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Author: Nicole M. Docteur
Title: Mission and Ethics Statement
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
May 2005

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Source: Mission and Ethics Statement
Nicole M. Docteur

vol. 8, no. 1, May 2005
Article Type: Benchmark

Mission and Ethics Statement

Nicole M. Docteur [1]

April 2005

Benchmark: a standard by which something can be measured or judged [2]

Mission and Ethics Statement: The Beginning

On November 8, 2004 American Association for History and Computing's Executive Director David Staley's Quarterly Report stated (Item 5):

As an organization, I believe it would be useful to establish a vision statement.… Given our membership of scholars, educators, archivists and librarians, the AAHC is well positioned to take a leadership role.

An e-mail communication from David Staley to Deborah Lines Andersen on November 2, 2004 stated:

I am looking to form a committee, the purpose of which would be to draw up guidelines not unlike our tenure and promotion guidelines from a few years ago.

The Current Status of AAHC Statements

Currently, the AAHC does not have an official mission or ethics statement. The first paragraph of the homepage [3], however, does offer a hint as to the goals of the organization:

The American Association for History and Computing (AAHC) is dedicated to the reasonable and productive marriage of history and computer technology. To support and promote these goals, the AAHC sponsors a number of activities, including an annual meeting, annual prizes, an electronic journal - the Journal of the American Association for History and Computing (JAHC), a continuing publication series, and a variety of summer workshops.

Statements from Other Professional Organizations

When considering an ethics statement, statements made by other institutions, including those involving history, computing, language, librarianship, and the social sciences in general are extremely helpful. The following organizations have goals, constituents, or subject areas that are in various degrees similar to the AAHC. They form the basis for the analysis that follows here and are:

  • American Anthropological Association (AAA)
  • American Association for State and Local History (AASLH)
  • American Historical Association (AHA)
  • American Library Association (ALA)
  • American Psychological Association (APA)
  • American Sociological Association (ASA)
  • Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)
  • Computer Ethics Institute (CEI)
  • Institute of Electrical/Electronic Engineers (IEEE)
  • Modern Language Association (MLA)

As would be expected, a number of common ideas surface in the ethics statements of the above organizations. Most if not all included commentary regarding honesty and integrity, respect and avoidance of harm to others, non-discrimination, social responsibility, and the importance of crediting the work of others.

Some organizations included rather notable statements. The American Library Association [4], for example, states that "We strive for excellence in the profession…by encouraging the professional development of co-workers.…" This assertion is not found in all statements, but seems like a valuable sentiment that embraces the idea of a strong professional community.

Furthermore, each organization tended to orient itself toward people, machines, or objects. Social science organizations such as the AAA [5], APA [6], and ASA [7] are obviously people-oriented and thus their ethics statements discuss responsibilities especially as they apply to individuals and groups. The ALA [ [4] and AHA [8] are also people-oriented in nature. The computing organizations seem to have a more machine-oriented approach. The IEEE [9], CEI [10], and ACM [11] all consider the responsibility that members owe to machinery and machine-related work. Finally, the AASLH [12] takes a unique approach in that it is object-oriented toward historical documents, especially. The AAHC will in all likelihood need to be considerate of people, machines, and historical artifacts in any ethics or mission statement(s) that it adopts.

Statement Formatting

The format of any ethics statement or mission statement must be carefully considered, as format obviously affects both the readability and understandability of the goals outlined. In this analysis of the ten ethics statements reference above, goals and ideas embedded in large chunks of text were both difficult to find and often somewhat difficult to understand. The AHA  [8] format, for example, was somewhat frustrating as it consists of a nine-part grouping of paragraphs in which the standards of professional conduct are embedded. This is not a good type of organization for the AAHC.

While embedded forms of text are difficult to understand, equally difficult are over-simplified or excessively brief statements. The CEI  [10], for example, has created the "Ten Commandments Of Computer Ethics." These are ten simple statements, including examples such as "Though Shalt Not Interfere With Other People's Computer Work." These statements are entertaining yet problematic in various ways. First, the style of such "commandments" seems unnecessarily religious in nature and therefore possibly offensive to some who do not wish to integrate their interest in a professional association with sacred writing. Second, the command form may cause members to feel that they are being told what to do, rather than simply viewing guidelines for ethical conduct. A chief stylistic difference in ethics statements was the use of "you will" versus "we will" in the individual items. If a professional organization wishes to extend a high level of autonomy to each of its members, it may be best to avoid commanding language of any kind. Finally, these commandments are quite short and one may wonder if the author was more concerned with keeping the brevity of the Ten Commandments in mind than actually outlining the most fundamental guidelines of the association. While these commandments may work well for the CEI, they are not a recommended format for the AAHC.

Of course, professional organizations must tailor ethical guidelines to fit their own needs. Of the organizations surveyed, the APA  [5], and ASA  [7] used very involved and lengthy guidelines for ethical codes of conduct. This can be expected of social science organizations that deal directly with the ethical treatment of human subjects. One might argue that any organization is people-oriented as members are human, but in the case of the social sciences, one must consider the ethical treatment of the human beings studied. Since the AAHC does not deal with such human subjects, it seems unnecessary to create a highly intensive set of ethical guidelines. At the same time, a brief list of unexplained simple statements may provide sufficient clarity to those both within and outside of the organization. Due to these considerations, the AAHC would do well to follow the format of the ACM  [11] and form a similar Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. This Code consists of a preamble and then ensuing guidelines in a content-oriented format. For example, the contents include General Moral Imperatives, More Specific Professional Responsibilities, Organizational Leadership Imperatives, and Compliance with the Code. Each of these main content areas is then sub-divided into specific statements that are then followed by an explanatory paragraph. General Moral Imperatives, for example, include "Contribute to society and human well-being" and "Be honest and trustworthy." While these statements stand alone in bolded text for easy viewing, they do not lack explanation of meaning. This format seems to be the most easily understood, yet inclusive, format in this review of statements and guidelines.

Input from the April 2005 Conference of the American Association for History and Computing

In order to explore the thinking of current AAHC members regarding this topic, Dr. Deborah Lines Andersen attended the recent AAHC conference from April 14 to April 17, 2005 in Schaumburg, Illinois. Dr. Andersen gave the last session of the conference and spent about half an hour presenting the above findings in a PowerPoint presentation. She then split presentation attendees into five groups of five or six people each to individually draft an ethics statement and then share it with the group. Dr. Andersen then collected the statements. Each statement is given below (with revisions to grammar and punctuation as seemed editorially appropriate).

  • To keep making history relevant today and in the future by ensuring that public(s) know how to engage (analyze/interpret) sources of and claims about history in all media formats.
    • using all medias
    • teaching skills of interpretation
    • encouraging interplay between past and present (enabling history and interpretation thereof to provide insight on the present and dialogue about the present and the future).
  • We will think about the social consequences of the programs we write, the system(s) we design, the lectures we give, or the message we send.
  • We will use computers to help make ideas and opinions available, while still keeping the integrity of the factual information available.
  • We will honor the intellectual property rights of historians' work, in whatever format it is produced.
  • We will not use other people's computer resources without authorization or proper consent. We will give proper credit to all individuals.
  • We will give credit where it is due and respect guidelines concerning ownership and use of intellectual materials.
  • We will provide accurate and easily accessible data.
  • We will be responsible to students, colleagues, and staff.
  • We will value our role of mentor of both colleagues and students in history, computing, and at the intersection of history and computing.
  • We will acknowledge and support proper and authoritative uses of an organization's computing and communication resources.
  • We will act in a manner that is fair and consistent with the laws of all countries, especially those laws relating to the use of intellectual property and copyrighted materials.
  • We value multimedia, not just text, as both a primary source and as a way to present scholarship and represent the past.
  • No other ideal shall sway the AAHC from its true purpose, that being a near perfect union of history and computing.
  • We will be fair and not discriminate against individuals. Everyone is different (intellectually/socially), performs differently, but belongs.
  • We value a love of history and intertwining and refining history to fit an increasingly technological world.
  • It is the responsibility of all individuals to treat all forms of media on the Internet which is not our own with respect, just as we would want our own property treated.
  • It is important to be responsible when viewing or handling other people's intellectual property.
  • We will maintain integrity of historical information as it is electronically disseminated.
  • We will hold an anti-piracy, anti-plagiarism position-it is not ok to use unlicensed software!
  • We will preserve the integrity and accuracy of the data we maintain.
  • We will ensure that the data we maintain is freely available to the widest audience possible.
  • We will champion the use of digital media for transferring and storing knowledge and understanding of the past.
  • We will mentor the transfer of historical skills using technology.
  • The AAHC is dedicated to the free flow of information, public domain, and open scholarly communication. It is also dedicated to working with publishers to protect their right to make money from the content they produce.
  • We will be responsible for mentoring colleagues and students in effectively integrating computer technology in the teaching and learning of history-in other words, help each other figure out how to better use technology to understand and communicate about the past.
  • We will seek balance between fair use and copyright ownership of the materials we both use and produce.
  • We have a concern for the long-term preservation and migration of "born-digital" materials-material created using technology. We will advocate for the technological support and financial support of institutions to preserve and migrate these digital files and preserve their original structure integrity.
  • We will promote scholarship on how new technologies are changing practice and teaching of history. We value accuracy and multi-media.


The above statements imply that members of the AAHC do place an emphasis on both people and machines. Overwhelmingly, people attending the conference did value the "we" statements as opposed to "thou shalt" statements. Additionally, many people seemed to question whether their statements were mission statements or ethics statements. For the purpose of this editorial, these statement are not divided so that readers can think for themselves about which statements invoke the idea of a mission, and which invoke thoughts of ethics. The line appears to be blurred somewhat and suggests that the members of the AAHC agree on a simple mission statement that encompasses ensuing ethics statements. In this way, the mission and ethics statement(s) reflect one another and form a cohesive whole, easily understood by all members and those trying to understand the goals and guidelines of the AAHC.

The mission of the association will be to take these initial ideas, combine them with David Staley's editorial comments in this edition of the JAHC, and create a mission and ethics statement for the association that will reflect its values. Additionally, this statement may very well serve as a template-a benchmark-that other organizations may use in their own search for appropriate direction in an increasingly digital age.


1. Nicole M. Docteur holds an MSIS in Information Science from the School of Information Science and Policy, University at Albany, State University of New York. She has worked as a graduate assistant with AAHC member Deborah Lines Andersen over the course of the last two years.

2. "Benchmark," American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed., 2000.

3. American Association for History and Computing,

4. American Library Association,

5. American Anthropological Association,

6. American Psychological Association,

7. American Sociological Association,

8. American Historical Association,

9. Institute of Electrical/Electronic Engineers,

10. Computer Ethics Institute,

11. Association for Computing Machinery,

12. American Association for State and Local History,