Citations as window to the discipline’s soul

A recent blog post on Poor citation practices continues the long-standing pissing-contest between the Two Cultures (or is it Three now? maybe Four?). As its title suggests, the author thinks that the relatively small number of citations in social science and humanities publications translates into ‘self-harm’ for these flaccid disciplines that lack voluminous citations.

In previous posts I’ve expressed my own dissatisfaction with how historians discuss (or don’t discuss) historiography, and I’m enough off a splitter to cry out for more citation, even if publishers (and some readers) prefer otherwise. So in general I’m sympathetic to blog post’s overall appeal for greater citation.

There’s also a very interesting table of how citations facilitate some of the fundamental ‘features’ of scholarship, halfway down the post.

So I don’t have any particular insight into the question of comparative citation counting, other than a warning (and question) about automating the process. (And to point out that the focus on journal’s h5 scores are pretty pointless for historians, since we’re much more likely to cite books and book chapters than journal articles – maybe the fact that there are so few thematic History journals plays a role?) The author, writing from a social science perspective, praises Google Scholar Metrics for providing a “very inclusive” counting of citations. Not so much for History, if my book is any indication. Because I’m generally a vain individual, I keep track of which publications cite my work. So when I search Google Scholar Metrics for my Vauban under Siege book, I find 14 works that cite it. Which is great, except for the fact that there are at least 25 works that I know of which explicitly cite my book – almost 80% more works than what Google says. If I cared, I’d track down which ones are missing, though I’m guessing some of them are probably book chapters and non-English works.

Admittedly, the citation count of my 2000 Journal of Military History article on Ramillies is much more accurate: 14 citations compared to the 16 that I’m aware of. But since History is all about the books, Google Scholar is hardly acceptable for History, at least as it stands. But perhaps this is only to be expected, given how historians are constantly forced to deal with the kind of messy information that Google tries to engineer a solution to.

Anyone else have better luck with Google Scholar? For that matter, do any historians actually use Google Scholar with any frequency? I’m constantly underwhelmed every time I try to find additional secondary sources using it. Searching Google Books and the web is usually a much better bet.



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