Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Not just for historians

Written by the U.S. Army’s Chief Historian, Dr. Richard Stewart, it appeared in the regular feature “The Chief Historian’s Footnote,” of ARMY HISTORY, the professional quarterly journal of the U.S. Army Historical Program, published by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, in the Fall 2010 issue.

A Historian’s Code (1)

1. I will footnote (or endnote) all my sources (none of this MLA or social science parenthetical business).

2. If I do not reference my sources accurately, I will surely perish in the fires of various real or metaphorical infernal regions and I will completely deserve it. I have been warned.

3. I will respect the hard-won historical gains of those historians in whose steps I walk and will share such knowledge as is mine with all other historians (as they doubtless will cheerfully share it with me).

4. I will not be ashamed to say “I do not know” or to change my narrative of historical events when new sources point to my errors.

5. I will never leave a fallen book behind.

6. I will acknowledge that history is created by people and not by impersonal cosmic forces or “isms.” An “ism” by itself never harmed or helped anyone without human agency.

7. I am not a sociologist, political scientist, international relations-ist, or any other such “ist.” I am a historian and deal in facts, not models.

8. I know I have a special responsibility to the truth and will seek, as fully as I can, to be thorough, objective, careful, and balanced in my judgments, relying on primary source documents whenever possible.

9. Life may be short, but history is forever. I am a servant of forever.

(1) Stewart, Richard, Ph.D., “Historians and a Historian’s Code,” ARMY HISTORY, No. 77 (Fall 2010), p. 46.


  1. Mr. Stewart is exactly right.

    History is sacred stuff- it binds our past, present, & future, if we’re smart enough to recognize that relationship (****cough***politicians***), & to keep the “isms” & “ists” out of it.

    Just the facts, ma’am.

    The folks that keep history for posterity should be given a place of honor in our society; they are the only folks who can tell us where we’re going.

    “…a servant of forever”- I like that…

  2. I highly recommend the works of Alan Eckert; while more-or-less narrative historical fiction, he hews to the facts as closely as possible, and in his later works often includes endnotes in which he excoriates some young historian named Eckert for utterly screwing up his retelling of this or that event...