Andrew Galloway has been a member of Cornell University’s English Department since receiving his PhD from U. C. Berkeley in 1991. He has written numerous essays on medieval English, Latin, and French literature and culture from the tenth to the fifteenth century, especially Piers Plowman, Chaucer’s poetry, Gower’s poetry, and their fifteenth-century followers, as well as essays on medieval historical writing such as a chapter in the Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature (2002) and, recently, entries for the Brill Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle.
For seven years he edited the annual volumes of The Yearbook of Langland Studies, and he provided the translations of the Latin verses and glosses for the new 3-volume edition of Gower’s Confessio Amantis by Russell Peck (2000-2005). His monographs include The Penn Commentary on Piers Plowman: Volume 1 (2006), and the short introductory monograph Medieval Literature and Culture (2006); later this year will appear under his editorship The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Culture.
He is currently working on other edited volumes plus studies on medieval ideas of need, medieval dream visions, London literature, Gower’s uses of classical literature, and a history of Middle English literature.
Andrew Galloway has been a member of Cornell University’s English Department since receiving his PhD from U. C. Berkeley in 1991. He has written num . . .
As putting this question into an historical and cultural frame like that suggests, such standards are neither eternal nor transcultural. Context matters for definition, and for judgment. As a scholar of western medieval literature and culture, I am very conscious of many aspects of this issue; the world I study involves a lot of recycling of materials, and not at all necessarily for lazy or naive or self-serving reasons. In early medieval culture, for instance, when a monastic artist illustrates a sacred book, it can be a mark of humility to copy a picture from another book as exactly as possible. The problem then is that some artists were better than their models, and perhaps less inclined to be entirely submissive to their perhaps less cultivated abbots. (For the curious, I take this example from Jonathan J. G. Alexander, Medieval Illuminators and their Methods of Work, [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992], pp. 90-92.) In that context, the most interesting and talented originality often appears in very fine details rather than broad conceptions; such originality is actually not what the artist is supposed to be doing, and the pressure to stifle such pride is strong. Even forgeries of writs in medieval culture are not necessarily outright theft or misrepresentation, although they can be that as well.
Our modern culture has, at least officially, a different ethical imperative than such cloaking of oneself in the mantel of others’ ideas. Thus when I confront modern cases of plagiarism about medieval literature and culture, a completely different set up assumptions apply than in the culture itself—and rightly so. Modern plagiarism in the humanities is no better than a counterfeited coin or a stolen patent—or a plagiarized piece of scientific research. At the same time, humanists might be forgiven for wondering about the context in which such modern plagiarized work appears (including the crafting of critical writing as well as the research behind it). Humanists are trained to think about the social context and institutional settings for the development and circulation of ideas and writing. Can we, then, offer something to the broader questions about plagiarism in all intellectual fields?
For instance? I unfortunately know many, thanks to my role for some years as chair of the Academic Integrity Hearing Board of the Arts and Sciences College of Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, where I was charged with presiding over the “hard” cases of undergraduate plagiarism that reached that Board. That work led me to reflect on the structures and pressures that can lead to undergraduate plagiarism, or help fend it off.
I’d like to think I have made some changes. One of the results of this experience in my own teaching was (to put it generally) my redoubling of efforts to be attentively involved in the development, the process, of students’ work, rather than simply accepting finished products. Another was to allow and foster experimentation, and even failure, at least at a first try, rather than insisting on polished perfection. Those two principles (and I much prefer them to the routine use of plagiarism-checking databases, although those have their uses) are in general much more easily brought to bear on doctoral work, where slow development and trial and error is much more frequent and routine than is usually possible in undergraduate work. Possibly for that reason, I am quite sure that I have never seen plagiarism in doctoral work I have supervised, as opposed to the numbers of times I have seen it in undergraduate work. Partly, of course, the latter numbers are simply because of my role in holding hearings for an entire College. I would expect, however, that this ratio is fairly common.
Recently, however, I was presented by Integru of a case of a dissertation in my area of the humanities from a university in Romania, which has spurred these reflections. For this case, I confess, stumped me. Not because I am not qualified. In fact, I am not only quite familiar with the particular field, I even know the work of the particular scholar whose dissertation (from over four decades ago!) was the source recycled by the Romanian doctoral student in question [ed. the person is now a lecturer]. Moreover, I have the qualifications of the experience mentioned, where as a chair of the Board I had to help assess often quite tricky cases and appeals concerning academic integrity. But this case stumped me precisely because—like some of the other publicized dissertations from higher profile cases—it was so blatant. It pointed to the need, or, at any rate, my need, for better understanding of just how such a case could have occurred. Surely it did not appear in a vacuum. Or perhaps it occurred because there was too much of a vacuum of some crucial kind, an absence of checking and critiquing of the kind that every intellectual field must have to survive.
Asked about what “outcome” I could imagine for this case, therefore, I could only reply that the most productive outcome I could think of would be a searching investigation of the structure of advising, funding, mentoring, assessing, critiquing, and defending doctoral or any academic work at the institution in question. Only then might I propose any structural changes. One simple step, however, might be adding the requirement of international external examiners of all humanities doctoral theses, as is common enough. A more labor-intensive step would be requiring regular consultations between students and their faculty chairs and committee members.
Modern work in the humanities in general deserves the same kind of rigorous scrutiny and thus praise or blame as any other field. We humanists need to study our own contexts of knowledge production at all levels, and to compare research institutions transnationally as well as nationally. If the evidence suggests a systemic problem, the topic is ripe for a more searching understanding of structures of support and critique—of the kind of systemic cultural inquiry that humanists are, in their own research at least, often trained to undertake.
But these matters are, of course, not just for humanists. Scientists, economists, political scientists, and many others are often equally trained to ponder and criticize the wider structures and contexts for supporting and critiquing ideas—indeed, sometimes better trained or more accustomed to doing this than humanists.
As I hope is obvious, I offer such views not as an opinion or guidance based on any real knowledge of the circumstances of what I encountered, but quite the opposite: as an invitation for further investigation and clarification by others. I’m convinced that academics in all disciplines as well as the knowledgeable general public would have much to offer in reply, just as I’m sure that the discussion will help my own understanding of what fosters a “culture” of intellectual integrity—or its opposite—in any time or place.
Prof Andrew Galloway