Guide to writing history essays


Plagiarism in action: An actual case



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Plagiarism in action: An actual case
This first passage comes from the introduction to Mark Raeff, The Decembrists, published in 1966:
December 14, 1825, was the day set for taking the oath of allegiance to the new Emperor, Nicholas I. Only a few days earlier, on November 27, when news of the death of Alexander I had reached the capital, an oath of allegiance had been taken to Nicholas’s older brother, Grand Duke Constantine, Viceroy of Poland. But in accordance with the act of renunciation he had made in 1819, Constantine had refused the crown. The virtual interregnum stirred society and produced uneasiness among the troops, and the government was apprehensive of disorders and disturbances. Police agents reported the existence of secret societies and rumours of a coup to be staged by regiments of the Guards. The new Emperor was anxious to have the oath taken as quickly and quietly as possible. The members of the central government institutions—Council of State, Senate, Ministries—took the oath without incident, early in the morning. In most regiments of the garrison the oath was also taken peaceably.
This second passage comes from the introduction to G.R.V. Barratt, The Decembrist Memoirs, published in 1974.
December 14, 1825, was the day on which the Guards’ regiments in Petersburg were to swear solemn allegiance to Nicholas I, the new Emperor. Less than three weeks before, when news of the death of Alexander I had reached the capital from Taganrog on the sea of Azov, an oath, no less solemn and binding, had been taken to Nicholas’s elder brother, the Grand Duke Constantine, Viceroy of Poland. Constantine, however, had declined to be emperor, in accordance with two separate acts of renunciation made in 1819 and, secretly, in 1822. The effective interregnum caused uneasiness both in society and in the army. The government feared undefined disorders—with some reason, since police agents reported the existence of various clandestine groups and rumours of a coup to be effected by guardsmen. Nicholas was anxious that the oath be sworn to him promptly and quietly. At first it would seem that he would have his way; senators, ministers, and members of the Council of State took the oath by 9 am. In most regiments of the garrison the oath was also taken peaceably.
It was not long before reviewers spotted the similarities! This is a classic case of paraphrasing as plagiarism: while Barratt changed, added and rearranged words, nevertheless he still drew directly from Raeff’s work throughout. Remember that it is not enough merely to change the order of a few words or sentences, or to add a few phrases or sentences of your own—such close borrowing is still plagiarism.


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