All history majors should read Richard Wightman Fox’s “A Heartbreaking Problem of Staggering Proportions” (2004). If your school has access to JSTOR, then you can easily find a copy. In addition, it is a quick read at only five pages.
In it, Fox takes a look at plagiarism, something that schools pound into our heads to avoid. Yet, Fox does not see the problem in plagiarism. In fact, he believes that in most cases, students get it. They understand what it is and that they should avoid it.
Instead, he believes “the heartbreaking problem of staggering proportions” is that…
“so few students grasp what constitutes the true opposite of plagiarism: a well-conceived and well-developed work. Too many students graduate as history majors without ever having tried to write scholarly essays using primary and secondary sources to forge arguments of their own. I think the best response we can make to the plagiarism crisis is to use it to educate our students about what they should do, rather than just railing about what they should not do.” (1342)
Fox’s approach of pushing the positive instead of the negative is intriguing. Many history programs simply focus on plagiarism and avoiding it. He has managed to put into words what I have struggled to explain to others. When talking about plagiarism, I follow the basic rules of note taking when citing, quoting, and paraphrasing, but in the end, I strive to come up with something new, which may mean a unique thesis, a different angle, or whatever appears to be left out of the historiography of a subject.
If students focus on writing “a well-conceived and well-developed work”, then they have little to fear about plagiarism.
By Scott Manning
Online Learning Tips, Student Contributor
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