Plagiarism: Curricular Materials for History Instructors

By Michael Rawson, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Any effort to resist plagiarism in the classroom must begin with education, since many students find it difficult to master the skills necessary to paraphrase, quote, and cite material properly. This web site offers curricular resources that history instructors can use to teach students how to avoid plagiarism. It includes a discussion of how the American Historical Association defines plagiarism, tips on preventing and detecting plagiarism in student work, exercises to sharpen students’ understanding of plagiarism, a list of suggested readings for graduate students, an annotated bibliography, and a list of useful web sites.

Note: These resources are not designed for direct use by undergraduates. They will be most effective if instructors study and digest the information and exercises, and then tailor them to the needs of their students. Each of the the exercises are offered in both MS Word and PDF forms to facilitate their use. The curriculum and exercises are offered free for classroom use. Photocopying and adaptation to the specific needs of the class curriculum are encouraged.


Introduction by William J. Cronon

1. Defining Plagiarism

2. Preventing Plagiarism

3. Detecting Plagiarism

4. Exercises

  • Undergraduate Students
  • Graduate Students

5. Suggested Readings for Graduate Students

6. Bibliography of Print Sources

7. Web Sites to Explore

8. Acknowledgements


In response to growing concerns about student plagiarism, the Professional Division of the American Historical Association asked Michael Rawson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison to put together a survey of pedagogical strategies designed to offer wise counsel to teachers seeking to help students understand and avoid plagiarism. The information and exercises assembled below address the distinctive needs of instructors and students in the field of history.

Ironically, one of the challenges in this document has been to figure out how best to document the sources of the insights it contains. When Rawson began the process of gathering suggestions for how best to introduce history students to issues relating to plagiarism, he found similar insights and pedagogical strategies scattered very widely in the literature, so much so that it proved well-nigh impossible to trace the “authorship” of those ideas to any one source.

This is not surprising, since plagiarism has been around for a very long time, and teachers have been responding in similar ways for nearly as long. We are perhaps newly sensitized to it both because of recent controversies in the historical profession and because technologies like the computer and the Internet have made student plagiarism easier to commit—and also to detect—than ever before. But plagiarism itself has not changed very much: it still involves the borrowing of words and ideas from another author without sufficiently acknowledging one’s debt. This is what we all need to help students understand and resist.

What we’ve discovered is that there is a lot of collective teacherly wisdom about plagiarism in the classroom, and the goal of this document is to summarize that collective wisdom. We’ve sought to identify important sources with lists of suggested readings and web sites at the end, and individuals who have offered special assistance are indicated in the acknowledgements. But since none of these are really “authors” of the ideas below, we’ve chosen not to use footnotes. We are grateful to all the teachers, known and unknown, who have helped make this document possible, and we offer it in the hope that it will provide useful instruction to everyone who seeks to help their students avoid committing plagiarism.

William J. Cronon,
Past Vice President, AHA Professional Division, 2002–05