Campus Reform | 'Harmful language alert’ appears near founding documents on National Archives website

'Harmful language alert’ appears near founding documents on National Archives website

The National Archives added a 'harmful language alert' to digital copies of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and other important documents from American history.

These 'trigger warnings' are a practice that emerged from top American universities.

The National Archives added a “harmful language alert” to digital copies of the American founding documents.

At the top of the webpages for the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, users are referred to a National Archives and Records Administration statement, which explains that the agency’s online catalog contains “some content that may be harmful or difficult to view.”

“NARA’s records span the history of the United States, and it is our charge to preserve and make available these historical records,” the statement reads. “As a result, some of the materials presented here may reflect outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent views and opinions.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.”

[RELATED: AU student government endorses trigger warnings despite faculty objections]

Some items may feature “racist, sexist, ableist, misogynistic/misogynoir, and xenophobic opinions and attitudes,” may be “discriminatory towards or exclude diverse views on sexuality, gender, religion, and more,” may include “graphic content of historical events such as violent death, medical procedures, crime, wars/terrorist acts, natural disasters and more,” or may “demonstrate bias and exclusion in institutional collecting and digitization policies.”

Webpages for other documents and recordings — such as the Magna Carta, Gettysburg Address, and Civil Rights Act of 1964 — also feature the alert.

The National Archives told Campus Reform that the alert did not apply to “any specific records.” However, they said that “our 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“As a result, some of the materials presented here may reflect outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent views and opinions," they said. "In addition, some of the materials may relate to violent or graphic events and are preserved for their historical significance.”

For several years, Campus Reform has reported on the growing prevalence of “trigger warnings” on college campuses.

As early as 2015, American University’s undergraduate student government passed a bill calling for the university to include trigger warnings on class syllabi and in curricula.

“By passing the bill, it makes the position of the Undergraduate Senate one that supports the use of trigger warnings,” the bill’s author told Campus Reform at the time. “We pass bills that we are passionate about.”

One year later, a student newspaper at Swarthmore College self-censored with a “content warning” saying “this article contains racial, ethnic, and anti-LGBTIQ slurs and ableist language.”

[RELATED: Student paper self-censors articles with 'content warnings']

At the University of New Mexico, students entering a designated “free speech zone” on campus were met with a “trigger warning” billboard, announcing that “topics discussed may be uncomfortable or controversial.”

More recently, a professor at Rutgers University-Camden used trigger warnings for his Greek and Roman literature and history classes.

“People have rightfully come to a more critical stance against continuing attitudes of racism and misogyny,” he asserted in an interview. “So how do we teach an ancient society where misogyny, sexual assault, and harassment were the norm and built into the classic texts that we read?”

The College of Lake County also denounced a Young Americans for Freedom-sponsored speech by Elisha Krauss on its campus, warning students about the potential for “trigger words.”

Campus Reform reached out to the National Archives for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.