Ethics And Public History: Annotated Bibliography

886 Words4 Pages
Ethan Young Dr. Carriker HIST 545 Weekly Assignment: Ethics and Public History: An Anthology As the editor of Ethics and Public History: An Anthology, Theodore J. Karamanski brings together a number of essays which discuss the ethical issues that practicing public historians may face. He illustrates how the issue of ethics shaped public history into the field we know today, and offers his two cents on the ethical codes of conduct put forth in recent years by such organizations as the National Council on Public History. But although it may appear that public history has come a long way from being an academic lunatic fringe to an accepted field in its own right, the author maintains that this is anything but progress. In fact, it is a sign…show more content…
It is their work that plays the most significant role in deciding how communities, regions and even entire countries remember their history. One only needs to look at the romanticized history of the Southern “Lost Cause” during the American Civil War, which still endures today, to see how true that is. Examples like these remind us that a public historian’s job is not only to educate and do research, but to “serve society” by presenting an even-handed and truthful account of the past. While true objectivity is realistically unobtainable, it still presents an ideal that public historians should strive toward. In striving toward it, one is less likely to allow his work to be influenced unduly by his own social and political…show more content…
Many corporations such as Coca-Cola and the McIlhenny Company take their company history very seriously, and public historians are often employed as corporate archivists. However, sooner or later many of them face moral quandaries that make it difficult to balance their obligation toward the truth with obligation to employers. What is a public historian to do if he comes across documents that reveal damaging information about his employers, or might endanger himself if he attempts to come forward with it? For public historians employed by the federal government, the dilemmas are often the same. But unfortunately none of the essays featured in the Karamanski’s anthology offer satisfactory answers. Some, such as Donald Page, urge historians considering a corporate position to “work out mutually acceptable guidelines” with prospective employers, but sadly this is not always an option. It is problems like these that present some of the most pressing challenges to public history and do the most to damage its reputation. The idea of a historian in any field working as a researcher-for-hire is a notion many find repugnant, never mind working for corporations that are often seen as soulless. When critics like Terrence O’Donnell accuse public historians of engaging in a “heinous compromise” or “prostituting history,” this is likely what they had in

More about Ethics And Public History: Annotated Bibliography

Open Document