Though today it is not fashionable for historians to explain what in fact they do, historians worldwide do at least three things. They ask questions, they conduct research to answer them, and they draw conclusions based on their findings. Implicit in their day-to-day work is the assumption that historians will be free to pursue their research critically and honestly and disseminate their conclusions without interruption by authorities. Freedom of inquiry, freedom of information, and freedom of expression always have been at the heart of the historian's craft.
Despite this ideal, the Belgian scholar Dr. Antoon De Baets has written, "From time immemorial, rulers have tried to manipulate the past, discipline historians, and control collective memory." Once they censor historians, governments next construct historical propaganda to replace the excised history. "The aim of censoring regimes," De Baets maintains, "is to purge historiography in order to make it a tool of the ideology justifying the rulers' position of power." Confronted with political censorship, historians must decide whether to collaborate with their government, impose self-censorship (and thus circumscribe their own critical powers), or resist, thereby opening themselves to persecution—physically or professionally, or both.
The prevalence, power, and pathos of historical censorship are captured in De Baets's encyclopedic and carefully organized and executed Censorship of Historical Thought: A World Guide, 1945–2000. This is the first systematic and authoritative reference work of its kind and it documents numerous cases of censorship and persecution of historians in more than 130 countries. For years De Baets has monitored instances where historians were persecuted—first from his post with Amnesty International in Costa Rica—and now from his academic appointment at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, where he regularly circulates his findings globally through the Internet. De Baets ranks among the leading authorities on historical censorship.
Though, as De Baets notes correctly, historians long have recognized the