Published Date

January 1, 2007

This resource was developed as part of Plagiarism: Curricular Materials for History Instructors by Michael Rawson.

The following readings introduce graduate students to a wide range of issues related to plagiarism in the field of history. As a group, the readings illustrate the format in which accusations of plagiarism often appear, provide a window into how history departments handle plagiarism cases, explore contested definitions of plagiarism, and review some recent attempts to understand why students and academics alike plagiarize.

American Historical Association. “Plagiarism.” Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 2005.

All graduate students in history should be familiar with the AHA’s definition of and position on plagiarism.

Bray, Robert. “Reading Between the Texts: Benjamin Thomas’s Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Oates’s With Malice Toward None.” Journal of Information Ethics 3, no. 1 (spring 1994): 8-24, and Stephen Oates, “‘A Horse Chestnut Is Not a Chestnut Horse’: A Refutation of Bray, Davis, MacGregor, and Wollan,” 25-41.

Robert Bray claims that Stephen Oates’s biography of Lincoln contains passages plagiarized from another source. Oates responds. This special issue of the Journal of Information Ethics contains eleven pieces discussing one of the most controversial plagiarism accusations in recent years. Additional material about the Oates controversy can also be found at Stephen B. Oates, “I Stood Accused of Plagiarism,” with responses by Michael Burlingame, Bob Bray, Arnita Jones, Walter W. Stewart and Ned Feder, and Robert L. Zangrando, in History News Network, April 15, 2002, (accessed January 11, 2005).

Gorn, Elliot J. “History for Sale.” Chronicle of Higher Education, March 11, 2002, B10-B11.

Historian Elliot Gorn reviews the plagiarism charges against Stephen Ambrose and concludes that the quality of Ambrose’s work suffered from a profit-driven decision to write simplistic, celebratory narratives for a mass audience.

Hoffer, Peter Charles. “Reflections on Plagiarism-Part 1: ‘A Guide for the Perplexed.'” Perspectives 42, no. 2 (February 2004): 17-23.

This article is a concise and informative primer exploring ways to avoid and detect plagiarism. The article discusses various definitions of plagiarism and reviews the different citation conventions used in academic writing and other kinds of written and oral historical work.

Howard, Rebecca Moore. “Toward a Pedagogy of (Re)Formative Composition.” Introduction to Standing in the Shadow of Giants: Plagiarists, Authors, Collaborators. Stamford, Conn.: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1999.

Building on recent work in the theory of authorship, Howard argues that “patchwriting” is a legitimate step in mastering the language and ideas of a field, and instructors should treat it as part of the learning process rather than a transgression. She approaches plagiarism as a construction that serves the interests of those in power.

Isserman, Maurice. “Plagiarism: A Lie of the Mind.” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 2, 2003, B12-B13.

Historian Maurice Isserman tries to understand plagiarism by first exploring what it is not. He argues that authors can avoid plagiarism by understanding their material well enough to “own the words” they use, making direct repetition of someone else’s language unnecessary.

Madison, Kenneth G., and J. R. Lander. “The Troglodyte Connection: A Case of Self-Plagiarism.” Albion 9 (summer 1977): 188-94.

Madison claims that Lander plagiarized himself by incorporating the same text into two books, an article, and a conference paper. Lander responds by arguing, in part, that a writer cannot steal his own words. The exchange explores the idea of “self-plagiarism.”

Mallon, Thomas. “Quiet Goes the Don: An Academic Affair.” Chap. 4 in Stolen Words: Forays into the Origins and Ravages of Plagiarism. New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1989.

Mallon discusses a plagiarism case brought against a faculty member in the history department of a large university. The chapter provides a revealing look into how one institution handled charges of plagiarism.

Meyerowitz, Joanne, et al. “Round Table on History’s Ethical Crisis.” Journal of American History 90, no. 4 (March 2004): 1325-56, including Joanne Meyerowitz, “History’s Ethical Crisis: An Introduction,” 1325-26,; Elliott J. Gorn, “The Historians’ Dilemma,” 1327-32,; Michael Grossberg, “Plagiarism and Professional Ethics-A Journal Editor’s View,” 1333-40,; Richard Wightman Fox, “A Heartbreaking Problem of Staggering Proportions,” 1341-46,; Joyce Seltzer, “Honest History,” 1347-50,; and Emma J. Lapsansky, “An Honor System for Historians?” 1351-56, (accessed January 11, 2005).

A series of brief commentaries on different aspects of the supposed ethical crisis of the history profession, addressing recent plagiarism cases and other examples of misconduct among historians.

Morris, James O., and Philip S. Foner. “Philip Foner and the Writing of the Joe Hill Case: An Exchange.” Labor History 12 (winter 1971): 81-114.

In this well-known exchange, Morris charges Foner with incorporating material from his master’s thesis into The Case of Joe Hill. Foner responds to the accusation. The arguments made by each-and the arrangement of text from both works in parallel columns-illustrate one of the principal ways that historians debate plagiarism in a scholarly forum.

Perrin, Noel. “How I Became a Plagiarist.” American Scholar 61, no. 2 (spring 1992): 257-59.

This cautionary tale describes how an editor’s error transformed an original article that the author had written for the New York Times into a piece of plagiarism. Perrin’s experience holds important lessons for anyone who writes for publication.

Next section: Bibliography of Print Sources and Websites on Plagiarism