How honest do we need to keep them?

John Grenier commented on a past post, and I think the topic raised is important enough to be promoted to its own post. Grenier wondered about the historical conventions for citing a primary source that you found through a secondary source. In my previous post I argued that we should avoid a footnote of the form “Vauban quote cited in Guerlac” (“2 quoted in 1″) unless we didn’t bother to look at the original (Vauban) quote. John offered a different interpretation: he’s used that “2 quoted in 1″ formulation to indicate that even though he did check the quote in the original, he found it via a secondary source, so that secondary source should be cited. So who’s correct?

Of course there probably isn’t a correct answer. But maybe a poll will help:

Personally, I take John’s point, but only up to a point. It seems this might be a philosophical disagreement over what purpose a footnote serves. John’s idea seems to be a moderate example of the broader idea of “footnote as research process”, whereas for me a footnote isn’t so much about the process as primarily about indicating the source. The idea that a footnote should indicate more than just the (ultimate) citation seems to have taken a turn for the worse since the arrival of the Internet, though I won’t lay this at John’s door. You can find, for example, some guidebooks that tell students to include the source of the source, e.g. that a student needs to mention the fact that they got a particular journal article from a specific database (JSTOR, EBSCO…). This, to my mind is just dumb. First, this has never been required before – historians have never been expected to indicate which library they got a published work from, nor that they received it through interlibrary loan, nor that it was a copy borrowed from a friend…. That would be pointless. If it’s a unique document in an archive or rare book room, you obviously need to cite the call number of the holding institution. But it doesn’t matter to the reader if the author was looking at the 3rd edition of Bland in the British Library or in the Newberry. They can find a copy of the 3rd edition at the Library of Congress, and the quote will still be on p. 203. (Marginalia is another matter, in which case you do indicate which exact copy you’re looking at.)

Admittedly, the Internet has made it slightly more complicated since you can find a text version of a document as well as a scan of the original. But still it isn’t that difficult. If it’s a text-only version, find a scan of the original, or  else include the website info (because you don’t have the original). But if you’re looking at a photographic reproduction of the original, you don’t need to mention that you got it from ECCO or Google Books, or whether you photocopied it in the library 20 years ago, or looked at a microfilm version of it at the Bibliothèque nationale. Historians have never had to do this in the past, and there’s no reason why we need to clutter up our footnotes with such extraneous information. Now if you want to mention these locations in the Acknowledgments sections, or if the institution insists on a specific citation formulation, that’s another matter.

But back to John’s more specific point. I’d argue the key message for an author to get across to your readers is 1) to say which source you got that information from, and 2) to indicate, in the case of primary source/secondary source, that *you* looked at the original. At the least, I think there needs to be some way for you to indicate to your reader that you did actually look at the original. I don’t think “2 quoted in 1″ tells the reader that – that could just as easily be interpreted to mean that you’re simply noting that the historian you are citing wasn’t the origin of the quote. That’s in fact how I interpret such wording. Not that I bow down to the AHA, but I think they agree with my interpretation (as I mentioned in an earlier post on the topic). A good test might be to look at all those works that cite the same quote over and over – “Marlborough captured every town he besieged” or the “we fight more like foxes than lions” – how do most historians cite them? Can we actually trace them back to the original scholar that realized the quote was important? Google Books, here we come!

Personally, I don’t assume an author is the first scholar to discover a quote. I might be a bit jealous if somebody publishes it before I do, but I don’t assume they were the first to come across it. If promoted to the status of a rule, using “2 quoted in 1″ every time you found a quote/cite in a secondary source would be impossible to follow. It’s assumed that every historian relies heavily on the sources of previous historians, if only because everyone has to start somewhere (we were all grad students once…). For example, I’ve tracked down 95% of all my sources because other historians cited or quoted or mentioned them at some point (either in footnotes, bibliographical guides…). Yet we don’t want “2 quoted in 1″ for every single footnote – I think it’s assumed you’re not exploring virgin territory, and it would choke the notes to death in any case. But if you’re only using a single quote, if it’s the kind of source that you’d never think to look at, or it’s on a topic slightly tangential to your work, and/or you only looked at that single part of the source, then I could see using the “2 quoted in 1″ formulation. Just beware that, when I read something like that, I assume that the author DIDN’T go back to the original. And I wouldn’t assume that you checked the original (even if you had).

It is, of course, a matter of degree. If the single quote you’re using is part of an argument that you are lifting from someone else, it makes more sense to use the “2 quoted in 1″ formulation. That being said, in my own experience I almost never see that convention used by other scholars, making one wonder who exactly deserves the credit in the first place: the originator of the quote-argument pairing who needs to be tracked down, or some ‘plagiarizer’ who just copied it without proper attribution? I’d prefer to avoid giving the credit to author X if I’m not even sure that they didn’t lift it from some other scholar.

Now that I think about it, maybe we should ban the “2 quoted in 1″ formula use for another reason: it encourages us to overgeneralize from a single anecdote? (Depends on the type of historical argument you’re making of course.)

But I can see how this might lead to a slippery slope if you move beyond a single quote. For example, if you find that another author is using the exact same quotes (plural) you’ve used AGAIN AND AGAIN, and advancing the same argument as you made with those same quotes, that’s plagiarism because they haven’t put the pieces together themselves, even if they did add a few new quotes of their own. Not that that has ever happened to me AND to one of my colleagues. Nope, not ever. So if your quote is part of a larger part of your argument, you should indeed cite the secondary author that you’re taking your lead from. If you read a secondary source and it directly talks about the exact subject you are discussing, you need to cite it regardless of whether you thought of it first or not, and regardless of whether you then go to the originals and find the same thing they found.

So am I in the minority regarding how I read “2 quoted in 1″? Is there a different phrasing to indicate you went back to the original, but want to give the secondary author credit? Historians are largely apathetic when it comes to methodology, so I doubt there is a standard convention that everyone follows.

In summary, this is how I see the ethics of scholarly citation and plagiarism:

  • Did you consult the original? If yes, and if it’s a single instance, you can cite the original source. This is particularly legitimate if you bother to explore the original beyond the single quote. Of course if you want to use “2 quoted in 1″, there’s not much harm, though other readers might not interpret it the way you do. The harm comes, however, from just trusting the secondary source attribution.
  • However, if you found a single quote through a secondary source and wouldn’t have known/thought to look there (because it’s outside of your field, or beyond your main focus), or you aren’t able to access/read the original, you should cite the secondary source.
  • That being said, if you came across a single quote during your initial foray into the topic, and are making that topic your focus, I’d argue you don’t need to cite the secondary source. This is a bit vague, but if I’m an expert on Vaubian siegecraft, I’m not going to footnote that I read a quote on Vauban in Chandler back when I was in grad school (I’ll cite him in other places), especially when I’ve done far more research on the topic than he has. Petty? Perhaps – but historians deserve credit when they move the historical debate forward.
  • There are some quotes that become so ubiquitous that I’ll just go back to the original and cite it there, because I know many of the previous authors who quote it found that quote from somebody else, but they didn’t bother to cite that secondary author. This is easiest to tell in broad surveys, often written by scholars whose specialty is in another period/place altogether from whence the quote came.
  • If you use multiple quotes from the same secondary source (even if you’ve checked the original), you must cite the secondary source, since that secondary source clearly understood the importance of the source and passed that appreciation on to you. This is still the case even if you find additional quotes from that primary source that weren’t cited in the other secondary source.
  • If you use more than a couple of quotes from different secondary sources, then you need to use the “2 quoted in 1″ formulation, because you’re essentially just cherry-picking from secondary sources rather than personally grappling with the original documents.
  • If the single quote is an important part (e.g. the crux) of your larger argument, you should probably cite the secondary source, but make it clear that you also consulted the original. I’m not sure if you have to do cite the secondary source precisely where you use the quote, but it should appear in a footnote rather than as a simple entry in the bibliography.
  • If the quote is connected to a larger argument, I’m not sure what’s appropriate. If you’re just adopting another’s view, “2 quoted in 1″ makes sense.
  • If somebody points out a source to you (or gives you a copy) and you personally go and look through it, you can cite the original. It would be nice, though, to say something like “Thanks to Dr. XYZ for pointing me to this source.” I’ve done this, for example, when a friend says “Hey, King William’s Chest has a section on the siege of Charleroi – you can borrow my microfilm.”
  • A further complication is the type of publication: the audience of a more specialized work probably expects you to cite the original, whereas it’s more acceptable in a survey to cite the secondary work. Similarly, you might have to worry about the publisher’s policy on footnote length and conventions generally.

Fundamentally it boils down to the issue of how important the secondary source is for your research: how important is the secondary source to you finding the primary source, and how important is the use of the quote to creating your argument. If a secondary author plays a seminal role in how you fashion your argument, they merit mention. If it’s merely a further example of something you’ve already established, it’s optional, and I tend towards the “no.” And it necessarily requires personal judgment, even idiosyncratic judgments. To give an example: I’m reading a dissertation, and an epigraph at the beginning of a chapter is a wonderful quote for one of the points I’m making in my own work. Yet I’m not going to cite that dissertation (for this quote at least). Why not? Because I generally subscribe to the “if you find the original you can just cite it as a primary source” school of thought. But if specific reasons are required in this case, here they are:

  1. That archive volume is already on my list to go through, so I would have found it anyway.
  2. I will be going through the entire archive volume myself – not just this single letter.
  3. That epigraph is just one more example of the sentiment I’ve already found in dozens of other sources. So perhaps this is uncharitable, but I came up with the interpretation of such quotes before I ever came across this quote. The dissertation author contributed nothing to my interpretation of his quote.
  4. Expanding on my last statement, I don’t want to give extraordinary credit (and that’s what “2 quoted in 1″ is, in my book) for this specific point in my argument if the author doesn’t even appreciate what he has. In this case, the dissertation author doesn’t really use the quote for any purpose, much less to make the point I’m making. The quote is interesting because it quite clearly suggests something important about the period, but the author doesn’t see the obvious conclusion to draw from it. That does not merit a citation.

Possibly petty, but that’s how I roll. Definitely cite to reward original and sound argumentation, as well as skulking in archival holes and corners. But don’t praise people who aren’t curious enough to pay attention to what their sources say.

Not sure if these are totally consistent, so thoughts appreciated.

Again with the historiography

Beginning of the school year again – sigh. This semester I’m teaching more Western Civ and Tudor/Stuart England.

As I write papers, I often find myself wondering how much coverage should be dedicated to the historiography. As I’ve said before, I never really know what the vast unwashed masses of historians think about a particular subject – only what a much smaller subset of them have written. And there is always the disturbing possibility that unpublished historians might apply common sense to a topic, which could easily contradict the published literature. Scientists would argue that even negative results need to be published, though it doesn’t sound like they follow their own advice very often. Thus you often wonder whether you’re wasting your time arguing for something that is “obvious” to the silent majority. I haven’t yet figured out which is worse: that the effort of your labors is greeted with a rebuttal, or with a shrug?

This uncertainty is particularly true with topical questions. It’s easy, for example, to find accounts and explanations of various events, but it’s much harder to find more than a single “in-depth” (definitions vary) analysis of a particular thematic subject, say, the “laws” of Vauban-era siegecraft, or a longitudinal study of a subject (beyond a single war or reign), or most topics in EMEMH for that matter. What’s a scholar to do?

First, I think we need to be a bit more systematic with our historiography. Unfortunately, publishers (in theory at least) don’t really want us to do this. If the Internet is to be believed, some editors see historiographical discussion as a waste of ink; undoubtedly that would be the only thing stopping my future book on Marlburian battle from rocketing up the New York Times Bestsellers list. To seriously analyze a historiography would also require scanning it all in and OCRing it before analyzing the text. Some might construe this as violating copyright. But, as physicists like to joke, let’s start by assuming a spherical cow.

The most common practice seems to be for a historian to summarize the literature in some multiple of a paragraph or page – this has become a veritable ritual in any literature involving the Military Revolution, for example. Summarizing a historiography in your own prose is sometimes necessary, but it is the ultimate in the “Trust-me-I’m-an-expert” game that we academics play. I hate that game.

What else can we do? We could start by including specific quotes from other published historians. Admittedly this is often difficult because we’re a long-winded lot, and a narration of the disputations can get pretty boring: “X said A, Y said not-A, Z says B…”. Not ideal, but we could at least throw in a few key phrases from an author or two. It helps if the historian we’re quoting is actually making an argument, with a clearly-stated thesis.

Perhaps our beloved word cloud could give us a hand, or we could look at which words are highly associated with each other (collocation). Heck, make a collage of all the keywords used to describe a topic. Maybe we need to do some network analysis on citations, like they do in the social/natural sciences – citation analysis, bibliometrics and the like. There are even some software packages that apparently do that. Just do something a bit more systematic.

Another option is to explicitly discuss the rhetoric used by other historians – Keegan’s “rhetoric of battle history” (or my “rhetoric of siege history”), for example. Are there consistent terms used to describe/explain a subject? Are there specific examples/authors/sources that are constantly cited? Are there particular metaphors that historians use when explaining an event or phenomenon? For example, what does it suggest that traditional military historians compare early modern sieges so often to dances, theater, and chess? And do these descriptors and metaphors vary from author to author (or country to country), or change over time?

And then there’s the thorny question of when to stop collecting more historiography. Undoubtedly even the most minutely-focused monograph might pass judgment on all sorts of historical conventional wisdom. Ideally, we have all those secondary sources text-searchable, either in Google Books or in your own database. But I think it’s best to start with certain types of works, those that have the most impact. Thus, we should focus foremost on accessible works. So start by analyzing works that are still in print or have been reissued. Look at works written by prolific authors, e.g. I came to Vaubanian siege warfare via Christopher Duffy’s Russia’s Military Way to the West. (This applies to primary sources as well as secondary.) The most systematic method would be to scan a bunch of notes/bibliographies from other secondary sources and see which titles pop up over and over. (I’ll leave it to others to decide whether that’s a “transformative” use or not.)

We should also look for works that are dedicated to the topic, using the most common synonyms (“laws of war”) and important peoples’ names (Marlborough, Vauban…). And we really need to pay attention to titles that are just begging to be cited by everyone and their brother: The Art of Warfare in the Age of _____. Knowing where to look also matters on the micro level. If you want to know what an author thinks about sieges ‘in the abstract’ for example, look in the art of war sections dedicated to summarizing the subject. You might be surprised at how different their abstract view is from the picture that emerges from the details in their narrative, or from the data in their own appendices.

However we choose to address historiography, we need to give our readers a sense of how many authors we are discussing. Has one solitary historian discussed the topic (and if so, does it get cited a lot?), or is it a topic touched on by most works in the field? If more than a couple of authors are involved, it’s helpful to group them into various schools or positions.  And it wouldn’t hurt to explicitly relate the size of the historiography to its importance: lots of works on topic X presumably signal importance, but does a small number of publications on topic Y indicate the opposite? I’m not so sure. Especially when that topic is widely exclaimed to be of critical importance to the period.

Another possibility is to ‘just ask historians.’ This seems a good idea in theory, but I’m not sure how it would work in practice. Possibly someone will develop a survey to administer to fellow historians, as mentioned in an earlier post – perhaps the Society for Military History should look into sponsoring a survey or two? Though I wonder what we should conclude from the rarity of such polling; that the example mentioned in the earlier post was performed by economic historians is also noteworthy I think. Personally I’m a little daunted by the effort needed to craft a questionnaire, identify and contact the responders, follow up to get a good response rate, and analyze the results. Nevertheless, such a survey would probably be a good measure of ‘public opinion’ – might be interesting to start with the state of the Military Revolution debate. That being said, I’m not really sure how we would deal with the inevitable contradictions between public opinion and what the ‘experts’ have said. What other response is there but to berate the respondents for not keeping up with the literature? Nor does this really answer the question of whether your research should respond to what the experts in your field think, or to what most historians, immersed in their own subfields, think. An interesting possibility, but lots of questions to resolve as well.

Thoughts? Good models to follow?

Taking notes in Devonthink

Short post as I have several research projects that need to finish up before school starts in two weeks.

With help from some code on the DT forum (and my programming wife), I finally managed to come up with a smooth workflow for taking notes. I have literally 1000s of PDFs that I need to take notes on – a quote here, a paragraph there, my disapproval noted elsewhere. DT comes with an Annotation script that will create a new document (linked back to the original) that you can then take notes in. I don’t use it because (as far as I can tell) you can only have one Annotation document for each PDF. Since I am a member of the Cult of The One (Thought, One Note), that won’t work for me.

So as I would come across a salient point in a PDF, I’d do the following:

  1. Copy Page Link for the page of interest
  2. Create a new RTF
  3. Name the file with a summary of the point being made
  4. Tab to the Spotlight Comment and type/paste the citation info (even though I still use tabs for provenance info, I always include the cite info in the comments)
  5. Jump to the body of the RTF to type ‘###’
  6. Select this ### string
  7. Add a Link from that ### back to the original PDF page. It’s always good to have original (co)ntext at hand.
  8. Then start typing my notes.

Needless to say, this takes many steps – I made it a bit shorter with macros, but not short enough. Read More…

Keeping ‘em honest

Article reporting on new study arguing that – wait for it…. – disciplines with more strict citation conventions tend to be better at providing verifiable evidence for their sources (ok, that’s my take on it at least).

From Inside Higher Ed: ‘through chains of sloppy citations, “academic urban legends” are born.’ The money quote for me:

“Don’t place your readers in the unfortunate or uncomfortable position of having to trust more than they already have to,” Corlett said. “That’s a matter of ethics.”

Fortunately history gets a shout-out for a tradition of citing conscientiously. But that only happens if we keep the (foot)notes! And if we make sure we know the details of a 20-year period before we start making claims about a 500-year period – that whole Country-Years to Pages ratio I talked about before.

And (early modern) historians have another ethical obligation now that most early modern publications are online. There’s really no excuse for the  2 [primary source] cited in [secondary source] citation anymore, unless it’s in a language you don’t read, or in an archival source you don’t have access to.

So be sure to go back to the original, because who knows when the secondary source you’re using is misinterpreting the original, maliciously or otherwise. And use the footnote feature – it’s not like you’ll be using superscript for anything else.

Erin go bragh (and bragh and bragh…)

Because we just can’t get enough of Cromwell and the Irish:

Cunningham, John. “Divided Conquerors: The Rump Parliament, Cromwell’s Army and Ireland.” English Historical Review 129, no. 539 (August 2014): 830–61.
Abstract:
This article reassesses the relationship that existed in the period 1649–53 between war in Ireland and politics in England. Drawing upon a largely overlooked Irish army petition, it seeks to remedy an evident disconnect between the respective historiographies of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland on the one hand and the Rump Parliament on the other. The article reconstructs some of the various disputes over religion, authority and violence that undermined the unity of the English wartime regime in Ireland. It then charts the eventual spilling over of these disputes into Westminster politics, arguing that their impact on deteriorating army-parliament relations in the year prior to Oliver Cromwell’s expulsion of the Rump in April 1653 has not been fully appreciated. The key driver of these developments was John Weaver, a republican MP and commissioner for the civil government of Ireland. The article explains how his efforts both to place restraints on the excessive violence of the conquest and to exert civilian control over the military evolved, by 1652, into a determined campaign at Westminster to strengthen the powers of Ireland’s civil government and to limit the army’s share in the prospective Irish land settlement. Weaver’s campaign forced the army officers in Ireland to intervene at Westminster, thus placing increased pressure on the Rump Parliament. This reassessment also enables the early 1650s to be viewed more clearly as a key phase in the operation of the longer-term relationships of mutual influence that existed between Dublin and London in the seventeenth century.

Do you read Spanish?

If you do, and if you were intrigued by the comments left by Björn in a previous post about Spanish siegecraft, you should check out a short article I published a few months back in the lavishly-produced Spanish popular military history magazine Desperta Ferro (moderno). The article surveys the nature of siege warfare in the Iberian theater during the Spanish Succession, and is based on yet more research from grad school, when I thought my dissertation would cover the sieges in all four theaters (silly me). Yet more research that never saw the light of day, till now.

Perhaps the article can best be summed up in the abstract:

Vauban y la guerra de los ingenieros por Jamel Ostwald (Eastern Connecticut State University). La imagen más extendida hoy día sobre la guerra de sitio en la Edad Moderna es la de una coreografiada y contenida partida de ajedrez en la que cada contendiente mueve mecánicamente sus piezas sobre el tablero según unas reglas estrictas, hasta que el rey es capturado sin apenas derramamiento de sangre. Sin embargo, a pesar de estos estereotipos contemporáneos, capturar una fortaleza alrededor del 1700 no era una operación mecánica que se desarrollaba con precisión científica. Más que seguir una fórmula concreta, los sitiadores de la Edad Moderna podían elegir entre un gran abanico de tácticas posibles y su misión era usar las herramientas a su disposición para tomar la plaza elegida tan pronto como fuera posible y al menor coste. Mapa de Carlos De La Rocha.

My own, English, summary: Sieges in Iberia were much more rudimentary, and desperate, than those in the Low Countries, Germany, and Italy.

The article includes a very nice map of the main sieges in the theater (drawn from the data in my Vauban under Siege), with graduated circles illustrating the location, side, duration, and result of the theater’s various sieges. Here’s my bare-bones 15-year-old attempt (with a few errors):

Spain siege lengths WSS

Hopefully an English version of the Desperta article (or at least the map) will come out sometime.

 

Define your start and end dates

I’m going through old Excel worksheets on siege data (it’s good to know you can open 20-year old Excel files).

Found this graphic, so I thought I’d throw it up here. In case you ever wanted a look behind the scenes of my dataset in the Appendices to my Vauban under Siege: Welcome.

This chart illustrates how spotty even secondary sources can be: sieges only have a limited number of possible start and end dates, yet historical narratives don’t find it worth their while to actually be consistent when they report these dates. Hence my need to develop a crazy-complex siege dataset: comparing multiple sources’ accounts of 100+ sieges, many of which had different stats, depending on whether you’re talking about the fortification under attack: fort(s), citadel, town.

Even after using a consistent method, the following graph should give you an idea of what’s available with English secondary sources on the Iberian theater (Kamen, Francis and Hugill mostly, along with a few articles):

Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 7.07.03 PM

You can see that there was much more consensus among historians concerning the end date of a siege, when the town capitulated, contrasted with when to measure the ‘start’ of a siege. You can also contrast it with a related visualization of sieges lengths throughout the campaign season in a previous post.

The number of days’ difference between the stages on both margins (BA to OT, Capit to BL) are usually not very great, so the margin of error is relatively small. But ideally you’d go to the primary sources (or maybe a detailed Spanish account) to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Overall I suppose I’m pretty content: at least my Spanish dataset was comparing oranges (Valencian) to oranges (Sanguinello, aka blood oranges). Of course I’m still expecting Björn Thegby and Andy Tumath to provide us all with a more complete dataset some time soon.

* For those not in the know: BA= Besiegers Arrive, IS= Investment Started, OT= Open trenches, OF= Open Fire, Chamade= self-explanatory, Capit= Capitulation, Garrison Evacuation, Besiegers Leave. Each start and end date pair means something slightly different, depending on what point you’re trying to make. Just make sure to be consistent and have a good reason why you chose the particular start-end pairing you did. And, please, avoid definitively exclaiming that there was only one ‘true’ start and end date. The study of siegecraft has suffered enough already from such formulaic thinking.

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