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.

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One response to “Keeping ’em honest”

  1. John says :

    Re: “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.” What happens if the primary source quote is money, but you found it in a secondary? I think it’s kind of lame to lift that source and then cite it like you found it through your hard work in the records. For example, when reading Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War for context, I found that he quoted John Bradstreet on the impact of JB’s capture of Ft. Frontenac in Aug 1758. Now I really wanted to use the quote. It is money, and I simply love short quotes to give the reader a sense of the language of the time, etc. Anyway, I went to the original (actually Fred used a published published source from 1914; the original is in the UK and I’m not that interested in tracking it down) and verified that Fred was 100% accurate in his transcription of the source. Trust but verify, right? Of course, he was. But I didn’t want to suggest that I found the golden nugget. So I did the 2 [primary source] cited in [secondary source] citation. Reasonable? An advantage of a limited use of this technique is that you can use it to point to your familiarity with important historiography (see your most recent post on it). Careful readers, the 5 or 6 whom you really want to reach, will get your meaning.

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