Seeking feedback on the NCPH Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct

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NCPH Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Screenshot by  Adina Langer

The NCPH Governance Committee is seeking your help as we work to update an important document in the life of our organization. As our organization has grown and changed, so must our Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. As NCPH celebrates its 40th anniversary year, we are reminded of the dynamic growth of the field of public history and of this organization. In the last 15 years, attendance at the annual meeting increased dramatically, and our field continues to respond to social, political, and cultural events.

NCPH has responded to changes within the profession by embarking on a critical assessment of its programs and policies, as embodied in the most recent version of the Long Range Plan. In addition, NCPH leadership has established numerous committees focused on sustainability, access, and governance, recognizing that these issues are enormously important to public historians and to the health and vitality of NCPH. One of these new committees is dedicated to governance.

Established at the 2019 annual meeting in Hartford by the NCPH Board of Directors, the Governance Committee reviews and assesses the organization’s bylaws, committee structures, and committee responsibilities. The committee also plays an advisory role, making recommendations about best practices for governance. Committee work is one tangible sign of the dedication of NCPH members, and it is essential to the vibrancy and sustainability of NCPH. We see the Governance Committee as an extension of the great work being done by so many people who are dedicated to the work of NCPH.

As part of this work, the committee worked with the Board of Directors’ new Subcommittee on Gender Discrimination and Sexual Harassment to review the NCPH Events Code of Conduct (authored by a subcommittee of the Board of Directors in 2018) in order to strengthen its provisions regarding acceptable conduct in all NCPH spaces. This work continues as the Governance Committee turns its focus to the NCPH Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

The NCPH Board of Directors approved the current Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct on April 12, 2007. The 2007 Code superseded the version adopted in 1986. In its current iteration, the code “sets forth guidelines of professional conduct expected of all members of the National Council on Public History.” NCPH is similar to other professional associations in promulgating these guidelines; for some representative examples, see the American Historical Association Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct, the Organization of American Historians Academic Freedom Guidelines and Best Practices, the Society of American Archivists Code of Ethics for Archivists, and the American Association for State and Local History Statement of Standards and Ethics.

The code is divided into three sections that outline the public historian’s responsibility to clients and employers, the public historian’s responsibility to the profession and to colleagues, and the public historian’s self-responsibility. The emergence of significant cultural and technological changes since 2007 means that the current code has limitations in its articulation of professional norms. For example, in recent years the #MeToo movement has placed sexual harassment at the forefront of conversations about gender dynamics in the workplace. NCPH has held sessions at the annual meeting to discuss safety within the public history field. An updated code provides an opportunity to expand on this conversation.

Cognizant of these realities, the Governance Committee is currently analyzing the 2007 code in order to make recommendations to the Board of Directors for replacing or substantially revising the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. As part of this process, we are conducting a survey of the professional codes of comparable organizations, reaching out to NCPH committee chairs, and seeking input from the broader NCPH community.

This is where you come in. We encourage you to read the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and provide feedback to the committee about what you think the code should include. Your feedback is essential to our work as a committee.

You can contact us by emailing Governance Committee Chair Krista McCracken at [email protected] or by completing a feedback form through Google Forms. We’d like to receive your feedback by January 6th, 2020. We look forward to hearing from the NCPH membership as this project unfolds.

~Krista McCracken is a public historian and archivist at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, as well as a member of the NCPH Board of Directors, chair of the NCPH Governance Committee, and co-chair of the NCPH Membership Committee.

~Kristin Ahlberg is a historian in the Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State. She is a member of the NCPH Governance Committee and co-chair of the NCPH Membership Committee.


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