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Annette Gordon-Reed on Retelling Jefferson’s Story
Annette Gordon-Reed is a professor of law at New York Law School and a professor of history at Rutgers. She earned a place in history with her first book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, which had an acclaimed but stormy reception when published in 1997, and which The New Yorker described as “brilliant.” She is recognized as one of our country’s most distinguished presidential scholars.Gordon-Reed spent her early career as an associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, and as Counsel to the New York City Board of Corrections. She speaks or moderates at numerous conferences across the country on history and law-related topics. Gordon-Reed is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and son.
Question: What first piqued your interest about Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemmings?
Gordon-Reed: Well, in 1994, 1995, I began reading that they were going to do a movie, Merchant Ivory was going to do a movie about Jefferson called “Jefferson in Paris” and there was a lot of consternation on the part of people because they heard that they were going to treat the story as true. The story that Jefferson had a liaison with Sally Hemings that was going to be incorporated into the film, and they were saying things like there’s no evidence that this ever happened and, you know, Jefferson will never be involved with a slave girl, and I sort of wondered, you know, of all the things that, you know, people make question in history, why was it so important for people to, you know, to so vociferously deny that this was possible and if you’re going to, you know, you shouldn’t believe this above anything else about American history. And so I sat down to write an [IB] piece that kind of got longer and longer and longer and then I decided to go ahead and write a book about it. Not about whether or not Jefferson and Hemings had children together, but whether or not, but how people wrote about it, how black’s words are perceived, how blacks are portrayed in the pages of history, because I thought there was a real double standard in looking at the evidence for the relationship versus the statements of Jefferson’s family, you know, their explanations for why this get looked up like Jefferson. So, there were issues of race and issues of class that really interested me, and I wanted to try to tease that out more than did they or didn’t they, but it was really about the historiography of the subject.
Question: Where did you find your sources?
Gordon-Reed: For this particular book, Jefferson’s papers are being published all over [the more] published yet his letters. I mean, there are, you know, thousands and thousands of them. His memorandum book, his list of all his transactions that’s been published, the farm book has been published as well. That’s his record of life, on plantation life at Monticello. So those things are published. There are unpublished archives, you know, if I go to the Jefferson papers, I used some unpublished papers as well, but I looked at archives in Virginia, the Virginia Historical Society, the Library of Virginia. I went to England for some of the material about Sally Hemings’ father, a couple of London and Lancaster, so all over.
Question: Were there any cathartic moments during the research?
Gordon-Reed: Well, when I figured out that I should be paying attention to the names of Sally Hemings’ children. I was sort of going along and with my first book just sort of writing them down and going through and doing these various things, and then I began to wonder, well, you know, these are actual. I began to see other Randolph people who had the same name and then I began to think who are these people? Why are these children named? Where is Beverly come from? [William] Beverly was actually Jefferson’s oldest son’s name. Who is that? That was actually a person. And so and when I found out who that was and I found out that he was an associate of Jefferson’s father, that they have been on expedition together, they have carved their initials in the tree together, then it just hit me. Here are something that right in front of your face the names of these children, something that… And if they have been married, if Jefferson and Hemings have been married, you would say, “Oh, of course, look at their children’s names,” but because they don’t have that legal relationship, I was just sort of looking and I and everybody else, we just sort of looking at this like it was meaningless and it turns out to be something that right in front of your nose that’s incredibly meaningful. And so, then I found out who Thomas Eston was, who Harriet was. We know who James Madison was, Madison Hemings’ name was James Madison and who William Beverly was. So it was like an epiphany to me at that moment, a [hot] moment were you realized, you know, and it’s always like that it’s never any sort of convoluted [Lou Goldberg] thing. The simplest thing… stick with the simple things. What are they named? What are her children’s names? And what is their relationship to Jefferson? So, that was a real, a [hot] moment for me and that’s when I really, when I was working on the first book, when I began to get the sense that this is true, because when I went into it, I really did not know what I was going to find. I was writing about what people had written about the story, and then when I saw that, I was like, oh, that really changed my whole attitude about this.
Annette Gordon-Reed wanted to fill in the holes in the Merchant Ivory film.
Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.
Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?
Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
An article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry raises questions about the goal of these advocacy groups.
- Two-thirds of American consumer advocacy groups are funded by pharmaceutical companies.
- The authors of an article in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry say this compromises their advocacy.
- Groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness act more like lobbyists than patient advocates.
The Corruption That Brought Prozac to Market — Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bea9cff2b25efc18b663a011a679ba16"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UyaJExxFPAE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Consumer-oriented groups gained steam over the ensuing decades. Their efforts helped inspire the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act after over 100 people (mostly children) died from a sanctioned drug, Sulfanilamide. If not for the hard work of these advocates, this case might have been overlooked.</p><p>Early efforts also focused on the food industry, which was increasingly using chemical preservatives. The origin of Consumer Reports can be found in the consumer advocacy movement. Both the food and drug industries were getting a free pass to experiment on citizens with few repercussions.</p><p>These movements provided a social foundation for important advocacy work in the second half of the century. Female-led groups evolved to focus on women's reproductive rights, AIDS, and mental health. As the authors write, these groups struck a balance between working <em>with</em> and <em>against</em> current trends. Sometimes you need to craft legislation with officials; at other times, you have to rage against the machine with everything you've got. </p><p>Advocacy marked an important turning point in public health (and culture in general). These groups were tired of placating to a medical model that treated the male body as the standard. This wasn't limited to anatomy. As I <a href="https://bigthink.com/coronavirus/pandemic-warnings-rp-eddy" target="_self">wrote about last week</a>, a high-profile 1970s-era conference about the role of women on Wall St featured no women on stage. You can imagine what reproductive health looked like during that time. </p><p>Advocacy groups made real impact in public health. Then the money began pouring in. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"These groups were funded largely by individual donations with some foundation support, but in the late 1980s, newer women's health groups moved to professionalize, effectively splitting the women's health movement."</p><p>A number of groups resist corporate ties to this day, such as the National Women's Heath Network and Breast Cancer Action. Too often, however, groups argue that their existence depends on corporate funding. This can lead to uncomfortable compromises. </p><p>An estimated two-thirds of patient advocacy groups in America accept funds from the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma companies gave <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11673-019-09956-8.pdf" target="_blank">at least $116 million</a> to such groups in 2015 alone.</p><p>For example, over a three-year period, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which was founded by two mothers whose sons suffered from schizophrenia, received nearly $12 million from 18 pharmaceutical companies. The largest donor was Prozac manufacturer, Eli Lilly. By 2008, three-quarters of NAMI's budget was funded by the pharmaceutical industry. It gets worse:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An Eli Lilly executive was even 'on loan' to NAMI, paid by Eli Lilly, while he worked out of the NAMI office on 'strategic planning.'"</p>
A customer waiting for his medication at the Headache Bar in a pharmacy in Sydney, Australia. Among the items on sale are 'Paigees with Chlorophyll' and Alka Seltzer on tap.
Photo by Dennis Rowe/BIPs/Getty Images<p>This influx of cash skews public understanding of drugs. It also influences advocates to overlook real problems caused by pharmaceutical interventions, especially when it comes to mental health.<br></p><p>For a real-world example, consider how Xanax came to market. As journalist Robert Whitaker <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e829xdb4AA" target="_blank">explains</a>, an <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1463502/?page=1" target="_blank">initial study</a> was conducted to determine efficacy in treating panic attacks. After four weeks, Xanax was outperforming placebo, which is common with benzodiazepines over short-term usage. But it wasn't a four-week study; it was a 14-week study.</p><p>At the end of eight weeks, there was no difference in efficacy between Xanax and placebo.</p><p>At the conclusion of the study after 14 weeks, the placebo outperformed Xanax. By a lot.</p><p>Why is Xanax still prescribed for panic attacks? Because the pharmaceutical company, Upjohn, only published the four-week data. The 14-week data was not in its favor. Nearly forty years later, over <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/781816/alprazolam-sodium-prescriptions-number-in-the-us/" target="_blank">25 million</a> Americans receive a prescription despite its <a href="https://drugabuse.com/xanax/effects-use/" target="_blank">long list</a> of side effects and addictive profile. </p><p>As the authors note, many consumers are not aware of how advocacy groups are funded.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"An international study of groups in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and South Africa found that the extent of relationships with industry was inadequately disclosed in websites that addressed ten health conditions: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, depression, Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis."</p><p>That's a tangled web of relationships. Pharmaceutical industry funding negatively impacts the work advocacy groups should be focused on: protecting us. NAMI, for example, claims that as a "natural ally" to the pharmaceutical industry, it helps consumers access "all scientifically proven treatments." When the industry ignores evidence of long-term damage caused by its treatments, you have to wonder what's being advocated. </p><p>Although, as the authors conclude, that question is easy to answer. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Instead of drawing insights from patient experience to set organizational agendas and challenge industry agendas, today's groups are silent on high prices and drug harms, oppose efforts to regulate these basic rights, and demand access to drugs that challenge the safety and effectiveness."</p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>