Historians in Hot Water
Byline: The Register-Guard
Originality, Mark Twain once said, is the art of concealing one's sources. Or maybe it was Russell Baker. At any rate, it wasn't us; an appreciative nod should go to whoever said it first, because when lines worth repeating are borrowed without credit, it isn't borrowing anymore - it's stealing.
Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin have learned that lesson the hard way. Both historians are the authors of wildly popular books, and both have recently admitted lifting material from other works without attribution. Goodwin's 1987 book "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys" contained lines from three other books. Unacknowledged or inadequately attributed material has been found in five books by Ambrose, author of "Band of Brothers," "The Wild Blue" and other best-sellers.
It's disappointing that historians should stray in this fashion. It's their business to rely on previously published material. Historians sort through books, letters, newspaper clippings and public records, and distill the best of what they find. No one faults historians for producing works based on what comes before; all that's asked is that they be meticulously forthright about where their material came from.
Indeed, originality is expected from historians only in the formation of fresh insights or the drawing of unsuspected connections. Historians can find themselves in trouble when they get too creative, as when …
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Publication information: Article title: Historians in Hot Water. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Register Guard (Eugene, OR). Publication date: February 4, 2002. Page number: A8. © Not available. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.