Digital copies of America’s founding documents — as well as other historical documents in the National Archives’ online catalog — now feature “trigger warnings” alerting readers that they may contain “harmful language,” and the change appears to follow the release of a “little-noticed” report from a National Archives racism task force that suggested the agency provide “context” for its historical materials.
Digital copies of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, most notably, now feature a “Harmful Language Alert,” which appears at the top of the page, and directs users to a National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) statement on “potentially harmful content.”
The NARA does not specify why the Constitution, Declaration, or Bill of Rights received the warning, but the NARA statement indicates that documents and historical materials are marked as having “harmful language” when they:
- 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.
Trigger warnings are listed as just one of a number of solutions to the problem of providing historical documents to an increasingly “diverse community,” the NARA notes, and are part of an “institutional commitment” to “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”