The following example from ChatGPT illustrates both the potential and the dangerous pitfalls of relying on artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots for drafting essays and other writing assignments.  When faced with a prompt to produce a 500-word essay with footnotes explaining why Dickinson College should rename itself because John Dickinson was a slaveholder, the program created this reasonable-sounding answer within a few seconds.  That represents a major advance in natural language chatbots.  However, while AI may sound reasonable, it is a terrible historian.  This “critical” essay contains some mistakes, plenty of vague platitudes, and  –far worse– it relies on fake sources.  An actual human student in History 204 trying to pass off phony source material would face charges of academic violation leading toward possible course failure or even expulsion.  The technology may seem mesmerizing, but the reality at this stage is more fake intelligence than artificial intelligence.  

NOTE –this post was updated in May 2024 (see bottom of page)

By ChatGPT (January 2023)

John Dickinson, for whom Dickinson College is named, was a slaveholder who owned over 100 slaves throughout his lifetime. This fact has led some to argue that the college should consider renaming itself in order to disassociate from Dickinson’s actions and the legacy of slavery.

There are several reasons why renaming the college could be justified. First and foremost, it is important to recognize and acknowledge the harm that slavery has caused throughout history. This harm includes not only the physical and emotional abuse that slaves endured, but also the lasting impacts of slavery on contemporary society, including systemic racism and inequality. By renaming the college, Dickinson College could signal its commitment to acknowledging and addressing these issues, and to creating a more inclusive and equitable community.

Additionally, the college’s name is closely tied to its mission and values. Institutions of higher education have a responsibility to uphold certain principles, such as integrity, honesty, and fairness. By honoring a slaveholder as its namesake, the college may be seen as promoting values that are incompatible with these principles. By renaming the college, Dickinson could demonstrate its commitment to upholding these values and to building a more just and equitable society.

Another reason for renaming the college is to show respect for the diverse community of students, faculty, and staff that make up the institution. Many members of the Dickinson community may feel uncomfortable or marginalized by the association with a slaveholder, and renaming the college could be a way to demonstrate respect for these individuals and their experiences.

Finally, renaming the college could be seen as an opportunity for growth and renewal. It could allow the college to reexamine its history and values, and to chart a new course for the future that is more in line with its mission and principles.

Of course, it is important to recognize that renaming the college would not be a simple or straightforward process. There would likely be significant logistical and financial challenges involved, and it would be important to consider the views and concerns of all members of the Dickinson community. However, given the reasons outlined above, it is worth considering the possibility of renaming the college as a way to acknowledge and address the legacy of slavery, to uphold its mission and values, to respect the diversity of its community, and to chart a new course for the future.


[1] “John Dickinson,” Encyclopedia Britannica,

[2] “Why It’s Time for Dickinson College to Rename Itself,” The Dickinsonian, [FAKE SOURCE]

[3] “The Case for Renaming Dickinson College,” The Atlantic, [FAKE SOURCE]

In 2024, we tested the latest free version of ChatGPT with the following prompt:

Summarize the 2019 Dickinson & Slavery report using snippets of quotation and Chicago-style footnotes

Here’s what followed (after about 2 seconds):


The 2019 Dickinson & Slavery report delves into the historical connections between Dickinson College and the institution of slavery, shedding light on its multifaceted involvement and its ramifications for the present.

According to the report, “Dickinson College was founded by men who embraced slavery and perpetuated its existence through their actions and investments.”1 [FAKE QUOTE] This assertion underscores the institution’s complicity in supporting and benefiting from the slave economy during its formative years.

Furthermore, archival research reveals that “enslaved individuals were rented and purchased by the college and its trustees for domestic labor and other tasks.”2 [FAKE QUOTE] This practice highlights the direct utilization of enslaved labor within the institutional framework of Dickinson College.

Moreover, the report emphasizes the importance of acknowledging this troubling legacy, stating that “ignoring or minimizing this history perpetuates harm and impedes the process of reconciliation.”3 [FAKE QUOTE] Confronting the past becomes imperative for fostering a more inclusive and equitable community within Dickinson College and beyond.

In addition to its historical analysis, the report offers recommendations for addressing the legacies of slavery within the institution. These include initiatives such as “curricular enhancements, community engagement, and memorialization efforts.”4 [FAKE QUOTE] By actively engaging with this difficult history, Dickinson College can work towards healing and reconciliation.

In conclusion, the 2019 Dickinson & Slavery report provides a comprehensive examination of the institution’s entanglement with slavery, urging reflection, dialogue, and concrete action towards acknowledging and addressing its enduring effects.

This summary integrates Chicago-style footnotes referencing specific quotations from the 2019 report to provide a succinct overview of its key findings and recommendations regarding Dickinson College’s historical connections to slavery.


  1. Dickinson & Slavery, 2019, p. 8. [FAKE CITATION AND WRONG FORMAT]
  2. Ibid., p. 14. [FAKE]
  3. Ibid., p. 21. [FAKE]
  4. Ibid., p. 26. [FAKE]