National Archives Site Adds ‘Trigger Warnings’ To The Nations Founding Documents

The digital copies of America’s founding documents, as well as a bevy of other major historical documents kept in the National Archives’ online catalog, are now sporting a series of “trigger warnings” to alert readers that the documents may contain “harmful language,” and the changes seem to crop up in the wake of the release of a ‘little-noticed” report sent ou by the National Archives racism task force that stated that the agency should provide “context” for all of its historical documents and materials.

The digital copies of the Consitution and the Declaration of Independence, most notably, now sport a distinct “Harmful Language Alert,” which was spotted at the top of the web page, and directs its users to a National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) statement on “potentially harmful content.”

The NARA does not necessarily specify as to why the Constitution, Declaration, or Bill of Rights received the warning, but the NARA statement seemed to point to the documents and historical materials getting the mark due to their having “harmful language” if they have:

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  • reflect racist, sexist, ableist, misogynistic/misogynoir, and xenophobic opinions and attitudes;

  • be discriminatory towards or exclude diverse views on sexuality, gender, religion, and more;

  • include graphic content of historical events such as violent death, medical procedures, crime, wars/terrorist acts, natural disasters and more;

  • demonstrate bias and exclusion in institutional collecting and digitization policies.

These trigger warnings are listed as just a single of the various solutions to the seemingly apparent problem of providing historical documents to an increasingly more “diverse community,” stated the NARA, and are a piece of an “institutional commitment” to “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

“The Catalog and web pages contain some content that may be harmful or difficult to view,” NARA stated in a release put out at the end of July. “NARA’s records span the history of the United States, and it is our charge to preserve and make available these historical records. As a result, some of the materials presented here may reflect outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent views and opinions. In addition, some of the materials may relate to violent or graphic events and are preserved for their historical significance.”

When a particular commentator took to social media in an attempt to suggest that it was outrageous that America’s founding documents would need a trigger warning, the National Archives was johnny on the spot with a response that noted that the alert was “not connected to any specific record, but appears at the top of the page while you are using the online Catalog.”

It does, in fact, show the warning at the top of many other documents, including the “miscellaneous” documents of the Continental Congress, the Articles of Confederation, and an institutional description of the Continental Congress.


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