Publication Date

March 1, 2005

Perspectives Section

AHA Activities

The American Historical Association announces the most comprehensive revision of its Statement on Standards of Professional Conductsince that document was first adopted in 1987. The revised version can be found on the AHA’s web site. To ensure the widest possible dissemination of the text, the new Statement on Standards was included as a special pull-out section (unabridged) in the print version of the March, 2005 issue of Perspectives. Copies of the printed version (in a pamphlet format) will also be made available later from the AHA’s headquarters office.

TheStatement on Standards has become the historical profession’s most widely consulted authority concerning questions of ethical practice. The goal in this new edition has been to add to the strengths of the document without altering its fundamental principles.
The most important revisions include:

Streamlining the text: Because the Statement has gone through many editions, with contributions from many individuals and committees, it has had an inevitable tendency to lose rhetorical and literary coherence over time. One goal was to rewrite the entire text to impose a more uniform style and voice on the whole, without sacrificing or altering any of the important statements of principle it contains.

Addressing the entire profession: Earlier editions of the Statement have been marked by a fairly pervasive bias in which the “historians” it addresses and describes are assumed to work in academic institutions. Public historians in particular have felt understandably marginalized by the text, and the AHA’s Task Force on Public History strongly recommended last year that the Statement be revised so as to remove as much as possible its academic biases. This new version is much more inclusive of the full range of professional historians working in many different institutional settings.

Speaking to common values: The Statement now opens with two sections that are entirely new. The first defines what we mean by “The Profession of History,” and the second seeks to describe and explain the “Shared Values of Historians.” Our belief is that many of the professional and ethical dilemmas historians face can actually best be addressed by referring to the underlying values that inform our work.

Consolidating policies: This document is not intended to offer major new policy statements. Although there are a few minor clarifications of current policy here and there in the text, the primary goal has been to synthesize and integrate AHA policy concerning professional conduct as it has evolved over the years. One of the ways that the Statement has evolved over the past 17 years has been through the occasional addition of formal policy declarations, drafted by the AHA Professional Division and approved by AHA Council, which have been published as an ever-extending string of appendices to the document. This draft eliminates the appendices by incorporating their spirit or substance at appropriate locations in the main body of the text.

We hope and believe that this new 2005 edition of the Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct will be of use not just to professional historians, but also to students, journalists, employers, scholars in allied fields, and anyone interested in questions pertaining to ethical conduct in the practice of history. Printed copies will be distributed to departments and will be available on request to all interested parties.

The revisions were drafted by William J. Cronon (Univ. of Wisconsin at Madison), who served as vice president for professional issues from 2002 to 2005, in consultation with current and immediate past members of the Professional Division, including James Grossman (Newberry Library); Peter Hoffer (Univ. of Georgia); Mary Lindemann (Univ. of Miami); Maureen Murphy Nutting (North Seattle Community College); Susan Stuard (Haverford College); Stefan Tanaka (Univ. of California at San Diego); andDenise J. Youngblood (Univ. of Vermont). Important contributions were also made by members of the Task Force on Public History (especially its chair, Linda Shopes); by AHA’s legal counsel, Albert J. Beveridge III; and, not least, by AHA staff members, most especiallySharon K. Tune and Arnita A. Jones.

Along with the newStatement, the Association has also published new curricular materials on the subject of plagiarism, prepared by Michael Rawson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. These are now available online. The new materials offer wise counsel to teachers seeking to help students understand and avoid plagiarism, as well as specific information and exercises for undergraduate and graduate students.

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