMES WRITES: “…[environmental scholar] Andre Prieto explains…”

CORRECTION: He is Eric Prieto.

prieto   weis [click to enlarge]

47. LITERARY ERROR, page 138. JAMES WRITES: [Historic U.S. publisher:] “J.F. Weisshhampel.”

CORRECTION: Surname Weishampel.

48. LITERARY ERROR, page 139. JAMES WRITES: “Engels [suggested ‘Putnam’s Magazine’ as] a venue for Marx’s writing on militarism.”

CORRECTION: “Venue” means a place; a magazine is not a locale.

49. LITERARY ERROR, page 139. JAMES WRITES: “Rush, Skaggs, and [other historians] have repeated this factual error.”

CORRECTION: In a sentence accusing others [!] of a (small) factual error, the author makes…yet another error of her own. There’s no guano historian named “Rush”–which evidently refers to a book: Skaggs’s “The Great Guano Rush.”  rush



(SEE ITEM #36)

[Full and verbatim, here are the two antique newspaper articles cited but grossly misrepresented in Jennifer C. James’s “Buried in Guano” in false support of major “scholarly” claims.]

(1.) “Falling of a Warehouse Floor; Thirteen Colored Men Buried in Guano,” in The Savannah Republican [Georgia], Nov. 7, 1869, page 1.

“Mr. Alfred Poindexter, commission merchant and general agent for the Gallego Fertilizer Company, of Virginia, has been engaged for some time in storing Peruvian guano and other fertilizers on the second floor of the warehouse of Mr. Hill Gowdy, at the foot of Jefferson street [here in Savannah, Georgia]. The guano is in bags, and we believe the other fertilizers in barrels. The barrels were stored on one side of the room and the bags on the other. They were piled on each side of the room nearly to the ceiling, leaving a passage, which was being filled with bags of guano. At about five o’clock yesterday afternoon some twelve or thirteen colored men were engaged in this work, when the floor gave way, and the entire mass of guano, the barrels of fertilizers and the men were precipitated to the bottom of the story below, a distance of some twenty-two feet. The men were covered with the bags and the barrels, and Mr. Poindexter, who had left the room but a moment before the catastrophe, set to work at once to disinter the men, and, although several hundred negroes were on the ground in a few minutes, not one of them could be prevailed upon to enter the building to assist in saving the lives of their colored brethren. A number of white men volunteered their services, and in a very short time the colored men were rescued from their perilous situation. One man named Simon Scott had his leg broken, his ribs crushed in, and received internal injuries from which he is not expected to recover. Another man’s leg was badly sprained, and three others were severely bruised, but none of them, with the exception of Scott, are supposed to be dangerously injured. Painful rumors were in circulation that several other colored men were buried beneath bags of guano, but Mr. Poindexter used every means in his power to ascertain the truth of these reports, and he is perfectly satisfied that all the men have been rescued.”

(2.) “Embalmed,” in The Barre Patriot [Massachusetts], April 4, 1845, page 2.  

“The body of a sailor who had been buried fifty-four years, in guano on Possession Island, coast of Africa [modern-day Namibia], was dug up last January, and looked as natural as though it had been interred only a fortnight. With the exception of a splendid tomb, the poor sailor was as thoroughly embalmed as old Cheops of Egypt.”   




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