TIPS FOR EVALUATING HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS

The "stuff" of history is the primary source.  Generally speaking, a primary source is material (i.e., a document or other evidence) PRODUCED DURING THE PERIOD BEING EXAMINED--THE PERSON OR ITEM WAS ACTUALLY PRESENT AT THE EVENT.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  Some may be written documents of the time (e.g., newspapers, court records, a diary entry, etc.) or a physical artifact (e.g., a piece of furniture, photography, painting, etc.).  There is an incredible variety because primary sources are as varied as the people who created them.  This variety makes identifying primary sources both problematical and enjoyable.

The more you know about the time period and the creators of the primary sources, the better you can understand them.  These following points are useful, general questions (THAT APPLY BEYOND THE MCNEIL TEXT) to apply to your primary sources.  They help you to evaluate the value/integrity of the evidence.  These are ways that historians engage in a dialogue with their sources.  If applicable, ask the following questions [Loewen's "crap detector" questions] to your selected source and start a conversation. 

>
Author's intended purpose?
> What’s the author’s social structure?
>
Is the account believable?  Coherent?
> Is the account only assertion?  Evidence?

>
What’s the emotional objective?

 

TIPS FOR FOOTNOTES
Source: http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pub/integrity/pages/citing.html

WHY CITATIONS?

• To acknowledge your dependence on another person's ideas or words, and to distinguish clearly your own work from that of your sources.
• To receive credit for the research you have done on a project, whether or not you directly quote or borrow from your sources.
• To establish the credibility and authority of your knowledge and ideas.
• To place your own ideas in context, locating your work in the larger intellectual conversation about your topic.
• To permit your reader to pursue your topic further by reading more about it.
• To permit your reader to check on your use of the source material.

WHY FOOTNOTES?  There are various styles of citations.  Historians usually make use of the Chicago Style (see below for samples).  We use this style because of:

  • quick access (the information is there at the bottom of the page vs. endnotes where you have to keep flipping to the end)

  • elaboration (allows you to further develop select points that would take you away from the main narrative). The MLA style, for example, does not allow for this tangential discussion.

WHAT NOT TO FOOTNOTE.  It is not necessary to footnote what is referred to as "common knowledge."  Succinctly, if you can find it in the World Book Encyclopedia, then it is common knowledge.

WHAT SHOULD YOU FOOTNOTE.  There are five basic rules that apply to all disciplines and should guide your own citation practice. Even more fundamental, however, is this general rule: when in doubt whether or not to cite a source, do it. You will certainly never find yourself in trouble if you acknowledge a source when it is not absolutely necessary; it is always preferable to err on the side of caution and completeness. Better still, if you are unsure about whether or not to cite a source, ask your professor or preceptor for guidance before submitting the paper.

1. Direct Quotation. Any verbatim use of the text of a source, no matter how large or small the quotation, must be clearly acknowledged. Direct quotations must be placed in quotation marks or, if longer than three lines, clearly indented beyond the regular margin. The quotation must be accompanied, either within the text or in a footnote, by a precise indication of the source, identifying the author, title, and page numbers. Even if you use only a short phrase, or even one key word, you must use quotation marks in order to set off the borrowed language from your own, and cite the source.

2. Paraphrase. If you restate another person’s thoughts or ideas in your own words, you are paraphrasing. Paraphrasing does not relieve you of the responsibility to cite your source. You should never paraphrase in the effort to disguise someone else’s ideas as your own. If another author’s idea is particularly well put, quote it verbatim and use quotation marks to distinguish his or her words from your own. Paraphrase your source if you can restate the idea more clearly or simply, or if you want to place the idea in the flow of your own thoughts. If you paraphrase your source, you do not need to use quotation marks. However, you still do need to cite the source, either in your text or a footnote. You may even want to acknowledge your source in your own text ("Albert Einstein believed that…"). In such cases, you still need a footnote.

3. Summary. Summarizing is a looser form of paraphrasing. Typically, you may not follow your source as closely, rephrasing the actual sentences, but instead you may condense and rearrange the ideas in your source. Summarizing the ideas, arguments, or conclusions you find in your sources is perfectly acceptable; in fact, summary is an important tool of the scholar. Once again, however, it is vital to acknowledge your source -- perhaps with a footnote at the end of your paragraph. Taking good notes while doing your research will help you keep straight which ideas belong to which author, which is especially important if you are reviewing a series of interpretations or ideas on your subject.

4. Facts, Information, and Data. Often you will want to use facts or information you have found in your sources to support your own argument. Certainly, if the information can be found exclusively in the source you use, you must clearly acknowledge that source. For example, if you use data from a particular scientific experiment conducted and reported by a researcher, you must cite your source, probably a scientific journal or a Web site. Or if you use a piece of information discovered by another scholar in the course of his or her own research, you must acknowledge your source. Or perhaps you may find two conflicting pieces of information in your reading -- for example, two different estimates of the casualties in a natural catastrophe. Again, in such cases, be sure to cite your sources.

Information, however, is different from an idea. Whereas you must always acknowledge use of other people’s ideas (their conclusions or interpretations based on available information), you may not always have to acknowledge the source of information itself. You do not have to cite a source for a fact or a piece of information that is generally known and accepted -- for example, that Woodrow Wilson served as president of both Princeton University and the United States, or that Avogadro’s number is 6.02 x 1023. Often, however, deciding which information requires citation and which does not is not so straightforward. Refer to the later section in this booklet, Not-So-Common Knowledge, for more discussion of this question.

5. Supplementary Information. Occasionally, especially in a longer research paper, you may not be able to include all of the information or ideas from your research in the body of your own paper. In such cases, you may want to insert a note offering supplementary information rather than simply providing basic bibliographic information (author, title, date and place of publication, and page numbers). In such footnotes or endnotes, you might provide additional data to bolster your argument, or briefly present a alternative idea that you found in one of your sources, or even list two of three additional articles on some topic that your reader might find of interest. Such notes demonstrate the breadth and depth of your research, and permit you to include germane, but not essential, information or concepts without interrupting the flow of your own paper.

In all of these cases, proper citation requires that you indicate the source of any material immediately after its use in your paper. For direct quotations, the footnote (which may be a traditional footnote or the author’s name and page number in parenthesis) immediately follows the closing quotation marks; for a specific piece of information, the footnote should be placed as close as possible; for a paraphrase or a summary, the footnote may come at the end of the sentence or paragraph.

Simply listing a source in your bibliography is not adequate acknowledgment for specific use of that source in your paper.

For international students, it is especially important to review and understand the citation standards and expectations for institutions of higher learning in the United States.

AUTOMATIC FOOTNOTE INSERTION.  Inserting footnotes is quite easy using current computer software programs.  For example, in Microsoft Word you click on the "Insert" link on the top menu bar and then in the pop-up menu you have "footnote" as a selection and you click there.  Type footnote in your program's help section for specifics.  The number automatically comes up and now you just type in the data following the examples below and the program automatically inserts it at the bottom of your page.  

QUALITY OF RESEARCH.  You will be evaluated on the quality of your selected sources.  A batch of websites is not very impressive; traditional books and articles [on the shelves in libraries] are recommended.  Again, DO NOT simply rely on Internet sources.  Note that the minimum number of footnotes does not mean that you need that many different sources; some of course can be repeated and others used.    

FOOTNOTE SAMPLES.  There are various ways that your work can be documented/cited and you probably learned one or more ways of doing this for another class.  Historians prefer the Chicago style and we will utilize that format in this paper assignment.  A footnote number should come at the end of the sentence.  Sometimes, you might want to combine several footnotes together at the end of a paragraph.  Please follow these guidelines as you reference your sources at the bottom of the page:

  • IF A BOOK:  author, title, city and publisher, page number.  For example:
    Ronald T. Takaki, Iron Cages:  Race and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (New York:  Alfred Knopf Publ., 1979): 2.  
     

  • IF AN ARTICLE:  author, title, journal title, volume and page number.  For example:
    Ronald T. Takaki, “Within the ‘Bowels’ of the Republic,” Journal of History Vol XX, No. 5: 4.  
     

  • IF AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OR DICTIONARY:  Title, edition and term.  For example:
    Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., s.v. “Evolution.”  
     

  • FOR A WEBSITE:  Title of site, website address.  For example:
    “Thomas Jefferson on Slavery” in Afro-American Almanac,
    http://www.toptags.com/aama/voices/commentary/jeff.htm (25 March 2001).  

SAMPLE PAGE THAT USES FOOTNOTES

Here is a sample page that uses footnotes.  The regular text of your essay should be double-spaced.  At the bottom if there are footnotes, the text will appear single-spaced [note that this is automatically inserted this way]. 


Note that with the automatic insertion feature of your software program that footnote numbers go forward from 1 and that you need not adjust the footnote numbers.  If you repeat a footnote source it should have a different number.