14 April, 2009

Ethics and the Public Historian

I just finished reading an article titled "The Historian's Responsibility in Litigation Support" by Craig E. Colten*. I chose this article as one of my readings for my ethics paper because it is a different perspective on the ethical role of an historian since most don't get into the profession to consult on court cases. While he uses a few of the cases he has consulted on as examples of what to do and not do, Colten primarily discusses the ethical responsibility of the historian in and out of a court room. He emphasizes that there are two sets of ethical standards to follow when in litigation: that of the historian and that of the law.

Some of my thoughts on the article:

Historians should strive to be bi-partisan - that is, not biased.
It is the historians responsibility to present all information in an unbiased fashion - and keep with the "prevailing wisdom". Try to keep an equal balance.
Historians need to be CREDIBLE and FOLLOW the evidence.
Historians are responsible for sharing their findings with their peers. This can be done through publication, scholarly journals, and conferences.
KNOW the difference between sealed documents and public domain documents.

Colten also compares the historian and non-historian where litigation is concerned. He says that the historian tries to keep his testimony broad where the non-historian's tends to be narrow and personalized.
*Article taken from The Public Historian, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 111-115 (Winter 2006).

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