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Poll: Is Stephen Ambrose a Serial Plagiarist?

Is the Ambrose story bigger than it appeared at first? Initially, Ambrose's chief offense seemed to be that he had simply forgotten to put quotation marks around a few select sentences. Now evidence is accumulating that he may be a serial plagiarist. The media have reported that he"borrowed" whole paragraphs from other authors in many books over a period of decades.

Ambrose has apologized for misappropriating other peoples' words, but the practice apparently was deliberate. According to the New York Times, Ambrose admitted that"if he came across passages from another author that fit the story he was telling, he would drop the passages into his text and credit the book in footnotes."

Is this plagiarism? We asked HNN readers to comment.


I do not see much good coming from trashing Stephen Ambrose unless it is as a point of caution to those instructing students on the requisites of meticulous citation of sources and the price one pays for sloppy attribution. Important? Yes. However, the cynics will now make try to mincemeat of all of his work, and the kids will have yet another example of how how all history is really just fiction after all. No wonder the"social sciences" have eclipsed pure history in our secondary schools.

The eggheads have already done their job on Ken Burns and now, Stephen Ambrose. Only David McCullough remains for them, and I expect that he is high on their hit list.

I wish that some of those who are hitting Ambrose so hard would spend a few years at the grassroots of history education in American high schools and see how difficut it is to engage students in the subject. Stephen Ambrose's books,like Ken Burns's films, are absolutely essential tools in the daily fight to bring history alive for the MTV generation.

Doug Collar, Ph.D.


Would any decent history professor excuse a student who repeatedly copied whole paragraphs from books into her papers and passed them off as her own words? The more interesting question is why Ambrose did it. As an intelligent guy, he should have assumed that the popularity of his books would have drawn scrutiny. -

Michael Kazin, Georgetown Univ.


Without quotation marks to indicate precisely what words a footnote refers to, this is plagiarism pure and simple. Students who try this (and get caught) in my courses flunk the entire course.

Lief Carter, Ll.B., Ph.D.11
McHugh Family Distinguished Professor
The Colorado College


If a student did what Ambrose did, they would get an F on a the paper, and would probably fail the course. You" credit" the language of other authors by putting their words in quotation marks.

Elizabeth Milliken
Mount Hood Community College


My students and my colleagues' students are taught about plagiarism at the onset of classes each semester. They are held responsible if they do what Prof. Ambrose did -- they flunk!

Dr. Guenther


Of course he is! The rest of us poor bastards who know that writing is painful and time consuming process feel no sympathy for a guy who lifts paragraphs because they"fit" so well. Heck, I might have actually gotten some sleep while in grad school if I had taken Ambrose's approach. Gee, thanks Ambrose, I actually feel pretty good about myself now. For all those years I thought I was a loser for not producing eloquent text at warp speed, I now know they were not wasted. What I crafted may have been seen as substandard to many but at least it was my very own. Now, you must lose sleep trying to justify what you have done, while I will sleep well tonight. In unison all you struggling writers out there cheer,"No pilfered prose! No pilfered prose! No pilfered prose!"

John Booth


My"old school" advisor and mentor, the esteemed Wendell Holmes Stephenson, senior editor of the the 10-volume"History of the South," editor of the MISSISSIPPI VALLEY HISTORICAL REVIEW, etc., defined"plagiarism" in our Historical Methods seminar at the University of Oregon thus:"When two or more significant words are quoted in the same form and juxtaposition as in the original, and are not enclosed in quotation marks, that is plagiarism."

Lee Nash
Professor of History
George Fox University


The citation without quotes says"I borrowed the research of another." It says nothing about the writing. Writing the words is a creative act that is hard work. To take this creative work and claim it as one's own by not putting it in quotes is plagiarism. It suggests a level of laziness by the author that undermines any credibility of his research. Actions like this unfortunately give the whole profession a bad name.

Joan R. Gundersen


I'm disappointed in Mr. Ambrose. As a high school history teacher for 22 years I have taught my students to give credit where credit is due. When such stories as this surface it weakens the work we the teachers are about on a daily basis.

William Gorski, Concerned Educator


Of course it's plagiarism. The policy on such matters at my college is that even one sentence can bring about a zero and possibly dismissal. Internalizing one paragraph and thus expressing a similar point can indeed happen, but with so many of the same expressions... Whatever happened to using footnotes?

Guillaume de Syon
History Dept.
Albright College
Reading, PA


I think there is little question that a high school or college student doing the same things as Ambrose would immediately be found guilty of plagiarism and sentenced to whatever punishment his or her school hands out to plagiarists. Is Ambrose a plagiarist? It sure looks that way.

Greg Lucas


It's plagiarism, bad writing, and bad history. His books ought to be pulled and corrected, no matter the cost, and he ought to make good by launching a pro bono speaking tour to first-year history classes all over the country.

Christopher James Tassava, M.A.
doctoral candidate
Northwestern University History Department


Why don't you devote a discussion to original work in fields other than contemporary US history? The problem with the Ambrose debacle it seems to me is not plagiarism but the obession of not only the contemporary media but, I fear, the academic historical community as well on short-term perspectives. If there were less at stake, commercially and professionally, in the field of WW2 historiography, then no one really would care.

So rather than feed the frenzy, how about devoting a discussion to what it means, in serious terms, to write popular history? What criteria should we use to evaluate it? How much of a premium should be put on originality of research versus breadth?Aren't those more important questions then whether not Ambrose cribs between appearances on tv?

Gregory S. Brown
Assistant Professor, Department of History
University of Nevada, Las Vegas


The problem is not so much plagerism, but outright lying about American personnel calling them cowards.

Allen Campbell, Director
Douglas DC-3 / Dakota Historical Society


Ambrose is to commercial publishing and lightweight historical analysis what Caligula was to serial sadism. He defines it.

Warren Leming


It's plagiarism all right. He should be censured by the AHA and fired from his position. We don't tolerate plagiarism by our students and we shouldn't tolerate it from our peers.



How many of us can remember the first time while doing research on a subject that we read a passage"written" by one"author" and realized we had read the same thing in a work by another author? I could name several, but like most people who go along to get along, I won't. This is the dirty little secret of our profession that no one will acknowledge.

William A. Henslee


There is no question in my mind, however, that it is inadequate merely to cite an author whose words one has appropriated in a footnote. Ambrose knows that blocking or quotation marks are necessary to indicate specific passages which are taken from another author's work. Undoubtedly, Ambrose set a rate of production for himself made such formal requirements inconvenient. Without them, however, he left himself vulnerable to a charge of stealing literary property. Will he now voluntarily share the profits from the sale of his books with those whose work he"borrowed?" Professional historians expect their students to observe the blocking and quotation mark requirements and must expect to set an appropriate example.

Ralph E. Luker


A footnote is not sufficient. The cited text must be denoted by quotation marks. This man and his methods are an embarrassment to our profession. This is not the standard by which we strive to be held, and I think our censure should be unambiguous. It only hurts the more that he is so prominent in the public eye, for surely this is not an exemplar we would choose for ourselves.

Sue Brotherton


While I think what he did is basically wrong, and I know that the authors of the world will not agree with me, I think that the general public is willing to forgive, if not forget. I have an abiding interest in history, have read most of his books, and enjoyed every one. This will be a lesson he will not soon forget ... and one from which he will, I am certain, learn. I also give him great credit for not dodging the issue.

Carolyn Johnston Edina, MN


No, I don't think that taking a paragraph here and there, to better illustrate a story, is plagiarism. I'm not aware of the extent of Ambrose's activities, but it seems that credit for the original work is included. It does seem that Ambrose could have changed a some words that would add to the passages. Most everything can be improved. For example, I took some information on Bristlecone Pines, added my photo and changed a number of things which, I feel, enhance the description of those trees. Also, my audience is wholly different from those who would have been exposed to the original.

At any rate, why be jealous of dissemination of one's own work? The original author is probably more creative than anyone who"rides" on other's research and, with credit, his or her work gains a larger audience.

Bud Wood


If this is not plagiarism, I don't know what is.

Mina J. Carson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of History
Oregon State University


If a student did it she./he would at least get an F. If it happened twice the student would be reported to the dean. There is a reason why quotation marks exist.



Writing History and more importantly doing the long years of research needed to attempt to discover what was; stay objective 'til you can finally formulate a point of view of what was; then testing your thoughts against the thought of others is very hard, disciplined labor. It seems Ambrose would rather pander to the needs of his audience. Plagiarism? I can't attest to that but the"History" is crappy. The stories and their telling have appeal, however.

Dean E. Miller
Order of Minor Historians


That's plagarism. If one of my students did that I'd have him before the dean.

Ben Marschke, UCLA


If it doesn't make Ambrose a serial plagiarist, then it--at the very least--makes him completely derivative and unoriginal in his scholarship. But in the end, yes, Virginia, he would never make it past my dissertation committee nor a university ethics committee. If he isn't ultimately sanctioned, then Joseph Ellis deserves a break, too.

J. Fred Saddler
Ph.D. Student
Temple University


If I understand the issue correctly, Ambrose has attributed the research and interpretations to their authors, but has lifted the words without attribution. If this is so, I suppose you might say,"two out of three ain't bad." You might also consider that when a writer as skillful as Ambrose steals from you it can be considered a compliment. He is at least showing that he considers your writing to be as good as his. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, plagiarism might be considered even more so.

Nonetheless, plagiarism--be it stealing another historian's research, or interpretation, or the words themselves--is unethical. And for a writer of Ambrose's talent it is puzzling, because so unnecessary.

George Gibson


I am a historian at the University of California, Santa Cruz. What Ambrose did is blatant plagiarism. Anyone who argues otherwise is a moral relativist and should really do some self-reflection about their own professional ethics. I don't care if you write one book or thirty. Plagiarism is plagiarism. I'm shocked reading over history list-serves and reading fellow historians excuse this guy's unethical behavior. Just because one creates a romantic narrative of the bloodiest conflict in history (World War II) doesn't mean he is beyond the reach of our ethical code. Let me also add that I am an Army veteran, and consider Ambrose's work to be inferior and terribly misleading on many counts. He has done more than any single living historian to distort the record regarding America's contribution to World War II, and you can quote me on that. We counsel our students about following their honor code. We mark them down or"fail" them for the kind of think that Ambrose has done.

Paul Ortiz


If Ambrose really put the credits in an footnote when he uses other people's words, it may not be plagiarism, but still is a doubtful practice when it occurs too often. When he 'forgets' to give credit where due, it is plagiarism, simple as that.

Dr. Augustus J. Veenendaal, Jr.
Institute of Netherlands History


Yes, Professor Ambrose is a plagiarist. If I had done in college what he has done in publishing, I would have been expelled and my student file would detail the circumstances. Ambrose deserves no better or worse.

Jon Koppenhoefer


Stephen Ambrose tried to defend himself by saying that, unlike many archivally-driven historians, he likes to tell stories. This is a false dichotomy. I like to tell stories too, but I don't tell stories that other people have already written.

Glenda Gilmore


I have always told my students that to use another person's exact words, credited or not, unless they're in quotations, is plagiarism. I'm truly ashamed of Ambrose's actions.

Nigel Sellars
Assistant Professor of History
Christopher Newport University


In my own classes, students who"borrow" passages--paragraphs or sentences, intact, without quotation marks--are told that it is tantamount to plagiarism, even if they give a source citation. Paraphrasing requires _significant_ alteration in organization and wording, as well as source citation. If Ambrose"borrowed" passages, and it seems he has, then yes, he has plagiarized.

Dr. Janet Walmsley


I find it shocking that Stephen Ambrose knows so much about history but seemingly has never heard of quotation marks. If he were my student I would flunk him.

Jamie Bronstein
New Mexico State University


Yes, unfortunately, what Stephen Ambrose did constitutes plagiarism. I've been following the discussion about this story since it first broke, and I am disturbed by the number of people who are willing to make excuses for Ambrose and downplay the matter as much ado about nothing. As a community college history instructor, I've noticed a dramatic increase of plagiarism among student work, as have many of my colleagues; for that reason alone, I do not believe the Ambrose case should be taken lightly.

J. Kent McGaughy, Ph.D.
Houston Community College--Northwest


Of course it's plagerism if he doesn't include references showing where he got the information. If he does this routinely, he should be sued by those whose work he has lifted and censured by the rest of us in the field.

John Zwicky, PhD
Pediatric History Center
American Academy of Pediatrics


What astonishes me is that Ambrose is trying to defend a routine practice that almost any scholar or even non-academic writer would know is considered intellectual dishonesty.

Timothy Burke


About a decade ago, the Abraham Lincoln historian, Michael Burlingame, and myself made public a case that Stephen B. Oates was then just what Stephen Ambrose is alleged to be now: a serial plagiarist. I had made a close analysis of Oates's unattributed borrowings from Benjamin Thomas's Abraham Lincoln, which Oates had silently used throughout his popular biography, With Malice Toward None. Burlingame extended the inquiry to Oates's biographies of Martin Luther King, jr., and William Faulkner. In each and every book, the procedure was the same, and the same as Ambrose's: take an effective phrase, clause, sentence, or rewrite an entire paragraph or short section; do not employ quotation marks or any other in-text indication (such as mentioning the source by name) that the prose isn't one's very own; and do not give a precise, explicit reference to the source in foot- or end-notes.

After reviewing the evidence, another Lincoln historian, Cullom Davis, asked the American Historical Association to investigate Oates's professional behavior according to the Association's recently revised (and clarified) definition of plagiarism. While the sad story of the AHA's subsequent dithering is too long to be recounted here, suffice to say that, under the threat of a lawsuit for libel from Oates (as were the rest of us who had brought charges of plagiary), the AHA, though finding Oates guilty of unattributed use of sources nonetheless refused to use the 'p-word.' This despite its own published description of plagiarism as just that: unattributed language from unacknowledged sources.

Thus, for the historical profession in America's principal organization to conclude that Stephen Ambrose is a plagiarist, it would have to swallow hard and , yes, let the p-word out in print, recognizing a previous cowardice in the Oates case. Do any member historians plan to ask the AHA to do so? In my own field, literary studies, I know that what Oates and Ambrose have committed is plagiarism: it's what I tell my students evry day, upon penalty of course failure, not to do. But I am also aware that post-modern currents in literary studies, while glad to call such behavior plagiary, would also say,with practiced ennui, so what?

I'm not ready to shrug, however. As one who has been keenly disappointed by the scholarly world's denial that plagiarism is a professional sin and ought to be treated severely when proved, I would ask all historians, lay and professional, who have read, admired and taught Stephen Ambrose to take a close look at parallel passages from his books and his sources. If his textual borrowings fit the established definition of plagiarism, let them say so plainly, and register their disappointment at such a fall. If not, say equally plainly why not, so that the students who will follow as the next generation of historians may know how they may freely proceed in their own work. It is the only honest and open way to address a problem in the profession that may already be epidemic.

Robert Bray
Illinois Wesleyan University


I don't write for a living, but I am a 40 year old college senior, and I have always admired Ambrose for the readability of his work. Whether I'm writing a paper for school, or an article for a newsletter, I enclose anything that I've borrowed directly from other sources in quotes and give proper credit in the notes. How many words I've borrowed doesn't matter, it's still a quotation. Let's hope he's learned a lesson.

Mike Pierce


I have always respected Stephen Ambrose's work, but a charge of plagiarism is serious because it calls into question his long list of published works, several of which I own. I have not checked his references as others apparently have done, but it does seem as though there is a pattern of borrowing directly from other authors and not properly crediting them. This would seem too ludicrous to be true, given his reputation. At the same time, I don't see how such a pattern could be an accident, unless Ambrose was not taught how to credit other authors, which is equally ludicrous. I was taught to credit and footnote other authors under three circumstances: 1) exact usage of another author's words, 2) direct reference to another author's ideas, and 3) referencing something that is not generally known.

I read the previous postings on the apparent pattern in Ambrose's work of borrowing exact or almost exact wording from other authors and I have a hard time seeing it as accidental. The other point that has always bothered me is that he has been such a prolific writer during the last ten years, that I've often wondered how someone could produce so many books in so little time. I'm currently at work on my first book and it won't be published until 2004, and it is taking all of my spare time away from work. How could one person produce so many books while still directing a major museum, speaking at numerous conferences and making frequent TV appearances ? I hope the charge of serial plagiarism is not true, but if it is, then a serious blow has been leveled against historians in general and the rest of us had better be very careful as we go about our business. It's difficult enough to eliminate bias from our work, now we will have to take even greater care to make sure our work is our own.

Jeff Tenuth
Historian and Chief Artifact Cataloger
Indiana State Museum


No wonder he's so prolific! He doesn't write the whole book! If only it were so easy for the rest of us (joke).

Jill Beerman


Even an inadvertent use of someone else's words without acknowledgement is plagiarism, but one that is forgivable if rare, if done in a book that has no citations but chapter bibliographies, and if the source used was acknowledged in the bibliography. His practice, as reported, of choosing to pass as his own someone else's language violates basic rules of scholarship and personal integrity.

Bert Ahern


If Ambrose gave credit in the notes to the original author, then I'd characterize this as misdemeanor plagiarism-- more than a parking violation but less than a felony. I wonder, however, if Ambrose might be covering for the sloppiness of his research assistants. Given his output, I presume he has a team of assistants who do a lot of the grunt work for him, including reviewing the secondary literature. Might it be that some of them were careless in distinguishing verbatim quotations from paraphrases? If so, another issue emerges. If Ambrose quoted his assistants' paraphrases without giving them specific credit, would we consider that plagiarism? Probably not, because he was paying them for the work. Yet he would still be misrepresenting other people's words as his own.

Gary J. Kornblith
Oberlin College


I teach history to over 200 college students per semester and I cannot see how the rules that apply to them should be any different for Mr. Ambrose. Deliberately using another author's words without identifying those words as such is plagiarism. It's just that simple. If the idea is not your own or the discussion of an idea is not your own, cite the sources. My advice to students who are concerned that they don't understand the nuances is"when in doubt, cite." If students plagiarize because they fail to understand what plagiarism means, even after our in class discussion, then I go over the idea again and have them resubmit the work. If they plagiarize work and deny or refuse to accept responsibility for it, they fail the course. My advice to Mr. Ambrose in the future;"when in doubt, cite." His actions so far suggest he is not taking full responsibility. This semester, Mr. Ambrose will be the focus for our class discussion on plagiarism.

Dawn Riggs


When my own students have submitted papers in which they provided a footnote to the source cited, but copied a passage (or paragraph) verbatim without putting it in quotation marks, I have told them that this is plagiarism and have had them resubmit the paper. Representing someone else's work as your own is plagiarism. Steve Coe


As someone completing a dissertation, I've been very careful to cite my sources, and if I'm using direct quotes, I just put quotation marks around the sentence and footnote them. How hard is that? It takes a few seconds to cite a source properly or press the quotation key on a computer or typewriter. If it happens once, I can let it slide, even though I wouldn't be thrilled about it. But more than once sounds to me like deliberate intent. Basically, he's challenging his readers, reviewers, etc to have to look up every quote or every paragraph, which is dishonest. In our profession, one of the basic tenets of writing history is the assumption of intellectual honesty and integrity, and a big part of that is acknowledging our debt to those who have come before us.

It's too bad, because I've read his biographies on Eisenhower and Nixon, and plan to read his book on Lewis and Clark once I finish my dissertation. But this news is disturbing. Ambrose has done so much for popular history, and to see his reputation sullied like this is frustrating.

Chris Tudda
American University


Plagiarism is the theft of ideas. Sometimes an idea is a concept (E=mc2), and at other times, ideas are phrased in particularly compelling ways ("To be or not to be"). Phrasing can be included in what we think of as theft if the phrases are distinctive or unique. That, of course, is why Ambrose used the words of others--because the phrases were particularly compelling, succinct, or conceptually interesting. Another test for plagiarism is whether or not the general public believes the lifted phrases are Ambrose's own. Given his track record on awards and his general reputation as one of the best contemporary historical writers, one could argue that the books he's"authored" are presumed to be in his own words--the awards went to him, not to other authors who, it seems, appeared in his books. Ambrose is being disingenous, and a sloppy historian. But as professional historians, it's our fault, too, for not calling him on this sooner. (Given that as a former university professor he's trained other historians, this makes me wonder what else is out there?)

Angel Kwolek-Folland, Director
Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research
University of Florida


As the editor of a historical magazine, I have worked with two authors, both graduate students, who did exactly what Ambrose has done: lifted material virtually verbatim from sources, but footnoted it. I caught them while factchecking. When I pointed it out to one student--a gifted writer who didn't need to borrow another's words--he replied that he thought it was standard practice and perfectly OK. Clearly, some professors are falling down on the job if their students think this is OK. I'm so glad I had a professor (Dr. Harwood Hinton, University of Arizona) who emphasized the necessity of digesting the source material and writing it up in my own words.

Julie A. Campbell Editor, Virginia Cavalcade


He should be made to share his royalties with the authors whose work he stole.


We expect our students to put quotation marks around any quotes and to footnote them. They receive"F"s if they don't. An even higher standard applies to those who are publishing their thoughts on history to be read by others -- particularly untutored students of history.

J.E. Harris
Harding University


If it is true that Ambrose"'borrowed' whole paragraphs from other authors in many books over a period of decades" what I find amazing is how he could have gotten away with it for so long. Normally, manuscripts go through peer review before going to press. After the books are published, reviewers get a chance at critiquing the book. How did so many of his readers miss so many paragraphs for so long?

Michael Di Giacomo, Ph.D.
Valley Forge Christian College


There has been an increase in plagiarism in universities and this new revelation only tarnishes the academic community, perpetuating the idea that plagiarists can and will get away with stealing someone else's work. Maybe it was Ambrose's popularity and his ability to turn the world onto history, which combined with an overtaxed academic community, allowed one man to get away with dishonesty, and in turn excused the practice for future students and scholars.

Cheryl Lemus
Loyola University Chicago


Plagiarism is a very sticky topic, not only because of its ethical implications, but because the definition of plagiarism differs from person to person. While taking entire paragraphs of others work is wrong without giving credit to the appropriate sources, taking large quantities of work, while giving credit to the author, is simply lazy. Ambrose used poor scholarship techniques when using others work, and has damaged his credibility. However, as long as each paragraph that he uses contains highly visible source notes for the reader, it does not seem to be as serious of a crime, as simply copying another's work and taking full credit for it himself. Essentially, the issue is the visiblity of the notes to show the public the true author.

J. D. Frank


Clearly, Ambrose has been caught dealing in falsehoods--the kind that we would never tolerate from our students let alone our peers--and is now engaging in damage control. Fearing that his commodities will lose value in the marketplace, damaging his and his family's financial situations, Ambrose is making light of his disregard for professional ethics by quips that he is not"writing a dissertation." In doing so, the author does a disservice to the broad reading public (and I include myself among his readers, having purchased, read, and enjoyed the Ike and RN biographies), suggesting that the popular audience for history does not deserve authorial integrity.

Timothy Dean Draper
Waubonsee Community College


While most of us worry that we might make a mistake somewhere along the line, I cannot imagine our profession condoning a deliberate practice that violates the standards of intellectual honesty that are fundamental to the work that we do. Using paragraphs from the works of others without quotation marks is one of the most common problems in undergraduate papers. In most classes this would result in a failing grade on the paper, and possibly for the course, because it constitutes a form of intellectual theft. Repeated cases of plaigarism are grounds for expulsion from the University. In order to head off such consequences, most faculty routinely include definitions of plaigarism on their syllabi. I offer two of these posted on my own university's Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Writing Website http://cisw.cla.umn.edu/plagiarism.html.

Sara M. Evans
Distinguished McKnight University Professor
University of Minnesota


Footnote citation suggests only that the work cited supports or corroborates what is said in the text; the text is supposed to be the author's own (though, obviously, he or she can incorporate another's words either by marked quotation or by indicating that such-and-such is another person's view --"John Smith points out that..."). Representing someone else's turn of phrase or sequence of thoughts or conclusions as though they were your own is plagiarism, theft in other words.



Not at all. I haven't seen the offending lack of quotes but assuming that he does in fact footnote or reference others' work I see no big deal here. What is more important is the accurate telling or re-telling of history. Some people spend way too much time nipping at the heels of productive scholars. I say"give it a rest."

John-Michael"JM" Bodi, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Secondary Education and Professional Programs
Bridgewater State College


Of course, using someone else's sentences is plagiarism if you don't use quotation marks, even if you do footnote it.

Bryce Nelson
Professor of Journalism
USC's Annenberg School


If he really did give credit, then hell, no, it's common academic practice. You have to refer to and quote your predecessors if you're going to build an argument, for or against them.

OTOH, if he tried to pretend those were his own words, then hell yes, it is plagiarism.

Case closed.

PS: or is this another salvo in the eternal copyright wars?

Ted Daniels


Ambrose's method of"dropping passages" from other writers into his text is plagiarism. Some of our undergraduates might claim ignorance because they cited the source, but any professional historian knows better.

Bill Miller
Professor, History


I've enjoyed his books over the past decade but these wrong doings cast a shade over his reputation as a historian and author. A bestseller every two years is quite a pace and now we see just how he was able to do it. It is shameful and he let a lot of people down who had previously looked up to him, yours truly included.

Richard Glowaki


If one my eleventh-grade US History students did what Ambrose did, he would be in violation of our academic honesty policy. Mark Clizbe


According to your description of Ambrose's practices (via the NY Times), that is at least minor plagarism and definitely shoddy scholarship. If indeed an author chooses to quote someone else's work directly then why wouldn't he or she use quotation marks? The mere inclusion of a footnote in such instances seems somewhat disingenuous. That said, I am taking a position on the information given in your email, not on Ambrose's work generally.

Steve Porter


You've got to be kidding. Is this Composition 101 or what? Did he let his students copy other people's words like that?

M. Spencer


Even if Ambrose had only paraphrased his authors he should have footnoted the sources of his information. I realize that in more popular works of history expectations are lower and one might get away with a list of sources used for each chapter, as long as no direct quotes were used. But I heard the NPR voiceover of the plagiarized sections and it was as blatant as what any of my students do in their undergraduate research papers. The concerned authors should take the issue up with the AHA Committee on Professional Standards.

Sara Nalle
Professor of History (and plagiarized author)


Ambrose is a plagiarist, not really any question about it.

Prof. Billy Smith
Montana State Univ.
Bozeman, MT


IS THIS PLAGIARISM? I vote YES. If one of my students did this, he/she would be penalized for plagiarism.

Helen M. Bannan, Interim Associate Dean
College of Letters and Science
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh


For scholars, their writing is their work product, often the result of decades of work, and to use it without proper citations is tantamount to theft. In major, complex works, an occasional, unintentional slip is not unheard of, but we are taught to be vigilant in our efforts to avoid it. The cavalier attitude expressed in the posted statement makes me wonder if it is due to haste, sloppiness, or a little hubris, and makes me even more committed to teaching my students that proper documentation is the only option.

Anne C. Venzon


At what stage in the process of becoming a scholar does it become appropriate to leave the quotations out. Undergraduate papers, graduate work, doctoral dissertations, associate professors or is this perogative reserved for tenured professors or only tenured professors with a significant impact on book sales.

J. Bell, Lansing, MI


I think Ambrose wrong, I think his apology does not go far enough. When he writes, it is his opinions and ideas we are taking at face value--whether it is his research assistants who incorrectly present him notes or himself, he is still responsible for the content and his credibility. It's a shame that we are going back to the historians of the 18th and 19th century who thought little of doing this. I thought that as a profession who demands respect we would be past this.

Phyllis L. Soybel
Elmhurst College


I find this Ambrose situation both interesting and difficult to come to terms with. The points that I keep grappling with are:

1. Would Ambrose tolerate this behavior from his graduate students? Would this be acceptable? Would he consider this plagiarism?

2. Did Ambrose actually write the questionable sections? Does he have grad students doing work for him?

3. As an author who attempts to bridge the gap between scholarly and popular history, does Ambrose fall into a different category, with a different set of rules?

As for thought # 1, I would think that any grad students that used Ambrose's documentation (or lack of) documentation style would find them in very serious trouble with the academic affairs office. I would guess that from a collegiate and scholarly perspective, Ambrose is plagiarizing.

We will never know the answer to # 2, because Ambrose is the author of record, he will have to sink or swim with the errors of any of his students or assistants.

As a graduate history student, I would also have trouble with using # 3 as a defense for Ambrose...Seeing that he is a Ph. D, and an experienced professor, he should always reach to the highest possible standard. Just because he writes to a diversified audience does not excuse him from having to use proper citations. What would he think (or what would his publishers think) if some other author lifted from one of Ambrose's works in a similar manner? I would imagine there would be a lawsuit...

Michael Saporito
Peabody, MA


I just failed 6 students for turning in final papers in which they did exactly what Ambrose did, and gave them a stern lecture about personal integrity to boot. Ambrose deserves no less. If historians don;t get out in front of this, how can we expect our students or the public to take anything we say about intellectual honesty seriously?


I spend a considerable amount of time explaining to students the difference between paraphrasing and plagiarism. If one of my students did what Ambrose has done, they would receive a zero for the assignment.

Randi Barnes Cox
Stephen F. Austin State University


Definitely plagiarism, and blatant at that. I have already told my students that if he were in my course, I'd flunk him. There is no excuse for this kind of dishonesty.

J Johnson


If he used the format for direct quotes, and had an accurate footnote, then he did nothing wrong; but if the text appears just like all others, that is borderline if there are no quotation marks; if there are no footnotes, he has crossed the line and is guilty of something, what exactly I cannot say, but you cannot borrow other people's exact words without attribution.

James McSwain


I am following the Ambrose things with some interest. On one hand, the citation rules are pretty clear, but there is wriggle room and interpretation of guidelines.

The more interesting aspect for me is the nature and orientation of the attack on Ambrose. As cultural historian of intellectuals, I see this a time-honored defense of the academic profession by the guardians of tradition...academics. The post-1960s professional historians (read Ph.D.)trained as scholars for the production and reproducation of discipline-specific knowledge have always disliked"amateurs" (read no Ph.D.) doing or at least appearing to do discipline specific research. Insider vs. outsider. Ambrose knows this and actually revels in it. He has sold more books than most history departments, so clearly his popular style of writing is touching a chord that we academics have not. (lost, abandoned?) Clearly there is a growing interest in public culture for history, just not academic history. That said, I think the attack over footnotes is aimed at putting a professonal scarlet letter on the interloper into the guardian's territory. He'll survive and he'll publish again, just get less money for public engagements and fewer White House invites to the Lincoln bedroom. The larger issue is why do increasing numbers read Ambrose and fewer and fewer read scholarly monographs. I know the answer.

Chris Mauriello


YES, Joe Ellis gets fired, S.A. quietly promises NOT to do it again and gets more Media Consultant $$. What is he and his Company raking in now per year. I read in the NYTimes Sunday edition two weeks ago 1 to 3 million a year now. Nice"band of Brothers". And he never served a day in the Military, draft-dodger is used by those who knew him then.

Edward J. Trout
History Dept. Pennsbury High School, Fallsington,PA.

Editor's Note: Ellis was suspended for a year.


I share the opinions of all the historians--railroad and military, English and American--on the sins of Stephen Ambrose.

I think the biggest problem I have with this whole mess is of the history professors who have issued statements condoning the rampant plagiarism and the outright lies told by this marvelously talented charlatan. Parents are paying astonishing tuition fees to send their youngsters to universities to be taught by those apologists for the likes of Stephen Ambrose? Those who remain silent in the face of all this are almost as unprincipled as those who endorse Ambrose's conduct.

Then there are the universities, such as Maryville University of St. Louis, who pay enormous fees to Ambrose, so that he can be a participant in their lecture series (Powell Hall, Jan. 31, 2002)--they are, in effect, endorsing the plagiarism and outright lies, which are part and parcel of this man's output. They, too, deserve the condemnation by those who encourage truth and integrity in literary works.

Gregory M. Franzwa, Editor
folio, the newsletter of The Patrice Press


According to Turabian (6th ed., paragraph 5.2)"Failure to give credit is plagerism." This includes both quotes and ideas. If they were direct quotes, they should have been bracketed with quote marks. If ideas, reworded, just noted. I have no problem with Ambrose using other people's ideas. Again Turabian (same paragraph) says,"By definition, a research paper involves the assimilation of prior scholarship and entails the responsibility to give proper acknowledgement whenever one is indebted to another for either words or ideas." His books are large research papers, but proper credit must have been given and direct quotes, whether a couple words, sentences, or whole paragraphs, set off as such.

Barry Beverage


I teach at a high school in suburban Cleveland, OH. We just suspended a student for 5 days who did exactly what Ambrose did on her English research paper.

Tim Connell
History Department, Laurel School, Shaker Hts., OH


Yes, copying or paraphrasing another writer's words and ideas into your text without quotation marks and full attribution is plagiarism, in the sense that it is a deliberate attempt to mislead readers into thinking that these are your words and ideas. Simply noting that you have used the other writer's work as a resource is not enough. I am adamant about this, because I have been the"victim" of such plagiarism. I was shocked to recognize my own voice breaking through the text of an article on Ellen Key, a Swedish writer and reformer about whose life and work I had previously written. My publications were, indeed, cited in the article's bibliography, but no note indicated to readers that these sentences (well-turned phrases and sharp insights, I thought) were mine. I was offended, and I let the"plagiarist" know. Her defense was very much like Ambrose's.

I am especially disheartened by Ambrose's claim that he can't know how many times he has followed this practice because he has written so very many books. He should be embarrassed to come off as so evasive and self-serving. I would not let a student of mine get away with calling this a simple oversight or even admitting to sloppiness. Sloppiness is fine in early drafts, but it should be cleaned up before turning in work, or, heavens, publishing it.

Cheri Register
Writer and teacher of creative non-fiction writing


Websters defines plagiarism as:"to take and use as one's own the ideas and writings of another." It is clear by his own admissions that this is what Ambrose did. As a graduate history student I have been trained time and time again by numerous instructors to avoid using footnotes as an excuse for using the words and ideas of others. Footnotes are used to identify the source you as a writer use to construct the ideas and arguments you put forth in support of your thesis, which are supposed to be your own. This helps future scholars identify the pertinent source material for further research and lends credibility to your own original arguments concerning the subject. I beleive Ambrose should be judged on the same level as any professor publishing books and articles and not as a celebrity personality who can simply apologize. Plagiarism is a severe ethical violation that if tolerated will hurt the professional historian and the public who are attempting to learn by reading their books.

David Livingstone
California State University Northridge


Missed the TIMES article. I use two of Ambrose's books in my World War II seminar and ought to have followed this story more closely. As described only in your summary of the TIMES article, the charge seems to have more substance than the defense given.

David Holmes


Of course its plagiarism. When you use other words as your own and do not cite them, it is plagarism. Clearly!!!

Buck Foster Book Review Editor, Historians of the Civil War Western Theater

Mississippi State University


Yes, of course, what Ambrose has done is plagiarism. For anyone in doubt, the AHA has clearly defined plagiarism in its Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. There are several pages on the topic of plagiarism, but this quote stands out:

"More subtle is the unacknowledged appropriation of concepts, data, and footnotes, all disguised in paraphrased or newly crafted sentences. Alternatively, an artful historian can minimize a significant obligation by casually mentioning that work in an early footnote and thereafter regularly using its analysis without further attribution. What is demonstrably plagiaristic shades off into an unworthy disregard for the contributions of others." (AHA, 1992, 18-19).

To those of us who have struggled to train both undergraduate and graduate students NOT to plagiarize, Ambrose's actions and apparent attitude are appalling.

Susan Becker, Emerita, University of Tennessee


Ambrose is without a doubt a plagiarist and should be treated as such. Too often those who are known to be too free with their borrowings of others' ideas and words go unpunished, at times because their victims are afraid they will be ostracized if they air their grievances (esp. the untenured), other times because even established academics seem to value the veneer of collegiality and"gentlemanly behavior" over honest assessments of what amounts to thievery. The Ambrose case is a good opportunity for the academy to send a strong message to plagiarists with words and actions that in my opinion should include removal from reading lists but also editorial boards and other things by which we often measure academic authority. This is the only way to set an example for those just starting their scholarly careers and dissuade writers of popular histories from similar tactics.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat
Associate Professor of Italian Studies and History
New York University


For someone of Ambrose's exalted stature to do this is inexcusable. I have long respected him as a fine scholar and lucid writer of narrative history, and I have occasionally used one of his works in a course. In recent years he has been churning them out, and many of them make the best seller's list and end up as a Ken Burns documentary. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. Indeed it is good for the profession. But when a historian becomes a popular author and employs a team of research assistants, this kind of thing is probably more likely to happen.

Stephen Berk
California State University, Long Beach


He may have been sloppy in citing directly with quotation marks but at least he gives credit in his footnotes. Overall his books are good reads and I am sure a lot of people were involved in tedious research. We should be more concerned with interpretation and fact as far as that goes. Ambrose tells good histories in my opinion.

Jana Lee


My understanding is that, as he has become more prolific, Ambrose has hired a number of research assistants; did none of these folks learn the basic elements of correct citation somewhere along the line? Still, even if they do know what they are supposed to do, perhaps their boss, who has of course become incredibly prolific over the past few years, can't be bothered by such picky details as proper attribution. Whatever the case, someone is culpable here, and the most logical choice is the guy with his name on the cover.

George Lamplugh
The Westminster Schools
Atlanta, Ga.


In fact, it is exactly the kind of plagiarism that I'm constantly trying to get my students to avoid. A significant percentage of them consistently take phrases and sentences (rarely whole paragraphs) from sources and using them as if the words were their very own. As far as I'm concerned both my students and Ambrose are guilty of academic dishonesty.

Sue Patrick


Either Ambrose is extremely stupid, or he believes his readers are extremely stupid. As a professional historian with over fifty years in the profession, I find it extremely distatestful to believe that Ambrose could be so cavalier about appropriating other people's work. Did he really believe that a footnote credit to the book sufficed when he had"borrowed" whole paragraphs from the work? What example was he setting to students? The sad aspect of this whole situation is that Ambrose is not the only historian to have misrepresented his work. We have identified three. How many others are there happily misappropriating other people's work? and receiving accolades for what they turn out. Great harm is being done to the historical profession.

Emiliana P. Noether
Professor of History Emerita
University of Connecticut


First, there's Ambrose's hypocrisy: extolling the virtues of"The Greatest Generation," such as duty, honor, and sacrifice while lining his own pockets by pilfering other people's work (not to mention repeatedly recycling his own).

Second, there's the quality of his work APART from plagiarism. CITIZENS SOLDIERS, for example, while certainly interesting and entertaining, contains numerous factual errors and is largely strung-together quotations from oral histories--that is, a really long C+ undergraduate history paper. When there is an argument, it is often absurd, or even offensive, such as his notion that the United States pretty much won World War II singlehandedly, or that US troops were uniquely humanitarian in their behavior.

And third, there's the weird lack of media criticism, even from the one who broke the story, Fred Barnes. The whole thrust of his story was critical, and then he rushes to congratulate Ambrose for his"apology," like the Congressmen who embraced Charles Van Doren when the quiz show scandals broke. And where are the other pundits? Had a prominent liberal, academic historian like Eric Foner or Sean Wilentz been caught doing this, they'd be on him like flies on feces. So why isn't Ambrose being attacked by O'Reilly on THE FACTOR?

Some have suggested Ambrose's feverish pace as an explanation. Well here's an idea, Mr. Ambrose: settle for being a millionaire instead of a multi-millionaire, write one-tenth the number of books--and make them GOOD and ORIGINAL.

Phil Nash


Any information which extends beyond common knowledge must be attributed, even when the source is listed on a bibliography/works cited page. If Ambrose's methods are acceptable, I have been misinterpreting MLA for my students for thirty years!

Laurie Crowther


I am at a loss to know why anyone would have any doubt that it is! Words do have meanings, and lots of spin doesn't change the meaning of the word. Surely a historian, of all people, knows better. Even my students know better--and if they pretend that they don't, a charge of plagiarism goes in their file. Why would a bestseller author with 30 years' experience be diferent?

Noel Cary


Yes, it's plagiarism. If I did this, or I had a student who did it, it would be a serious issue. Ambrose is not exempt from the same rules of attribution and hard work that apply to less famous writers.

Dave Fuhrmann


Using footnotes implies that he is paraphrasing or summarizing, not apparently what he was doing. I'm a college teacher and when I get papers like this and believe that the student just didn't know how to do research (alas, not at all rare), I ask that the project be redone. Otherwise, it's just plain cheating. I love this controversy, with reporters checking footnotes and the principle of responsible citation getting a public airing! (Lord, I probably sound so stuffy!)

Ellen Ross
Professor of History and Women's Studies
Ramapo College of New Jersey


The question of what is wrong with Ambrose's scholarship has been nagging at me for years. He is obviously a master stylist and sells more books than virtually all the other members of the AHA put together. In an age when historical knowledge is so thinly spread among the general population that is no small feat. The question that has bothered me as I read his books has been the absence of critical distance from his subjects. I recently read his WWII books along side John Keegan's masterful Six Armies in Normandy, and the contrast was remarkable. At every point Keegan asked important questions about the situation on the ground and the nature of warfare. Ambrose wants to celebrate heroes. I would hope the discussion about Ambrose's scholarship does not limit itself to the narrow grounds of technical plagiarism, which is a lawyer's game anyway. We historians should worry more about the character of critical scholarship that is driven by questions of intellectual merit. I suspect the plagiarism derives less from dishonesty than from the absence of a serious commitment to historical method and engagement with ideas.

Edward Muir


It seems to me"intent" is the crucial factor here. If the intention was to footnote later, forgetting to do so is perhaps forgivable -- IF that is what happened. (Those of us older than thirty are not to be trusted with all the wonders of word processing, and mistakes of this sort are easy to make. So it could be this is what happened.) However, it seems likely you would catch something like this type of error somewhere along the way before a final printing. One final point. Even at its worst, this transgression seems smaller to me than the ones apparently committed by Michael Bellesiles (Arming America), about which there seems much less media hype. Wonder why?

Jonathan Burack
Highsmith Inc.