The History Woman's Blog

Historical monographs without footnotes?

Posted in Academia, Comment, History by thehistorywoman on April 28, 2019
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Yes, my own monograph also has endnotes.

I have long been irritated by the common practice of academic publishers to ban notes from the page they refer to. Many history publishers consolidate notes either at the end of a journal article or a book chapter or, even worse, relegate all notes and references to the back of a book.

There might be sound reasons for doing so, such as making the printed page look tidier or avoiding that overlong footnotes hamper the reading flow. Alas, it means you have to go backwards and forwards all the time, should you actually be interested in finding out which sources the author used or where the information presented comes from.

However, recently, I have also come across several academic monographs without any footnotes at all. These were not popular history books or text books, but actual monographs by a reputable university press, one from the 1980s and another from 2015. The former had a brief bibliographical essay in the back, the other a select bibliography. But no notes.

Does that mean I have to take the argument presented on trust? Or do author and publisher assume that the target audience consists of such a tiny group of insiders that they would be familiar with the sources anyway? When the source is not given in the text itself (and I am too ignorant to guess what it might have been), how would I find out?

I have always taken the humble footnote (or endnote) as a kind of public service, a reference that will either offer additional explanation or guide me towards primary sources or further reading on the subject. Consequently, a lack of footnotes can only mean that the author thought that no further explanation was necessary, or that I should not need any. I.e. if I do not get it without additional help, I am not clever enough to read the book.

Assuming that most historians want their books to be read (and understood) though, I would appeal to them to include abundant notes. We are not all insiders. Some of us might be new to the subject. And even if we are not, we might want to track down your sources. Note to publishers: Please leave them on the page they refer to!

gma

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