Department of History
Old Horticulture
506 E. Circle Dr
Room 256
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
Main: 517.355.7500
Fax: 517.353.5599
Hours: 8:00-5:00 M-F

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Graduate Handbook

VII – Departmental Policies on Integrity and Safety in Research and Creative Activities

The History department takes its commitment to professional ethics seriously. Students need to learn the best practices of the historical profession; they should become familiar with the American Historical Association’s “Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct.” As the AHA urges there, in the introduction to the document, “Scholars must be not only competent in research and analysis but also cognizant of issues of professional conduct. Integrity is one of these issues. It requires an awareness of one’s own bias and a readiness to follow sound method and analysis wherever they may lead. It demands disclosure of all significant qualifications of one’s arguments. Historians should carefully document their findings and thereafter be prepared to make available to others their sources, evidence, and data, including the documentation they develop through interviews. Historians must not misrepresent evidence or the sources of evidence, must be free of the offense of plagiarism, and must not be indifferent to error or efforts to ignore or conceal it. They should acknowledge the receipt of any financial support, sponsorship, or unique privileges (including privileged access to research material) related to their research, and they should strive to bring the requests and demands of their employers and clients into harmony with the principles of the historical profession. They should also acknowledge assistance received from colleagues, students, and others.

Because historians must have access to sources – archival and other – to produce reliable history, they have a professional obligation to preserve sources and advocate free, open, equal, and nondiscriminatory access to them, and to avoid actions that might prejudice future access. Historians recognize the appropriateness of some national security and corporate and personal privacy claims but must challenge unnecessary restrictions. They must protect research collections and other historic resources and make those under their control available to other scholars as soon as possible.

Certain kinds of research and conditions attached to employment or to use of records impose obligations to maintain confidentiality, and oral historians often must make promises to interviewees as conditions for interviews. Scholars should honor any pledges made. At the same time, historians should seek definitions of conditions of confidentiality before work begins, press for redefinitions when experience demonstrates the unsatisfactory character of established regulations, and advise their readers of the conditions and rules that govern their work. They also have the obligation to decline to make their services available when policies are unnecessarily restrictive.

As intellectual diversity enhances the historical imagination and contributes to the development and vitality of the study of the past, historians should welcome rather than deplore it. When applied with integrity, the political, social, and religious beliefs of historians may inform their historical practice. When historians make interpretations and judgments, they should be careful not to present them in a way that forecloses discussion of alternative interpretations. Historians should be free from institutional and professional penalties for their beliefs and activities, provided they do not misrepresent themselves as speaking for their institutions or their professional organizations.

The bond that grows out of lives committed to the study of history should be evident in the standards of civility that govern the conduct of historians in their relations with one another. The preeminent value of all intellectual communities is reasoned discourse–the continuous colloquy among historians of diverse points of view. A commitment to such discourse makes possible the fruitful exchange of views, opinions, and knowledge.” Professional integrity is essential to all research activities at Michigan State University. The University has adopted formal Guidelines for Integrity in Research and Creative Activities at the University that highlight key principles of behavior. “Honesty in proposing, performing, and reporting research” is the foundation underlying all research activities at MSU. These guidelines can be found online (PDF). The MSU Graduate School has a companion website regarding Guidelines for Graduate Student Advising and Research Mentoring that is also online (PDF).

Students whose work may have some connection with living human subjects (those doing oral histories, for example) must comply with the rules established by Michigan State’s University Committee on Research Involving Human Subjects (UCHRIS). The rules and regulations may be found online (PDF).

Violations of professional ethical standards shall be adjudicated by the graduate committee, the Graduate Director and the student’s advisory committee. Penalties may include a failing grade, suspension, and/or expulsion from the History Department’s graduate program.

The History Department provides mentoring to students in matters of professional ethics in its courses HST 803 and 900; and the Department expects the student’s main advisor to play a key role as a mentor and model for professionally ethical behavior.