Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A suggestion for the updating of citation practices for historical scholarship

In this great age of looking stuff up online, is it really that helpful anymore to use the date of publication of the particular edition that you happen to be using in your citations? I am always coming across citations like (Locke 1987) in academic articles, and each time, it gives me pause to wonder how it could be that John Locke published a book in 1987. Particularly when the argument is a historical one, these citations intrude on one's internal sense of chronology and destroy the already minimal atmospheric setting that articles or books about previous centuries create. Here we are, in the midst of the English Civil War, and suddenly, nope! It's 1956, 1981, 2003! I understand that subsequent editorial decisions matter in shaping the way that books from the English Civil War or whatever are presented, and especially translated books, but if we must note that, can't we bury it in the bibliography instead of the body of the text? Is it more helpful for a reader to know that the author was looking at the 1982 Penguin paperback reprint of Hobbes's Leviathan when he composed this article, or that the book itself was published in 1651?


Alpheus said...

One workaround is to use a format like (Locke 1982 [1651]), which is what I usually do when the difference between the original publication and edition/translation that I used seems important.

Miss Self-Important said...

How does this work for ancient texts that don't have a strictly publication date? (Plato 1980 [1500 (ca. 400 BC?)])? Why doesn't everyone just agree to end in-text citations and switch to footnotes instead to preserve my sense of aesthetic integrity? ME ME ME.

Withywindle said...

I was going to say that it is actually useful when you want to look at the source yourself. As for the whole citation format thing, my sense is that disciplines with more intensive study (pol-theory) do the in-text thing, extensive study (history) the footnote thing, and that it's relatively functional within disciplines. But I'm a footnote guy when I compose my stuff; I only switch to in-text when I submit to a journal that wants that fershinalugger format.

Anyway, all is convention, so I don't mind going by established conventions, since it all strikes me as adiaphora.

Alpheus said...

How does this work for ancient texts that don't have a strictly publication date? (Plato 1980 [1500 (ca. 400 BC?)])?

I'm not sure. In Classics, it wouldn't be normal to cite Plato that way: we'd mention the specific translator or edition of the text if that was what mattered, and otherwise we'd just cite a passage from Plato without giving a date. I guess at some point you do just have to trust the reader to know (or look up) the dates of major canonical authors.

When you rule the world, I expect you to sort all this out. (And also, if possible, to award a dukedom to anyone who addresses you with the phrase "Still his dark course Alpheus keeps.")

Withywindle said...

Through his dawn course Alpheus sleeps?

Miss Self-Important said...

Perhaps it's cancelled while through subway tunnels water seeps?