What is a Professional Historian?

According to the American Historical Association, professional historians are defined “by self-conscious identification with a community of historians who are collectively engage in investigating and interpreting the past as a matter of disciplined learned practice.”  Thus, we operate according to certain ethics and rules.

Professional historians have advanced training in:

  • the ethics of writing history and telling people’s stories
  • how to use source material
  • how sources are kept and organized
  • where to find sources
  • how to interview people about their past
  • how to write history
  • how to tell historical stories in ways other than written documents
  • how to teach history to others
  • how to think critically about our own work and the work of other historians
  • how to explain history to others
  • the overarching philosophies that drive various fields of the discipline

Historians should practice their craft with integrity. They should honor the historical record. They should document their sources. They should acknowledge their debts to the work of other scholars. They should respect and welcome divergent points of view even as they argue and subject those views to critical scrutiny. They should remember that our collective enterprise depends on mutual trust. And they should never betray that trust.

  • American Historical Association Standards and Guidelines of the Discipline

1              Transparency

We believe in being as transparent in our process as possible.  We use citations to document the stories we tell.  This way other historians can refer to any document we use to verify that they exist and are what we say they are.  We do not make up evidence or hide it from our colleagues.  Like the scientific method, our work is validated by other historians being able to access and read our source material and verify our arguments and stories.

2              Share our work for critical review & give credit where it is due

We stay in dialogue with each other through conferences and published work, which can take many forms.  We constantly reference each other and when we do so, we give credit to the work we are referencing.  To plagiarize is one of the worst crimes in our profession.  Another crime is to destroy or hide evidence from other scholars.

3              Accept that our understanding of the past is constantly changing

There is no one history because so many people are involved in making the past.  The past is not a simple, straight line, it is more like a giant prism.  To see it all, you have to view it from many different angles. We realize that our understanding of history is constantly changing as new sources and methods are uncovered.


4              Admit to our own biases and try to present all sides of an argument or story

 To do this, we make sure that we present any evidence that runs counter to our argument.  We also recognize and tell who assisted them financially or in other ways.

For a more detailed description of a professional historian, visit the American Historical Association website.



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