Litigation drives extensive historical research but often allows only select observers to see the results. Historians have conducted untold studies for litigation that become “secret histories” because these histories are not published. An example is the historical use and regulation of the chemical trichloroethylene (TCE), a hazardous chemical at issue in much environmental litigation, but a topic virtually absent in the secondary literature. This practice seems to contravene accepted standards of open scholarship. Although not directly aligned with the traditional academic model of historical practice, however, historical research and writing for litigation achieve legitimate and important results without abandoning the discipline’s professional standards. History done by consultants for litigation is neither a history of compromised standards nor as “secret” as feared.
Why Litigation-Driven History Matters: Lessons Learned from the Secret History of TCE
Keith Zahniser received his PhD in US History from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1997, and has worked for Historical Research Associates, Inc. since 2007. As the head of HRA’s Washington, DC office, he has led various litigation support projects. These have included potentially responsible party searches for Superfund sites and investigations into the land use and production history of industries on contaminated properties. He has also researched and written on the management, use, and development of natural resources on numerous Indian reservations, and helped to research and write an administrative history of the Baltimore District of the US Army Corps of Engineers. His publications include An Era of Change: A History of the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1974-2008 (joint author, 2010), and Steel City Gospel: Protestant Laity and Reform in Progressive-Era Pittsburgh (Routledge Press, 2005).
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Keith A. Zahniser; Why Litigation-Driven History Matters: Lessons Learned from the Secret History of TCE. The Public Historian 1 February 2015; 37 (1): 46–53. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2015.37.1.46
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