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.



13 responses to “How honest do we need to keep them?”

  1. John says :

    “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.” Concur. So do we expand the note to say something like 2 quoted 1, who quoted the XYZ MSS or the Collections of the ABC historical society? Are we in danger of writing notes for notes? I think it’s important to own up to when you are quoting 2 in 1. I also think it’s something that a scholar should do only rarely Still, it strikes me as kind of skeezy to lift the quote and then cite it as if you found it. But that’s just me. Of course, there is the issue with the same old quotes time and time again. If you’re going to use one of the standard ones (for example, Wolfe calling Americans contemptible lazy dogs) you probably should go to the original. Still, I think there is something to be said for the generosity involved in saying historian X did the hard work and found this really excellent quote. I think you can do that, imply it at least, with obscure quotes (the not-common ones) with the 2 quoted in 1 technique. I’m glad the conversation has come up. It’s timely for me. I’m about 60% through writing the MS of my current project (already about 750 MS pages … I know, I know), and I’ve done 2 in 1 four times. Pitt quoted in Szabo, Bradstreet quoted in Anderson, George II quoted in Anderson again (Fred gobbled up most the really good quotes on the 7YW grand strategy) and Wolfe quoted in Brumwell. I did check the originals in each case, but I wanted to give those authors a small shout out for their excellant work, I didn’t want to set myself up for being accused of lifting their work, and I hope it points to the fact that I have read and deeply engaged the important works in the field.

    • jostwald says :

      Four times seems reasonable, though that’s more than what I usually see (depends on the type of work of course). Once you move beyond monographs, most examples/quotes that most historians cite have been cited somewhere else, but almost no one bothers to cite where they first came across the quote, which to me suggests it’s assumed by historians that an author doesn’t discover every single quote on their own. Whether it’s good etiquette or not, the fact that we see so few “2 quoted in 1” suggests that that’s not how most historians do it. And that doesn’t even deal with the innumerable cases when somebody says “You should check out such-and-such” – we don’t generally cite those, though the person may get a mention in the Acknowledgments. YMMV.
      If a historian has contributed to my work, I’ll cite them in the appropriate paragraph, but not necessarily in regards to a particular quote that they mention – particularly if they’re not even the first to quote it. If the *only* thing they contribute to my work is a quote, I might do the “2 quoted in 1” – but that’s either A) a backhanded compliment because I expect them to contribute more than a quote, or B) it’s a minor part of my argument.

      Similarly, I don’t expect other historians in my subfield to cite me just because they repeat a quote from Vauban that I may have brought to their attention – I give them the original source so they can look it up themselves, after all. Assuming they do that, they can cite it however they want. But I do want them to cite me somewhere in there if they use my ideas, or at least the ones that are original to me. I’ve had a situation where somebody cited me for a particular quote/example but didn’t cite me when they talked about “my” (much more important) ideas more generally. I find that much more questionable.

      But perhaps we’re talking about different types of acknowledgment: credit for bringing a quote to the public’s attention (regardless of whether it was already in the public domain?) vs. credit for coming up with ideas that may or may not be repeated with a quote. Perhaps we disagree over which is cite-worthy.

      Maybe it’s a question of how much effort we envision our secondary source author expending to find that quote. You could imagine an author plowing through 1,000s of letters and documents, and picking out the gem. Or, maybe they just got that source from some earlier history – depends on the type of history and historian. In my mind, identifying a quotable statement isn’t usually much work unless you’ve also developed the interpretive framework to make sense of it, and that’s the cite-worthy part. To find a good quote all you have to do is look at other people’s footnotes/bibliographies, track down their sources and read the documents. Instead of the usual specificity in a letter or speech, you just look for a more general principle stated, or a humorous observation. This is particularly easy if it’s published with an index, or if the letters are all dated so you can quickly jump to the date of a particular event. So I’d probably be more likely to cite a secondary quote if it’s an archival document that isn’t as easy to access. If it’s a newly discovered source it probably deserves citation with the quote, but then every source is a new source to you at some point, so where do we draw the line? I generally agree with citing “obscure” quotes, but obscurity is totally in the eye of the beholder – “obscure” quotes really shouldn’t exist for experts, because experts should go look up the original. Once they do that, they’ve done enough work to make it theirs in my view. But once you start doing that multiple times, then you need to make it clear to the reader that that is your research process. And it starts to erode your originality as well.

      Coming up with an interesting analysis is what deserves the credit in my mind. If the quote comes with an interesting analysis, I’ll cite the secondary source. But if they’re using the quote to say something that other people have already said, I’m less likely to do so. Generally, I think we need to focus on citing ideas, which is what I think historians really care about, first and foremost. Especially now that anyone can find quotes in Google Books/EEBO/ECCO…

      All that being said, I use way more quotes than I read in other secondary sources, and I footnote to excess, so it’s not a particularly important issue in my work. If a quote is the only opportunity to cite somebody’s work, I’ll cite it with the quote, otherwise I’ll cite the work somewhere where I talk about their ideas.

      That also leads to a related issue: are you obligated to cite a secondary source when you find out they say something that you had already figured out on your own? I might (to show that I’m honest), but I’ll add some wording to make it clear that I developed the idea on my own.

      All of this is on the honor system of course. An interesting discussion.

  2. Patrick Speelman says :

    This post made me think quite a bit about the issue. I tend to fall in line with John Grenier’s position as a default setting. Here is my rationale if the quote leads me to actually look at their source and quote/paraphrase it.

    1. If the quote came from a dissertation, then always “2 in 1.” I think this is a straight forward ethical approach, as this has not yet been published nor has the author received public credit in the arena of scholars. I would hesitate to use quotes found in dissertations. A diss. should be treated as a primary source, and its references should not be mined and revealed in one’s own work–rather a reader should have to go to the diss. to find the sources of the data unless it has been published in some form already.

    2. For peer-reviewed journal articles, I parrot the above sentiment with qualification. Again, if it is research no one else has mined, then always “2 in 1” it. For tried-and-true collections, volumes, published correspondence that everyone can obtain, then it is debatable. You could simply find the quote and then mention the article in the footnote, etc.

    3. When it comes to monographs, I still think any original or unique research should be attributed to the scholar who first mined the info. But Jamel’s ideas and suggestions are sound. Reward effort. The more broad and the more synthetic your MS, the more likely you may use quoted material from other books

    4. Finally. Do not quote original material from another secondary source if at all possible. This makes #s 1-3 moot. You should mention where you first ran across the citation of the source material, but end it there. Find your own quote after looking at the source.

    I think that if you end up looking at the source that is quoted, then you should not use the same quote, but you should attribute the work tin which you first discovered the use of the source.

    But, if you love the quote so much, do a “2 in 1” citation, and then verify, if possible, the quote (for your own protection). I have done this to my chagrin—I found quotes that were poorly translated, inaccurate, paraphrased or simply not exist.

    And, what if the work you are citing actually cited the quote from another work (and that info is in their footnote)? Do you triple cite?

    So this leads me to point #4, which is my Standing Order.

    In the end I think these rules are important, especially when protecting unpublished research, which is always susceptible to unscrupulous students and scholars who, too lazy to find their own, may pilfer others’ footnote references and pretend ownership.


  3. Gavin Robinson says :

    If I’ve consulted the original source but I want to acknowledge that someone else has quoted it first or said something interesting about it in a secondary source, I give each source it’s own citation separated by a semi-colon within the same footnote. The connection should be fairly obvious to anyone who follows it up, and I usually footnote at sentence level (I think footnoting at paragraph level is a terrible idea, but that’s another issue).

    If I’ve figured something out on my own and then find someone else got there first, I’m happy to appeal to their authority because peer reviewers are more likely to accept a new idea if it’s already got through peer review and been published.

    • John says :

      Good stuff here. Gavin’s statement hit home, too. Re: “I usually footnote at sentence level (I think footnoting at paragraph level is a terrible idea, but that’s another issue).” I agree, but the only way to get the publisher to agree to my extensive footnotes (which I think are important because there has been so much crap written about my topic … It has an immature historiography that JO talked about in an earlier post) was to go with paragraph notes. This business of trying to avoid writing another academic monograph (I don’t want to be a one-trick pony) yet maintaing “academic standards” has been tricky. At the end of the day, I may have to go back to an academic press. I’m much more interested in tryng to shape a historiography than appealing to a lay auidence. Biography is a different beast and forcing me to make all kinds of little accomodations.

  4. Averrones says :

    Please allow me to throw in some lawyer’s thoughts. All valid sources for legal writing are public and easily accessible by default, but we distinguish two broad categories: sources which are common knowledge (laws, famous precedents) and sources that need to be discovered in piles of data (orders of authorities, rare precedents). The second type is rare but if I find a very interesting case description in an article of another lawyer, then I will definitely mention the one who pointed in direction of that precedent when I also say some words about that case, although it is presumed that I have looked into the original myself.

    In the end it’s the effort that requires acknowledgement. We deal with increasingly vast waves of information, therefore effort of searching through it and organizing in a useful way is immense and should be recognized. It resembles the copyright of a person who published a collection of selected precedents or other primary sources: though he doesn’t have any rights to any source in particular, the exact composition and selection of them are a subject of copyright in its own (that’s under Russian law, but I presume this protection is pretty universal). What’s the effort is hard to describe but ‘you’ll know it when you see it’.

    Apart from academic works, could anyone please give opinion on the popular (commercial) history books that do not move the research forward and just try to educate readers? No secret that publishers wish for as few footnotes as possible, while an honest author wants to be honest with his sources. What’s the minimum footnoting that you find acceptable? E.g. some authors give a short bibliographical essay in the end of their books, listing their sources and inspirations as well as ‘further reading’, but without exact pages or even titles (if there are many academic articles by same historian). Others make footnotes for major selected works and mention use of many others in the end…

  5. jostwald says :

    Good discussion.
    Combining together a couple of the above comments: we do realize we’re opening up a real can of worms here, right?

    1. Nobody follows the strict rules, with any consistency, some seem to be suggesting.
    Given how rarely ANY historians use the “2 quoted in 1” formulation, especially for any subject that has had multiple publications, everyone is violating this guideline all the time. What percentage of the primary sources you cite/quote did you actually find all by yourself, just randomly happened across in the archives or elsewhere? Most people go into the archives with a list of volumes to look at, or they use the archival inventories (which should apparently be cited) to find documents/volumes of interest. If you found an archive volume listed in someone’s bibliography (or in a bibliographical guide) and went and looked it up yourself, you should, according to a strict view, indicate in your note that author X identified that volume for you. If somebody told you to go check out Frontinus’ work, you should, in a strict interpretation, cite them in the footnote. If an anonymous ms reviewer pointed me to the Briefwisseling Heinsius, do I need to cite that? I certainly didn’t know about the collection before he/she mentioned it. But how often does that type of citation actually happen? How often could that even happen, given the pressures to abandon footnotes altogether? My footnotes are long enough as it is. I can see nods in the Acknowledgments (or the other criteria I mentioned earlier), but in every (or at least the first) footnote where you mention that work? Not gonna happen, because this is what scholars inherently do – they share information, selflessly. I give a grad student advice on places to look for archival evidence – I don’t expect to be cited in the footnote when they use one of those volumes (because that’s what scholars do), though an Acknowledgment would be nice.

    2. Finding a specific quote is only a small part of the web of interdependence, and not even the most important one.
    If it’s really about giving credit to someone for the effort of discovery (how legal!), then 95% of all the sources any historian uses were discovered by someone else, included in a footnote/bibliography that you then read when you were doing your lit review, and then you found it and used it. So if you’ve read any historiography and mined the footnotes/bib, a strict interpretation would insist that you need to be citing all of those (i.e. in the first work in which you came across it). Yet nobody takes it to that logical extreme, including Pat and John and Gavin (from what I’ve seen of their footnotes). All someone has to do is look at your bib and compare your primary sources with the sources in the secondary works you cite – how much overlap is there, and how many of those do you acknowledge? Not very many.

    But that’s ok, because this is an unsustainable interpretation – we’re talking about a standard practice in history that assumes you will build off other people’s research, that you are expected to go and look up the sources yourself. The (tough) question is where to draw the line – I apparently draw it much more finely than others in theory, but I doubt there’s much difference in practice.

    3. The effort needed to find a specific quote isn’t as great as other tasks that almost never receive any credit.
    I can see there *might* be a difference between a quote and a citation, but if effort of discovery is the criteria, that’s not an excuse for ignoring the effort of identifying the volume cited. Which requires more effort: choosing the correct volume among the 10,000s of volumes of the British Library’s Additional MSS (target: Add MS 61341), or finding the one quote on folio 234 out of 300 folios (actually less than 100 pages of actual content to look through) in Add MS 61341 once somebody has listed it in a bib? The real favor and effort is to identify Add MS 61341 as important, yet we almost never recognize that effort (e.g. cite the archive guide or the bib where we saw it mentioned, and other authors most likely found it from an archival guide or a previous author). You cite the author’s work somewhere, of course, but in the footnote where you reference a particular quote? I don’t see finding a specific quote as being the toughest task, especially if the quoter found the volume with the assistance of others (whom aren’t acknowledged, because we almost never say where we got our knowledge of Add MS 61341 from).

    If we’re going to talk about effort, we should give some thought to the relative amount of effort, and reward those activities that require an extraordinary effort. For me, that means people mastering a subfield’s historiography or archive where I would never look (due to lack of time, lack of interest in the subject…). I thanked two people in footnotes in my 370-page book when I used archives that I wouldn’t have known to look in on my own – one was for a specific quote and the other was for a specific volume that I then went through to find specific quotes.

    And why doesn’t this need-to-thank apply to secondary sources? There are tons of those out there to look through, yet nobody ever says “Thanks to the JMilH review by Dr. XYZ for pointing me to this secondary source.” Or “Thanks to John Lynn for pointing me to Military Orientalism at the SMH conference in 2009″… Or Amazon book recommendations for that matter. Is the effort of going through a (often voluminous) literature less onerous than the archives? If so, how so?

    Further, if effort of discovery is the main criteria, now that we have so many full-text sources, do we need to specify in the footnote that we found it on Google Books, or ECCO?

    4. In my view 1) scholarship is assumed to rely on the efforts and findings of others, and 2) there are a variety of ways to acknowledge the efforts of others; citing other scholars in footnotes is only one of those ways, and should be very limited when dealing with quotes from primary sources when you’ve gone and looked them up yourself. Footnotes should be, first and foremost, about identifying the original source of the information: primary sources for quotes/evidence, secondary sources for ideas. Footnotes will become far too bloated if we turn them into footnotes-as-process.

    • Gavin Robinson says :

      Good points. When you put it like that, some assumptions about citations do seem a bit weird. And there could well be a difference between what I think I usually do and what I actually have done in publications. I should expand on “I want to acknowledge” because in practice I often don’t want to. If only one secondary work that I know of has used the exact same example then I feel like I should give a hat tip, but not if it’s an example that everyone uses.

  6. Martin Gibson says :

    I voted for ‘I interpret “PS quoted in SS” as meaning the author did NOT look at the original PS’.

    That is the way that I did it in my PhD thesis, and it did not occur to me to do it any other way. Searching through the Word file of the my thesis reveals that there was only one quote where I did not look at the original primary source. It was not a key point, and I possibly should have paraphrased the quote.

    As an aside regarding the attitude of popular histories to footnotes, a professor wrote a well researched history of Scottish football in the 1980s. There were plenty of footnotes, mostly to contemporary newspaper reports and magazine articles. It was reviewed by a football journalist in a tabloid newspaper, who pronounced it to be the worst book that he had ever read. He said that he had never seen a book with so many references to other books, which he claimed meant that it had just been copied from these!

    • jostwald says :

      Thanks for the confirmation of what, I thought, was the standard interpretation. Of course the historical profession doesn’t standardize such basic aspects of its craft, so you never really know.
      Re: your aside. Not sure what that says about football journalists…

  7. Martin Gibson says :

    I phrased my aside poorly. It was meant to comment on the attitude of readers, rather than writers, of popular history to footnotes.

  8. Martin Gibson says :

    I have just remembered something from my PhD thesis. There was an interesting quote that was in five books in my bibliography. However, it was from a foreign politician who was not central enough to my topic to travel to an overseas archive to research.
    One of the books sourced another of them, which sourced a third. That one, although it was a PhD thesis from the days when you could get them published with virtually no changes, gave no source. Neither did the other two books. All except one of the ones that gave a source were by academics, although at least one was aimed at the popular market.
    In the end, I paraphrased the quote, wrote that it was ‘allegedly’ said and footnoted all five books, noting their sources or lack of them and that one of them called it ‘apocryphal’.
    In checking up on this reference in my thesis, I have noticed that I got one of the page number wrong in my footnote, so my examiners and supervisor presumably were not too interested in this point.

    • jostwald says :

      I always wonder how much people check footnotes for accuracy. I’d guess reviewers almost never do, nor advisors. The most common scenario is probably when another researcher is tracking down the sources for their own research. As a result, such corrections almost never get made. Maybe we really do need to resist our anecdotal urge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: