Footnotes:  a history student’s guide



Unfortunately for students, each department seems to have its own rules regarding the format of citations.  Historians are probably the very pickiest group.  We insist on footnotes rather than the MLA or social science format, with citations in parentheses, and we also want to see more information in our citations than many other departments do.  The reasons for this stance are:  a) Much more than literature papers, history papers usually draw on many different sources.  This means that the reader needs more of a reminder than simply the author’s last name and page number to know which source you are referring to.  b)  Historians care when things were written, and want that to be clear from your paper.  Thus, whereas a social scientist might list Marx 1968b: 300, and find that adequate, a historian usually wants to know when Marx really wrote it, in 1847 or 1859?  This might matter for a historical argument.


The result of these concerns is that we ask you to include a lot of information in the footnote itself.  The proper format for a history footnote is as follows.  Pay attention to punctuation and word order; for example, note that the author’s first name comes first in a footnote, whereas the last name comes first in an alphabetized bibliography.


a)  for a book by a single author:  Author, title (place of publication:  press, year), p#.


Elizabeth Wilson, Shostakovich:  A Life Remembered (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1994), 324.


b)  for an article in a book that has chapters by different people:  Author, “title of chapter,” in title of book, ed. editor’s name (place of publication:  press, year), total pages of article, here, p#.


Elizabeth Heinemann, “The Hour of the Woman:  Memories of Germany’s `Crisis Years’ and West German National Identity,” in The Miracle Years:  A Cultural History of West Germany, 1949-1968, ed. Hanna Schissler (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2001), 21-56, here 34.


c)  for an article in a journal, magazine, or newspaper:  Author, “title of article,” title of periodical, vol. # , issue # (year):  total pages, here, #.


Gale Stokes, “The Social Origins of East European Politics,” Eastern European Politics and Societies 1, 1 (1987):  30-74, here 65.


d)  for an old work that has been reissued:  Try to find a way to include the original publication date somewhere.  The easiest method is to use brackets.


Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams.  Trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York:  Avon Books, 1965 [1900]), 175.



Frequently asked questions


Q:  Do I really need to include all this information every time I cite a book?      


A:  No!  You should give the full citation only the first time you cite the source in your paper.  After the first time, use a short citation, with just the author’s last name, a short version of the title, and the page number.  Here are some examples


Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, 203.

Stokes, “Social Origins,” 52.

Heinemann, “Hour of the Woman,” 37.



Q:  What should I do when I want to cite the same source twice in a row?


A:  Use Ibid. to indicate that the source is the same as in the last footnote, and give the page number:  Ibid., 39.



Q:  I’m not sure when I need to provide a citation.  Is it just when I want to quote something directly?


A:  No!  In general, whenever you take specific information or a specific argument from a source, you ought to provide a footnote.  This is a judgment call.  If, for example, you write that Tsar Nicholas II died in 1918, that sounds specific, but in fact every book on the topic would tell you exactly the same thing, so there is no need to provide your source.  If, on the other hand, you say that a recent DNA analysis has provided new details about his death, you should provide your source.  Of course, you should also footnote any direct quotations, but most students overuse quotations.  If you are working with a primary source, and want to give the flavor of that source or devote some attention to the language, by all means, quote from it.  If,  however, you are working with secondary sources (history books or articles), you should quote directly only if the author’s words are unusually vivid.  Otherwise, simply summarize the point and provide a footnote.  As always, make sure that you give the exact page number.