National Council on Public History Code of Conduct

National Council on Public History Code of Conduct


  1. Public historians should serve as advocates for the preservation, care, and accessibility of historical records and resources of all kinds, including intangible cultural resources.
  2. Public historians should carry out historical research and present historical evidence with integrity.
  3. Public historians should strive to be culturally inclusive in the practice of history and in the presentation of history.
  4. Public historians should be fully cognizant of the purpose or purposes for which their work is intended, recognizing that research-based decisions and actions may have long-term consequences.
  5. Public historians should maintain a conscious regard for the interpersonal dynamics inherent in historical practice.



The Public Historians’ Responsibility to Clients and Employers

Public historians have a responsibility to perform work competently, diligently, creatively, and independently in pursuit of a client’s or employer’s interest, and a corollary responsibility to assure that such performance is consistent with their service to the public interest.

  1. A public historian should respect the decisions of a client or employer concerning the objectives and nature of the professional services to be performed unless such performance involves conduct which is illegal, immoral, or unethical.
  2. A public historian should maintain exclusive supervision over historical research studies and investigations.
  3. A public historian should exercise independent professional judgment on behalf of a client and employer.
  4. A public historian should not solicit prospective clients or employment through the use of false or misleading claims, harassment, or duress.
  5. A public historian should not offer professional services by stating or implying an ability to influence decisions by improper means.
  6. A public historian should not accept or continue to perform work that is beyond his or her professional competence.
  7. A public historian should not perform work if there is an actual, apparent, or reasonably foreseeable conflict of interest, or an appearance of impropriety, without full written disclosure to the affected client/s or employer/s.
  8. A public historian is obligated not to disclose information gained in a professional relationship when the client or employer has requested such information to be held confidential. Exceptions to the principle of non-disclosure must be made when required by process of law. Exceptions may be made when disclosure would prevent a violation of law or prevent a substantial injustice to the public interest. In such instances, a public historian must verify the facts and issues of the circumstance and, when practicable, make every reasonable effort to obtain separate opinions from other qualified professionals employed by the client or employer and every reasonable effort to obtain reconsideration from the client or employer.
  9. A public historian should not use the power of any office or professional relationship to seek or obtain a special advantage that is not in the public interest.


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.