America’s worst historians

Historians in the News

Andrew Burnstein and Nancy Isenberg are professors of history at Louisiana State University.

...Let this be, then, the tale of two highly visible Harvard Ph.D.’s who have been caught red-handed committing plagiarism. Both Fareed Zakaria and Doris Kearns Goodwin were awarded degrees in government from Harvard, 25 years apart. Goodwin, the elder, is a serial plagiarizer who has been welcomed back with open arms by the TV punditocracy. She directly and egregiously lifted quotes from others’ works on multiple occasions – a Pulitzer Prize–winning book contained passages plagiarized from three different writers! – and she quietly paid off one aggrieved author.

The full story can be read in University of Georgia historian Peter Hoffer’s book “Past Imperfect” (2004). It’s damning. It’s also revealing of the fact that Goodwin recycles material because it’s easier than coming up with something new. Bear in mind that, as a matter of course, history majors are taught to visit the archive and focus on primary sources. Government majors are not. Still, that is no excuse for what she (or Zakaria) did.

Even as she admitted to slipshod research in 2002, Goodwin rounded up her prominent journalist friends – and she even co-opted some professional historians. They published a letter in the New York Times assuring the public that she was a writer with “moral integrity” who was innocent of plagiarism. She disappeared from TV and, until her infamous fraud could be erased from public memory, put off publication of a new, breezily written, but still unoriginal (if plagiarism-free) book....

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