Ethical Dilemmas, Part 1

The readings this week were eye-opening to say the least. I thought that Larry Cebula’s letter to the Baron Von Munchausen House curators was interesting, as was the response from the curator. I thought that the question Cebula posed to his blog readers at the beginning of the post was something we should all think about, and I hadn’t truly thought about it before. “What is the obligation of a public historian when the history you are presented at a historic site is not right?” I think that Cebula handled it in the best way possible, and I am glad that I read this so I can keep it in the my mind. The curator’s response was certainly disheartening. Should we scrub history of negativity to give our children a more positive outlook on the world? Of course not. It is a shame that there are public historians who feel that we should. I am sure that in many cases this happens because tour guides or historians find that their lives are made easier by avoiding negative subject matter, which is a shame. However, in this instance, it seems the curator was acting out of their own beliefs. This is where the subject of ethics in public history becomes so interesting. If you were to ask the BVM Historic Home curator if she was being “unethical,” I’m sure she would answer, “Of course not!” Especially since her position seemed to be that professors bring negativism into the 21st century, and push students into “hate” mode.

Similar arguments could be made for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Earl Taylor. Would I say that they are being unethical? Yes, absolutely. But, assuming they truly believe what they are teaching their audiences, followers and students, they would certainly disagree. I think that the case of Joy Masoff, the textbook author, is quite different as one could arguably see a point at which she crossed a line: Using non-scholarly works in her research.

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