Presidents Day is an opportunity to reflect on our leaders, their strengths and their challenges. And this Presidents Day, it seems appropriate to examine a story about our first President. We’ve all heard the apocryphal story by biographer Parson Weems about the young George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, but being unwilling to lie about it to avoid punishment.
As the story goes, Washington was given a hatchet when he was about six, and proceeded to swing it at everything he could, as a little boy with a new toy might. This included his father’s prized cherry tree. Obviously, Augustine Washington had a pretty good idea what had happened, and asked his son if he knew who killed his favorite tree. Weems says young George hesitated, but couldn’t bring himself to be anything but honest, answering “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet”. Expecting punishment, he was surprised when the elder Washington embraced him, proud of his son’s bravery in choosing the truth over an easier lie.
This story gives us a two-fold lesson of the importance of sources and citation – something you may be struggling with as we find ourselves a third of the way through the semester, with major papers beginning to come due. In the first place, the story is entirely false. Weems did, in fact, cite it – he claimed it was told to him by a relative of the Washingtons, who spent time with them as a girl – but this was simply a lie to cover his fabrication. Much of Weems’ biography is embellished with material he simply made up to depict Washington as a sort of mythological hero. This lack of professional ethics is the only reason people still remember Parson Weems today. It is a cautionary tale for unscrupulous scholars, who may find their sins remembered far longer than their accomplishments.
So the second lesson is to take care in citing properly, to not ‘tell a lie’ about the nature of our scholarship. When writing papers, we must cite every source we use. But how? Fortunately, making citations is easier than ever today. Online guides like the Purdue Online Writing Lab offer wide-ranging tutorials and samples. And the library has copies of the major style guides available at the front desk.
Plus, many of our databases offer automatically generated citations. In IUCAT, click the ‘Cite’ button on the right side of the screen to get a citation in MLA, APA, or Chicago style for any book, ebook, or video we have. In an EBSCO database, the button is also on the right, and offers a choice of nine citation styles. In ProQuest databases, the button is at the top, and gives the choice of thirteen styles. In Opposing Viewpoints, the button is on the right and gives the option for MLA or APA style. It is worth proofreading these citations – since they are machine generated, there are occasionally errors, particularly in capitalization. But they’ll definitely save you time. You can also export records from a lot of our databases to citation management programs of your choice, such as Zotero and EndNote (which is available for free on IUWare).
Or, you can ask for help. The Writing Center is in Whitewater Hall 206, and available at 765-973-8506 or http://www.iue.edu/hss/writingcenter/. They also offer plenty of tutorials, as well. Or, you can ask us at the library at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be like Weems’ version of Washington, not like Weems himself. Embrace the truth!