Poll: Is Stephen Ambrose a Serial Plagiarist?
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.
MOTIVATED BY SOUR GRAPES
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.
OF COURSE IT'S PLAGIARISM
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.
PURE AND SIMPLE PLAGIARISM
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
WHY IS THIS EVEN A QUESTION?
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.
Mount Hood Community College
YES, IT'S PLAGIARISM
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!
AMBROSE A PLAGIARIST?
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!"
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."
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
SURE LOOKS THAT WAY
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.
SURE LOOKS THAT WAY
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.
Northwestern University History Department
IN ALL SERIOUSNESS
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.
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.
"I'M SHOCKED, SHOCKED, THAT THERE IS GAMBLING GOING ON HERE."
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
NOTHING PERSONAL AGAINST AMBROSE, BUT ...
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
THIS IS PLAGIARISM!
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.
THE PUBLIC WILL FORGIVE HIM
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.
OF COURSE IT'S PLAGIARISM
If this is not plagiarism, I don't know what is.
Mina J. Carson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of History
Oregon State University
IT SURE IS
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.
THE ORDER OF MINOR HISTORIANS
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
SPEAKING OF DEANS
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
WHY DID HE DO IT?
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.
PLAGIARISM IS PLAGIARISM
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.
THE VIEW FROM THE NETHERLANDS
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
IF I HAD DONE IT
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.
I LIKE TO TELL STORIES TOO
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.
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.
Assistant Professor of History
Christopher Newport University
NOT JUST PARAPHRASING
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.
New Mexico State University
EPIDEMIC OF PLAGIARISM
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
PEDIATRIC HISTORIAN'S VIEW
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.
THE OATES CASE
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
TEACHER SPEAKS OUT
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.
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
SMACKS OF PLAGIARISM TO ME
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.
AND HE'S TRAINED STUDENTS?
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
AN EDITOR SPEAKS OUT
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.
HOW DID HE GET AWAY WITH IT FOR SO LONG?
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
WHAT REALLY TROUBLES ME
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.
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
CAN'T CONDONE THIS
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.
NO BIG DEAL
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
JOURNALISM PROF SPEAKS OUT
Of course, using someone else's sentences is plagiarism if you don't use quotation marks, even if you do footnote it.
Professor of Journalism
USC's Annenberg School
DID HE PRETEND?
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.
PS: or is this another salvo in the eternal copyright wars?
HE SHOULD KNOW BETTER
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.
ENJOYED HIS BOOKS, BUT ...
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.
HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER SPEAKS OUT
If one my eleventh-grade US History students did what Ambrose did, he would be in violation of our academic honesty policy. Mark Clizbe
IF THE NYT IS RIGHT
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.
IS THIS A JOKE?
You've got to be kidding. Is this Composition 101 or what? Did he let his students copy other people's words like that?
SOUNDS LIKE PLAGIARISM TO ME
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.
Professor of History (and plagiarized author)
Ambrose is a plagiarist, not really any question about it.
Prof. Billy Smith
Montana State Univ.
THE DEAN'S VIEW
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
SAD TO SAY
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
THE PREROGATIVE OF TENURED PROFS?
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
GRADUATE STUDENT'S VIEW
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...
I JUST FLUNKED 6 STUDENTS FOR SAME OFFENSE
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
I HAVE ALREADY TOLD MY STUDENTS ...
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.
YOU JUST CAN'T DO IT
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.
INTERESTING CULTURAL EVENT
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.
COMPARISON WITH JOE ELLIS
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.
SHOULD HE BE INVITED TO SPEAK AT UNIVERSITIES?
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.
MORE STUDENTS SUSPENDED FOR PLAGIARISM
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.
History Department, Laurel School, Shaker Hts., OH
I WAS A VICTIM OF PLAGIARISM
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.
Writer and teacher of creative non-fiction writing
Author, PACKINGHOUSE DAUGHTER: A MEMOIR
WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY SAYS
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.
California State University Northridge
WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY SAYS
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.
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
WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY SAYS
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
GOOD OPPORTUNITY FOR THE ACADEMY TO SEND A MESSAGE
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.
Associate Professor of Italian Studies and History
New York University
I HAVE EVEN USED HIS BOOKS IN CLASS
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.
California State University, Long Beach
TOO MUCH IS BEING MADE OF THIS
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.
HE'S TOO PROLIFIC
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.
The Westminster Schools
AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED
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.
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
A C+ BOOK
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.
REMEMBER THE MLA!
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!
TREAT HIM DIFFERENTLY? WHY?
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?
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.
FIFTH GRADERS KNOW BETTER
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!)
Professor of History and Women's Studies
Ramapo College of New Jersey
THIS IS MORE THAN ABOUT PLAGIARISM
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.
INTENT IS CRITICAL
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?
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C.Evans - 6/26/2003
I certainly agree that what he did was flat out--stole--other writers work and used them for his gain.
I attempted to read three of his books but found that an impossible task. He not only does not give credit where it is due but---somehow consistantly insulting our allies in saying they were bumbling cowards afrain of doing their jobs, AND also making the then-enemy, look like the inept German soldiers you would see constantly portrayed on the Combat TV series!
C.Evans - 6/26/2003
I certainly agree that what he did was flat out--stole--other writers work and used them for his gain.
I attempted to read three of his books but found that an impossible task. He not only does not give credit where it is due but---somehow consistantly insulting our allies in saying they were bumbling cowards afraind of doing their jobs, AND also making the then-enemy, look like the inept German soldiers you would see constantly portrayed on the Combat TV series!
R. B. Bernstein - 1/25/2002
I disagree vehemently but respectfully with the anonymous author of "Comment." I admired Stephen Ambrose and was happy that he was proving a point that my old mentors Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris had made time and time again -- that it was possible, and necessary, for historians to write about their subjects, no matter how arcane or technical they might be, so that intelligent readers with no background could read and enjoy their work. I deeply admired Ambrose's CRAZY HORSE AND CUSTER and his UNDAUNTED COURAGE. Indeed, I skipped David Lavendar's THE WAY TO THE WESTERN SEA because I had read UNDAUNTED COURAGE and assumed that it was a better and more current book. Now, I find that Ambrose appropriated passages from Lavendar's book, and I feel saddened, disillusioned, and, frankly, conned.
Let's get real about what Ambrose did. A note (whether footnote or endnote) says, "This note tells you where I found the information that I wrote about in text." Note the vital words "that I wrote about." A note to a quote says, "This note tells you where the quote in text came from." Ambrose's notes to his appropriated passages mislead the reader by giving the false impression that the reader is reading Ambrose's writing.
As another writer on this subject has pointed out, Ambrose's appropriations also deny the reader a fresh look at the subject. Ambrose is simply recycling earlier work on what he chooses to publish about.
Finally, Ambrose has raised unfortunate questions about the writing of popular history and best-selling history. I have a colleague who published a well-received book on Jefferson some years back. It has just been reissued in paperback. Someone the author once knew e-mailed him to congratulate him on the book and added, "I presume that everything in it is yours?" All of us who write history are going to have to contend with that level of carping and popular mistrust now, and it's a goddamned shame.
-- R. B. Bernstein, Adjunct Professor of Law, New York Law School
Comment - 1/23/2002
I think that as plagerism is defined, what Mr. Ambrose did would be
considered plagerism. Yet do I feel like borrowing words are wrong? No.
There are a limited number of words in the English language. If you take the
same information and give it to 1000 people there will be numerous passages
created that are almost identical. I bet that a mathmatician could even
figure how many ways of saying the same thing could be written, depending on
how many words were given to work with. I think that the most important
thing in creating a resource is the knowledge behind the effort. Not the
order of the words.
Stephen Ambrose, I am a fan.
Comment - 1/21/2002
In our "gotcha" culture, it is hardly surprising that there should be such "piling on" about the Ambrose "use" of other peoples' writing. I think it crucial to weigh the grievance in the setting of the contribution. While this 15 minutes of "disfame" is Ambrose's worst moment, the rest of his careeer, as well as the motivation for the lapses, need to be considered. I believe that his remarkable productivity, public availabity and consensus writing, should not be be the proverbial "baby" discarded with the bath water.
It is very doubtful that he was not up to writing the passages he informally lifted.Most of the lifted passages were not on significant interpretation.
I see this chorus of condemnation as motivated by envy, as well as ideological bias against a centrist historian.
Finally,is there no understanding of, or compassion for, a senior person, having survived a stroke, who remains in the forefront, appearing on talk shows and interviewing aged veterans for posterity.
Kevin M. Gannon - 1/21/2002
I interned as an undergrad at a foundation in Virginia where Prof. Ambrose was invied by us to give a keyonote address to a gathering honoring a distinguished WWII historian (who was also the principal biographer of George C. Marshall). Prof. Ambrose demanded, in return for giving us the privilege of his coming to speak at our gathering, first-class plane tickets and lodging in the most expensive hotel in town (and that's essentially the way he phrased it). He spoke, and it was pretty much what you've read in his editorials, etc.
I think he's done a lot of good in bringing history to a wider audience, and especially for his work in preserving oral histories. But if you're going to demand top dollar for speaking, you'd better earn it. And plagiarism is not the way to do that--make no mistake; Ambrose is a plagiarist, and excusing his behavior is a slap in the face to all of us students and teachers who give a damn about original scholarship. Those defenders of Ambrose on these comment threads who claim all should be forgotten because Ambrose "brings histroy alive" miss the point entirely. Other people brought history alive; Ambrose just copied their work. There's no excuse for this sloppy and unprofessional scholarship, no matter how much you like reading his books.
Instructor, Lamar University (Beaumont, TX)
PhD candidate, University of South Carolina
Comment - 1/20/2002
If Ambrose just "dropped" paragraphs into his story and gave credit in the
footnotes then he is quilty of being very sloppy not plagerism. If they
were not given credit in the footnote then he is guilty.
I have no problem using with paragraphs in quotation marks-----and giving
credit in the notes. It makes the story flow better. In fictional history
and even in non-fictional items, such as biographys it is becoming the norm
Comment - 1/20/2002
I would like to add my voice to the debate about plagiarism by Stephen Ambrose.
Surely one of the most important casualties of plagiarism is historical accuracy, for how can source be checked if the information comes second or third hand?
Take "D-Day. The Climactic Battle of World War II" as an example, and more specifically the chapter "Visitors to Hell", which tells the story of 1st Battalion 116th Infantry Regiment landing on Omaha Beach. There are tales in this chapter of soldiers being dumped at sea and a British coxswain being forced at gunpoint by a Captain Zappacosta to go closer to the beach. This is quite simply stuff and nonsense.
My father-in-law was the first officer of the Royal Navy flotilla which took 1st Battalion 116th Infantry Regiment to Omaha Beach from the SS Empire Javelin. He was in command of the first wave of landing craft which landed A Company 116th Infantry Regiment in front of the Vierville-sur-Mer draw at 06:30. Reading the chapter "Visitors to Hell" made his blood boil, and many other veterans felt the same way.
Taking the Zapacosta incident as an example. It simply did not happen. Reports of this incident first appeared in an article in the November 1960 edition of The Atlantic Monthly by S. L. A. Marshall. Only one soldier survived D-Day from this particular LCA landing craft, a Bob Sales who was Captain Zapacosta's bodyguard and stood right next to him all the way in to the beach. Bob Sales is still alive today and lives in Virginia. Bob Sales has tried for years to refute these accounts of Captain Zapacosta and has written notarised documents and recorded tapes to state very clearly that Captain Zapacosta did not and would not have behaved in this way. Can anyone really expect that a Captain in the US Army on D-Day would readily pull a gun to the head of a British sailor?
Furthermore, the British veterans from this flotilla have no recollection of any such incidents, for they simply did not happen. The flotilla that three companies of 1st Battalion 116th Infantry Regiment lost 8 out of 16 landing craft on D-Day, with most if the remainder severely damaged. Whilst many soldiers and sailors were killed, landing craft returned to the beach to rescue sailors from stricken landing craft and to take back some wounded soldiers. The lead landing craft for the first wave is reported as "vaporised" along with Captain Taylor Fellers of A Company 116th IR in Stephen Ambrose's book. This simply did not happen.
Only one landing craft was lost from the first wave. LCA911 sank about 1000 yards from the beach when the front of the LCA disintegrated due to damage sustained during a collision with another leading craft during the lowering from Empire Javelin.
My father-in-law's LCA is reported as vaporised, yet he returned the LCA to the Empire Javelin full of sailors and soldiers he had rescued from the beach and the sea.
Captain Fellers was killed leading A Company across open beach in front of the Vierville-sur-Mer draw.
The truth is that the facts are available to arrive at an accurate account of what happened in front of the Vierville-sur-Mer draw on Dog Green, Omaha Beach on D-Day. They are available from historical documents, many written by US Military historians in 1944, and from first-hand accounts from veterans who were there.
Stephen Ambrose's "Visitors to Hell" is not only historically inaccurate, it has caused a great deal of harm by dishonouring veterans and desecrating the graves of soldiers and sailors who were in action on D-Day. This is one of the most lasting sins of plagiarism, for there can be no checking of sources.
The sailors and pilots who landed soldiers on Omaha Beach or paratroopers above Normandy have been done a great disservice by such historical inaccuracies.
My father-in-law took these points up with Stephen Ambrose when the book first came to his attention. To give Stephen Ambrose his due, he acknowledged the errors and promised to rewrite the chapter in a future edition, but the damage is done, the millions of copies sold and will there ever be another edition with a rewritten chapter?
To rub salt into the wound, when Saving Private Ryan came out with the opening scene "D-day, Dog Green, Omaha Beach, 06:30" this was even more inaccurate. My father-in-law was in command of the first wave of landing craft that landed on Dog Green, Omaha Beach at 06:30 in front of the Vierville-sur-Mer draw. The first wave landed far below the beach obstacles by about 100 yards on open beach. Company A 116th disembarked and and formed up at the water's edge, before moving forward and being cut down by German machine gunners who had been waiting for the order to open fire.
The unit depicted in Saving private Ryan, C Company 2nd Rangers, did not land on Dog Green. It landed on Charlie sector further to the east. Furthermore, as with the entire 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, C Company 2n Ranger landed on British landing craft with Royal Navy crews, in this case from HMS Prince Charles. The inaccuracies in both book and film are endless.
Yet Steven Spielberg can tell the BBC that "Historical accuracy is the bedrock of films such as Saving Private Ryan" and that "Saving Private Ryan is a film about Dog Green, Omaha Beach at 06:30 and there is no role for the British for there were no British on Omaha Beach."
The combination of having your flotilla and the officers and sailors under your command accused of dumping soldiers far from the beach, being forced to the beach at gunpoint and then finally being told by Steven Spielberg that you weren't even there, when in fact you were in command of the first wave at 06:30, Dog Green, Omaha Beach is just shear fiction and a paragon of historical accuracy. Such accusations cause offence.
Never mind plagiarism, what price historical accuracy, the dishonouring of veterans and the desecration of graves of D-Day soldiers and sailors. Ambrose's books may make good reading and they may be popular, but what they have made popular cannot be described as historically accurate.
Please open the attached BBC news web site to learn more.
Which is the bigger sin; plagiarism, historical inaccuracy, the dishonouring of veterans or the desecration of the graves of their comrades. Whilst there is a debate about plagiarism, it is important to recognize the consequences of plagiarism and why it is so important for historians to check their sources. Plagiarism is the antithesis of checking sources and brigs dire consequences for historical accuracy.
Lesson 1 for historians: Check your sources.
Lesson 2: Don't plagiarize.
Lesson 3: Provide accurate references and footnotes.
Why is that that when British and American forces have fought side-by-side and continue to do so now, that the British sailors who landed American soldiers on Omaha Beach on D-Day must be accused of such cowardice as portrayed in Stephen Ambrose's "The Visitors to Hell" chapter?
This is where the real harm of plagiarism is done, and a great deal of harm at that.
Best Regards from England
Dr. Kevan A. Elsby
ernest gurule' - 1/18/2002
First and foremost, I am not an academic. I am a consumer and have bought and read four of Mr. Ambrose' books. Tto parapharse Lou Gehrig, "Today I feel like the biggest sucker on the face of the earth".
I hope there is some way for him to redeem himself, but more importantly, understand why so many of his peers/colleagues/fans are so dissappointed in him. When that happens, I hope he can stand up and address the issue with more contrition than he has shown to date. Oh, one more thing. When he does that, I hope he does it in his own words.
University of Colorado at Denver
Comment - 1/17/2002
Plagiarism is any verbatum "lifting" of material from an author's text
without quotation marks followed by a note or otherwise specific
acknowledgement of source (such as "I am endebted to xyz in for the
material contained in this paragraph", followed by full bibliographic
reference, including page numbers).
Plagiarism is also the re-using of elaborated ideas, hypotheses, or
conclusions regarding any issue in any field, without due acknowledgement
Plagiarism is also paraphrasing any text by any author without due
acknowledgement of source(s).
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Sara F. Matthews-Grieco
Professor of History &
Coordinator, Women's and Gender Studies
Comment - 1/17/2002
If one of my students turned in a final draft of an assignment in which they
"borrowed" entire passages without attributing those words to their original
source, i.e., used quotations, instead citing an author in passing in a
footnote, I would give that student an 'F' for the assignment and flunk
them. I would then turn the matter over to the appropriate College
authorities for disciplinary action.
A footnote just does not cut it.
When you use someone elses ideas, in your words, then a footnote serves.
When you use their words -- one, two, a few, a sentence, a passage, a
paragraph -- they deserve acknowledgement. Presenting someone elses words
as your own robs that individual of their effort. This is what I emphasize
to my students, theft.
In fairness I have consulted with a number of older colleagues who informed
me that the standards to which I hold my students, and which I had engrained
in me by my professors, are a product of the last few decades. Indeed, they
argued that the apparent practice of Professor Ambrose to cite passages,
sans quotes, only with a footnote was not uncommon not too long ago.
I am curious whether others will vouch for this.
Comment - 1/17/2002
When I evaluate a case of possible plagiarism, I base a lot of my judgment on the quantity of material in an author's work that is identical or nearly identical to material in another work or works. A little bit could be legitimate coincidence. A little too much to be coincidence would be minor sloppiness, not worth getting excited over. Only if the quantity is really substantial is it appropriate to charge someone with plagiarism.
What has been found in Ambrose's work so far (though more seems to be turning up all the time) seems to me to fall in the middle of the range. Ambrose has been seriously sloppy. He has copied a lot of passages. But the passages that have been spotted, so far, form a small enough proportion of the thousands of pages of his books that if I spotted the same proportion of material copied without quotation marks, in a ten-page term paper in an undergraduate course, I would not give the paper an F, or notify the administration that I had caught a plagiarist.
Does this mean that Ambrose is off the hook? I don't think so. My students are inexperienced young people, performing what is for most of them an unfamiliar task under the severe time constraints of the semester schedule and their course loads. Ambrose is a mature professional historian who has all the time in the world to write his books; the fact that he rushes through them in a hasty and careless fashion is a choice he makes, not a result of his being under external pressure. I think Ambrose should be judged by a stiffer standard than the one by which I judge my students. I think he fails.
I might add that while I have not looked at the evidence that has been brought by the people who charge Ambrose with inaccuracy, I can hardly see how he could be innocent. I cannot imagine that Ambrose, writing with the haste that has led him so many times to copy passages from other authors' works, has taken the time to make sure that everything he was writing/copying was true. And frankly, I regard inaccuracy as at least as bad a sin as plagiarism.
Edwin E. Moise
Silvano Wueschner - 1/17/2002
I am dismayed that Professor Ambrose has fallen so low! If the lifting of entire passages was not deliberate (?) but represented sloppy note taking instead it is equally shameful. After all what kind of standards did he hold his students to? Has he abandoned intellectual honesty for the remuneration offered by the promised riches of popular history? I seem to remember David Abraham and his epic battle with Henry Ashby Turner over the issue of sloppy and improper citations. Attention to detail and intellectual integrity seem to have fallen victim to Ambrose’s greed!
David Fitzpatrick - 1/17/2002
You'll forgive this wild assumption, but would it be safe to say that the vast majority of those people who have voted in this poll and who have their nose out of joint about Stephen Ambrose's alleged plagiarism, also were more than willing to allow to remain in office a president who perjured himself before a federal grand jury?
If that is the case, why all of the moral outrage about this relatively inconsequential issue? A little consistency by would be nice.
For the record, I think Ambrose is guilty of egregiously sloppy scholarship, not plagiarism.
I do, however, find my fellow academics' moral outrage more than a little self-serving and having the scent of sour grapes.
Comment - 1/17/2002
Like many historians, I felt a touch of sympathy and some anger upon hearing about Cause Ambrose. Most of us have, at one time or another, probably messed up in our scholarship. Nevertheless, the information I am getting (from this site and other locations) tells me that he is in fact committing plagiarism. It matters to call it that because most instructors would, I assume, hold their students accountable for such infractions. Those students sometimes make such mistakes accidentally, as Ambrose may have, but intent is not a part of this rule. Likewise, as scholars most of us would call his actions plagiarism, too, because it undermines the notion of collegial support and giving credit where it's due.
In this case, however, Ambrose's status as this country's best-known historian raises some issues that don't come up when comparing what he did to what a student did. I am reminded of another great scandal in the history profession, at least among German historians: David Abraham's mistakes in citation and the hounding he received by a number of senior Germanists in the 1980s. That topic recently reared its ugly head on our listserv, H-German, and still incites invective a decade and a half later. The difference, of course, is that Abraham was a young and, at times, somewhat cocky revisionist scholar, the exact opposite of Ambrose. Abraham was attacked by the heavy hitters for ideological and institutional reasons that grew out of mistakes he made as a scholar. His inability to find a job and eventual departure from the field was a cautionary tale for many young historians to be very, very meticulous about one's work -- especially if one plans to take on an established view and established scholars. Ambrose, though, is the heaviest of hitters in our field, at least as far as the broader public is concerned. I suspect, therefore, that other historians have also had mixed feelings about seeing someone of his stature publicly accused of violating rules of academic conduct. On the one hand, many of us might feel some glee at knowing that such a "popular" historian, whose rather one-dimensional -- if also vivid -- accounts of events have shaped many Americans' perspectives of history, has been taken down a notch. Call it sour grapes or simply the desire to maintain high professional standards, but plenty of historians are happy to use Ambrose as an example of what happens when historians stray too far from serious scholarship. On the other hand, many of us have to acknowledge that someone who makes history come alive for people and mean something today can't completely be the enemy. Much -- or most -- of the ideas that many Americans hold about history already comes from journalists, not professional historians. We should use Ambrose's plagiarism as an call for professional historians to engage a larger audience and to demonstrate how to do it correctly.
Dr. David Imhoof
Department of History
514 University Ave.
Selinsgrove, PA 17870 USA
Jerome L. Sternstein - 1/17/2002
It is amazing to me that any historian will deny that what Stephen Ambrose has been accused of is not plagiarism. And some tenured historians -- not many, to be sure -- have lost their positions for engaging in precisely what Ambrose has admitted to doing: appropriating large passages of other historian's writings and failing to put them in quotation marks.
Let me relate one case. In the late 1960s, a historian of science at Northwestern University published a book on science during the Age of Jackson that was very well received. Unfortunately, another historian read it and came across large passages that were lifted from his own work without attribution. Soon it became clear that the entire book was a pastiche of plagiarized prose. Northwestern was informed and set up a committee to investigate. The subject of the inquiry claimed that it was all a mistake brought about by the fact he had a photographic memory that made is difficult for him to distinguish his own writing from the writing of others. Well, the committee didn't buy his ingenious explanation and he was forced to resign from the university. I gather that he went into the antiques business but, I've heard, he is now back teaching history at a less prestigious institution. Let us hope that his memory has improved -- or perhaps gotten worse.
Should Ambrose be asked to resign from his various academic posts? Well, if guilty as charged, by all means.
Brooklyn College, retired
Comment - 1/17/2002
I think that much of the attack on Stephen Ambrose is motivated by sour
grapes from academia given Ambrose's high profile and commercial success.
The attribution problem is not strictly "plagiarism" in the purest sense as
Ambrose does list endnotes for the "cribbed" passages. It's unfortunate that
his editors (or more likely his research assistants) did not place quotation
remarks around the material used from other sources. Sloppy editing seems
to come with the territory in mass publication today. Obviously, his most
recent books are patchwork narratives, and maybe he is pushing too much copy
into the marketplace.
I always felt that Ambrose left academic writing years ago and was more a
pop writer...and (usually) a good one. His work on behalf of oral history is
seminal despite the attacks of "pandering" to the WWII generation. Then
maybe some pandering was needed after the disasterous PC campaign
surrounding the Enola Gay exhibit at Smithsonian.
On C-Span last weekend, I saw David Kennedy of Stanford give a thorough
presentation on the air war from the American perspective. In the Q&A, he
was taken to task by a couple of "globalists" who faulted him for not
mentioning Stalingrad and Stalin's complaint about not opening up a second
front until 1944. It seems in some quarters, any study of the American
perspective is seen as chauvinistic or dismissed as "triumphalist".
We have respected academic historians like Gerald Linderman (THE WORLD
WITHIN WAR) or Paul Fussel, the most literate of cultural scholars (WARTIME
and THE GREAT WAR AND MODERN MEMORY)...but they reach only a relatively
small readership. Ambrose's work has motivated a national reexamination of
World War II, while his other works (like the Lewis and Clarke and railroad
books) have made history buffs and readers out of thousands of high school
kids and who otherwise would not be reading any history beyond their
grudging gloss of the textbook. In the high school classes I taught, I saw
kids become passionate about history through reading an Ambrose book. I used
Ambrose's interviews with D-Day veterans as a model for inspiring my
students to pursue oral history as a part of their research.
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.
Comment - 1/16/2002
Do please "begin posting my response[s] immediately, but help me out to know how to find my responses and other peoples',too. I'm an Old Woman. Not as old as I will increasingly become curs'd or bless'd to be but older than "you guys", I'm sure.
Believe you me, as a child I went to a NYC Worlds Fair sometime in the 40's, with my only-one-year-older-than-me ("I"?)brother and my recently widowed mother, and we saw this ridiculous little walk-through-a-short-space demonstration of a no-one-believed-it-then (and in "wartime" slow to hit commercial development) tell a vision.
As for tv telling a vision, color me dinosaur. I've been fighting tv as a medium ever since longer than you would want to hear about though for many reasons differing from what you might suppose.
But 'rambling' as that may sound, it does feel to me to be relevant to your question -- lots more "relevant" than I want to get into for the moment ... about, for a shorthand, the MacLuhan question.
See, in long-ago pre-tv years, things weren't so GODDAM quick and widely dispersed. In those days if you did some writing with some interest in its being published before your demise, you had a little for god's sake TIME -- and some cheery helpful souls -- to help you catch up on whether you'd completed your Footnotes and Bibliography.
These were delicious (well, for me they were delicious) aspects of those long-ago writing styles. Noted swiftly while writing, totted up "at leisure".
I haven't followed Ambrose and his works, personally all that much, but seeing he is now being presented -- at least by some of us and to some of us as a book-and-words-and-tv cause celebre, and as e-mails partake of some of the hey-yea quickness mode as to what is or isn't lastingly important:
1. In antediluvian years, when books were books and tv was or wasn't tv and never the twain did meet, you could miss an asterisk or a quote mark and not be accused of plagiarism.
2. "That was then and this is now".
3. The "war" (if that's what it is -- one of so many these days) seems to me at least a pretty tired one by many definitions or criteria. Young Squirts, Old Turks. Publishing Houses vs. Film Studios.
4. Give Ambrose a few stylistic ommissions (quote marks and footnotes at the bottom of the page),and so what's this about 'plagiarism'?
5. Ha! You asked for my "opinion", but what you got was a quick reaction.
6. So is that "an 'opinion'" (fully documented) or "a 'reaction'" (suspect for undocumented footnotings?).
Martha Bentley Hall
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