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Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Citations unveiled

Just in case you are wondering what all the hullabaloo is about, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about citation forms. Just so you can begin to understand the difference or maybe, just so you know there is a difference. First, where did all this citation stuff come from anyway? (First violation, avoid rhetorical questions). Manuals of style evolved in response to issues with plagiarism. Failing to cite your sources was seen as academically dishonest and source citations were and are seen as a way to minimize that insidious form of dishonesty. 

However, due to the fact that most academic disciplines barely acknowledge others' existence, basically, every academic discipline has its own forms and style requirements. Citations are only a part of the overall drive for consistency in every type of professional writing from technical and scientific writing to newspapers, there are specific guidelines, some of which have been in usage for more than a 150 years. There are lists of some of the types of style guides available such as Wikipedia: List of style guides.

Genealogy, as a historical discipline, and as such, is considered to belong to the Humanities. There are a number of styles that are used by different branches of the Humanities.  There is quite a long list. As an example, these are some of the most recognized formats in the United States: (See Wikipedia: Citation)
  • Chicago Style
  • Turabian
  • Columbia Style
  • Mils Style (as in Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills)
  • Harvard referencing
  • MLA Style (Modern Language Association)
  • MHRA Style (Modern Humanities Research Association)
  • APA Style (American Psychological Association)
  • ASA Style (American Sociological Association)
There are many more for scientific, legal and other disciplines. Also, Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and other predominantly English speaking countries have their own styles and style organizations. In addition, of course you already know, that the content of a citation varies with the type of source and will be different for books, online sources, newspapers, magazines and everything else. That is essentially why the Mills book has more than 800 pages.

Historians generally follow the Chicago Manual of Style which is very close to the Turabian style.  But, with the publication of Mills' book, we can assume that particular style will predominate in the area of genealogy.

To make matters more complicated, styles can vary from one professional journal to the next within the same discipline. Even though a particular publication adheres to a style does not mean that it will not have its own internal rules. Most publications will provide a "style sheet" showing their particular brand of style and citation.

So when someone tells you to "cite your sources" that can mean a lot of different things. Here are some examples of the same genealogy book cited in different styles:

APA (6th ed.) Tanner, G. C. (1910). William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and his descendants: In four parts. Faribault, Minn: G.C. Tanner.

Chicago (Author-Date, 15th ed.) Tanner, George C. 1910. William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and his descendants: in four parts. Faribault, Minn: G.C. Tanner.

Harvard (18th ed.) TANNER, G. C. (1910). William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and his descendants: in four parts. Faribault, Minn, G.C. Tanner.

MLA (7th ed.) Tanner, George C. William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and His Descendants: In Four Parts. Faribault, Minn: G.C. Tanner, 1910. Print.

Turabian (6th ed.) Tanner, George C. William Tanner, Sr. of South Kingstown, Rhode Island and His Descendants: In Four Parts. Faribault, Minn: G.C. Tanner, 1910.

For my part, I am entirely adaptable. I will use whatever is required for the circumstances. That is why they invented computers. But, if left up to me, I will always use Turabian. Mainly because, to me, it is the most logical and conveys the information without some gimmick. (Yes, I am ready to duel to the death to defend my position).

So who cares? I could go on for a lot longer explaining why I think citing sources is absolutely necessary, but I can go on for just as long arguing that the style requirements of each academic discipline are not designed to enhance the communication process but are merely another way of making it hard to conform to their standards and thereby enhance their academic standing. If you are familiar with the process you have to go through to get a doctoral degree, you know exactly what I am talking about. When in Rome, do as the Romans do applies to all academic pursuits. See Wikipedia: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. (There is a citation for everything). Guess what? It also applies to genealogy.

1 comment:

  1. Dueling over citations ~ sounds like a great Olympic sport! :-)

    ReplyDelete