History journals: Few Policies on Plagiarism

In 2003, the American Historical Association got out of the business of adjudicating complaints of plagiarism, saying that the association could best promote good scholarship by issuing standards and promoting education about them. Journals, other publishers and colleges and universities are better suited than an association to consider plagiarism complaints, the AHA said, and they all have various sanctions they can impose.

The move was controversial within the association, in part because it came at a time of several well publicized incidents of alleged plagiarism in the profession.

The association has just released an analysis on how plagiarism is handled by journals in the discipline and the answer appears to be that editors favor ad hoc approaches over policy.

“Very few journals have written plagiarism policies, and many journals are reluctant to develop them,” said the study, which was published in the AHA’s magazine, Perspectives. At the same time, the study found that 9 of the 35 history journals participating in the survey reported dealing with plagiarism accusations at least once.

The study — written by Alan Lessoff, professor of history at Illinois State University and editor of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era — noted how sensitive plagiarism issues remain for the association, even though it no longer settles accusations. Even though his report is written in a measured tone, he writes that because of “legal considerations,” both the AHA and the Conference of Historical Journals wanted him to stress that “nothing here amounts to a statement of ‘best practices’ or a model policy.”

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