Monday, December 12, 2005

Equivocation on endnotes?

I was thumbing through the new Grant and Sherman friendship book in the bookstore and noted the same strange source citation method I had seen in another recent Civil War book. The notes are not cited with numbers placed throughout the text, rather they are grouped at the end of the book by page number with the following method:

Page Number, "First two words of passage to be cited...last two words", Source.

55, "Lincoln said...a general.", O.R.
55, "Stanton raged...the rebels.", M.O.S.
and so forth.

I seem to recall that Goodwin's Team of Rivals uses the same method. I personally find it a clumsy methodology and unnecessarily burdensome to the deeper readers who wish to examine the notes. Clearly, it is an author/publisher compromise between the sales requirements of pop history and the author's desire for his or her work to be treated as serious history. I wasn't aware that this was even an acceptable method of citation (maybe some of our friends in the publishing arena can comment on this).

I remember reading an interview several years ago with an editor of a major publishing house. He stated that, all other things being the same, the mere presence of notes can take a book from successful sales numbers to an utter commercial failure. Those tiny superscripted numbers scattered throughout the text are oh so intimidating.


  1. Forms of citations, whether of the Chicago or MLA variety, are the one scholarly convention that must remain beyond "innovation." Footnotes are the lingua franca of scholarship; they inform the reader where the writer has been, and in large measure why she has arrived where she is. It is inconceivable that in a community of scholars, arguments can be properly examined, disputed, concurred with or improved upon without absolute agreement on these forms. Indeed, to alter these forms in any way that hinders corroboration could create an inference that the material cannot be corroborated. If this attitude strikes some as too fastidious, I would suggest that they spend a day in a library trying to track down improperly cited material.

  2. Agreed...and well put. Thanks for commenting.


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