Who’s killing the footnote?

Alexandra Horowitz blames e-books, but footnote-killing is a longstanding trend among non-virtual academic book publishers for at least twenty years.  Most university presses and tradey U-press lines use endnotes, period.  (And who other than university presses make such generous use of notes, anyway?  Nonfiction trade books usually offer the clumsy and much more paper-consumptive apparatus of citing sources by quoting the beginning of a sentence, followed by ellipses, and then listing the relevant sources.  Are tiny numbers on the page really all that distracting to the average reader?  Srsly?)   

My understanding was that the increase in paper costs nearly 20 years ago led most academic publishers to switch from footnotes (at the bottom of each page) to endnotes (at the back of the book.)  Somehow, I was informed, this saves paper.  I can remember the last time I read a book with footnotes–ironically, it was Anthony Grafton’s The Footnote:  A Curious History (1997), which I re-read with my graduate seminar a few weeks ago, and which for obvious reasons offers footnotes rather than endnotes.  (Horowitz’s exploration on the life and death of the footnote uses and cites Grafton generously, too.)  But I think when it was published 14 years ago, it was already exotic for having resisted a publisher’s insistence on endnotes.

My foremost concern about e-books–or perhaps more specifically with the Kindle, although I hope those of you in the know will inform me if this is true of other e-readers–is that it makes citations by students unnecessarily annoying.  My students who read their course books on Kindles don’t see page numers, so that when they cite their Kindle editions they give me a bull$hitte “location” that is meaningless and moreover useless to me, a non-Kindle (in fact, anti-Kindle) owner/reader, should I need to check the citation.

What are the rest of you historians and humanities types doing about student citations of e-books?  Would it kill the Kindle to offer the option of reading the book with page numbers included?  Does anyone remember the non-existant “trend” of citing journal articles online by paragraph number, rather than just pulling up a PDF and checking the page number from the print edition?  Who actually enjoys reading articles in HTML?  (I read and cite the PDF, and that’s what how vastly vast majority of books and articles I read now are citing journal articles, although I’m sure their authors are like me and mostly accessing them online.)  Can we hope this Kindle crappiness will fade away from disuse, or is that a bridge too far?  What do all of you think about these questions, both as writers and readers of scholarly notes?

48 thoughts on “Who’s killing the footnote?

  1. I hate to break it to you, but e-reader use is expanding. I have a Nook, and it does include page numbers, though the pagination isn’t the same as the codex version. I do not cite my e-books, but all the major citation languages have conventions for citing them, so your students should be using that and/or consulting the codex version of the text for their citations (which is what I do).

    And I actually like the way my Nook deals with endnotes. They appear in hypertext on the reader, and I simply touch the number to navigate to the appropriate note, and then touch another button to go back to my place in the text. It’s much faster than leafing through a paper text.

    I still get the vast majority of my books from the university library, but I will swear with my right hand on the MLA style guide that my e-reader has been a life-changing device. By my fourth year in grad school, my back was constantly in pain from carrying books and a laptop all over campus. That’s not a problem any more, especially since I can put all my pdf articles on my Nook.


  2. To correct Ladysquires, MLA has yet to come up with a reasonable solution for citing e-books (you do it as a “digital file,” and you include the location number if there aren’t page numbers, or whatever page numbers your reader has, both of which which are no good to anybody without the particular reader being cited).

    Frankly, for the purposes of English as a discipline, I don’t think the technology of e-readers is where we need it to be for them to work in terms of citation or in terms of what we need students to be able to do in class or as readers. So my course policies actively discourage e-reader use for course materials, and they indicate that if you are going to ignore that caution, you must cite any texts used in a paper or test according to a print version so that I can check your sources. When students complain that they “already bought the books” for their kindle/nook/ipad/whatever, I alert them to this awesome place that provides people with paper copies of books for free – also known as the library.

    I’m actually not against e-readers, and I love my kindle, and the fact that I can read stuff on my phone, or whatever. But you know what? Just because I like a piece of technology in my day-to-day life doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate to the *work* that I do, or the *work* that I need students to do. If the technology improves to do what I need it to do (which, honestly, I don’t foresee happening within the next 10 years), I’ll reevaluate.


  3. I’ve looked up citing electronic books in the Chicago Manual of Style a few months ago, and the best it could give me is a way to cite the book itself, and recommended citing to the names of sections or chapters to be more precise. But if your book doesn’t break its chapters into subsections, then chapters are the best you can do. One example they give is:

    1. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (New York: Penguin Classics, 2007), Kindle edition.



  4. I was an anti-e-book reader until I had to begin traveling all over the world for research. After lugging books through airports and train stations, I bought a Kindle, which has become a life- (and back!) saver. I believe the new Kindle includes page numbers, and even though I have an older version, I can highlight a text and find out what page its on. I highly doubt that location numbers will become an acceptable form of citation. One way or another, students need to include page numbers, even if that means a trip to the library! 🙂


  5. Oh, and to clarify: part of the reason the MLA rules for citation of ebooks are completely useless to me is that they want you to include the “chapter number and title” to give your reader a reference point. That’s grand, unless of course you teach books without traditional chapters. A location number would tell me precisely nothing, in that situation.


  6. Ashley — I haven’t seen this (and I certainly don’t dispute the advantages). Quick question to e-book readers (Kindle, Nook, IPad, whatever): Are the page numbers stable? That is, do they remain the same no matter what you do to the font size? If they do that, it seems like you could cite it just like a regular book.


  7. The Kindle was later than the Nook to include page numbers, but it’s supposed to be enabled for that now. These things must be publisher driven, though, as I’ve yet to see page numbers (I have a Kindle), and some footnotes/endnotes are hyperlinked and others are. And as I’ve written elsewhere (https://quodshe.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/saga-of-e-texts/), sometimes the book you think you’re getting isn’t the right book at all. So e-books are in their infancy and there are a lot of problems and issues for their use in academia.

    That said, ladysquires is right that their use is expanding, and I share her love of e-books in many ways, despite the problems of their infancy. (Though I find my Kindle most appropriate for linear prose — novels and non-academic non-fiction.)

    The solution she suggests — asking students to cite the codex version — is a good one, as you can apply it regardless of citation style. FWIW, MLA style now asks people to list whether they’re reading a print or web version of something (though I take issue of their word “web” as a stand-in for all electronic versions) and also includes a way to site unpaginated texts (which is simply to note that they’re unpaginated). But I tell *my* students to keep a wide audience in mind and tell them that if any given academic reader anywhere in the English speaking world can’t find their citation, they lose points. This takes care of unpaginated/proprietary e-texts as well inTRAnet URLS (they’re always giving me URLs from within our university’s system, so long before MLA got rid of URLs in citations, I told them to get rid of those, since they’re useless outside of Rust Belt U).

    Meanwhile, I vet available e-books for my courses. Some they can use, some they can’t, and I give them reasons why.


  8. I am not certain, Historiann, but I think endnotes are cheaper than footnotes not because of paper costs, but because of typesetting costs. Also, I am happy to report that my 2009 book used footnotes, not endnotes, at the request, I believe, of the press.

    Electronic texts are, indeed, in their infancy (note the same metaphor applied to printed books gave us the term “incunabula” from the Latin word for “cradle”). It’s hard to predict the future, but one suspects that the future of text is not linear at all, but two-dimensional (like comics), and (as such) the kinds of remediation going on now with e-readers may correspond to the proverbial deck-chair rearranging.


  9. I agree with some of all or most of the above. It would be weird to read this blog anywhere but on-screen but I just walked a half mile through the rain to get a paper copy of the New York Times. The electronic revolution has changed my scholarly life–in some ways enabled it to continue, but anything I really want to read and use I buy in paper or print out, because I have to have ten or more things “open” simultaneously, and can’t afford a “Bloomberg” solution (multi-screen workshop). Students will buy into whatever they have bought into, and that can’t be changed. The going-through-airports and chiropractic issues are undeniable. In the end, I’ll sign onto Dr. Crazy’s opinion/s, except to say that when students get to this awesome place called the library they’re going to get the new party line: that libraries are not “warehouses of books” anymore; that codex is just another stakeholder among stakeholders, whose interests are hard to justify as against expanding the coffee-shop, where students can “work in teams,” which they’re increasingly being required to do these days. (What happens when they remote-source the joe? If you can order a mochalatta by ten o’clock we should be able to have it here for you later that afternoon? That will be when the system really collapses). This comment has slid a little off-topic, as it’s more about e-versus-paper generally than about the citation and pagination issues raised by all that.


  10. I have to say that I’m a little surprised at all of the people who prefer the switch to e-books because of the physical weight of books. I have a car now, and two offices, but in grad school I remember walking loads of books back and forth across the Walnut Street bridge from Van Pelt Library to my Center City apartment about a mile down the road. Maybe some of you grad students don’t have the privilege of a library carrel in which you can check out and store books? That was a handy way to keep books accessible without lugging them around all day long.

    I’m surprised to hear that Dr. Crazy and I are pretty much in agreement on this score, since I know how much she loves her Kindle (or whatever proprietary e-reader she has.) I will in the future inform students on my syllabus that they’ll need to find a codex version of the book to cite. But it strikes me as a much more sensible thing (not to mention less of a pain in the a$$ for all of us) for Kindle and other e-readers to develop a means of showing us the damned codex page numbers. Sheesh. Seems much easier than a mysterious (and useless) “location number.”

    Love Tom’s notation of “incunabula.” Awesome!!! (Not meant ironically, just an appreciation for the fascinating connections still to be found in the Republic of Letters.) But, what typesetting costs are there these days? I thought software did all of the work for us. (Please correct my impression if this is untrue.)


  11. I’ve got a Sony ebook, and I am always surprised at the page number issue, since Sony has always provided page numbers. In the earlier versions, the page number wasn’t stable and changed if the reader changed the font size. However, for newer models (in the last three years or so), page numbers are stable. In some ways, I think the issue of citation is similar to when students first began to use online materials before there were accepted standards for citation. Although I must admit that I have yet to assign anything that has an epub version, aside from articles – but that is more a matter of field than it is of preference.

    And my publisher, who publishes two very important series in my field, uses footnotes still. In fact, most of the books I read in my field still have footnotes – it would be interesting to compare this across fields.


  12. Part of what you’re up against is that e-readers were designed to capture the bestseller market. It wasn’t, and isn’t I think, any part of Amazon’s-B&N’s-Sony’s-Apple’s strategy to provide a useful platform for people trying to publish actual information. There’s a choice of about six fonts on the Kindle, no good way to format blockquotes or include illustrations, or even quote poetry. (The non-Kindle epub format can do a lot more.) Those companies tend to lose focus when the issue is not profit.

    The other problem, since it’s all about profit, is that the companies have no interest in the open interoperability that is an essential part of academic work. The whole, “Yes, you can find your place, but only on our device” nonsense.

    I don’t have a solution. I’m just venting. I’ve published and read ebooks and seen the pitfalls from both ends. Until we have some way to force adherence to open standards that work for everyone on all these megacorps, it’s going to get worse.


  13. You know I’m with you, Historiann.

    The thing is though, e-texts really do have the potential to cut textbook costs, which would be a good thing. I think the difference between our discipline and a lot of the others is that most of our textbooks (particularly since we don’t use survey textbooks) don’t cost very much in codex format and they aren’t all that heavy to lug around. I know you can take notes on your Kindle texts, but how much simpler is it just to write in the margins?

    I’m starting to think the only good excuse for buying your history books for Kindle is that you don’t intend to read them anyways.


  14. I love footnotes. I love the German scholarly tradition of footnotes that take up the whole bottom half of every page in a monograph or journal article. The kind of footnotes where the debates happen and you can see senior scholars pummeling each others work. I love the footnotes where you see an author cite an obscure fond that you had never heard of in an archive you thought you knew well. I love the vistas that open up in the footnotes. I feel like a giant striding towards an ever receding horizon of scholarship. The World opens at your feet in a footnote.


  15. I don’t have an e-book reader of any sort, and I’d rather have footnotes than endnotes but acknowledge that may be a lost cause. It’s not clear to me why, however, e-readers can’t have stable page numbers (something like Project Muse’s insertion of “end p. x” in their html articles (which can be easier to read, I don’t mind those). Setting aside notes, don’t readers of e-books ever want to tell someone else about something a text and need to be able to say “it starts on page 27”? Or maybe I’m too optimistic about reading cultures.


  16. I just bought my first book of fiction for my iPad, and it gives you weird page numbers. As far as I can tell, the page number depends not just on the size of the font, but also on what font I’m using. It even changes the page numbers in the table of contents (which is kinda cool technologically).

    I love reading on my iPad, much to my surprise. Until today, I only read academic PDFs through a PDF reader, which it does really, really well. I definitely read more, than I used to, and I’m doing a much better job of rereading my assigned class readings. The notes are easy to keep track of, and allegedly I can export them only. Typing blows unless you buy the wireless keyboard, but I have one anyway.

    So, from that prospective, I no longer have to print PDFs out or read from a laptop (ugh). I can underline from whatever position I’m comfortable in. I don’t care too much about weight, but I am forgetful. Now I have all the non-book information I need on one device. There are also a fair number of books that I have PDFs of. Shhhh.

    It also is nice for class, because it projects documents better than my laptop.


  17. As a longtime senior editor at a major American university press, I can tell you that historians are absolutely notorious among editors for insisting on footnotes — and sometimes even on a riotous combination of footnotes and endnotes — whereas their colleagues in other academic disciplines have long since settled down and accepted the use of endnotes.

    Historiann correctly cites the higher costs associated with footnotes, and Tom correctly assigns those costs to typesetting (or, more accurately, to electronic page layout).

    But even before paying for electronic page layout, the cash-strapped university press has to pay for a book designer’s time (the person laying out the pages does so according to the designer’s detailed instructions). In my experience, historians tend to write numerous long and detailed notes. Certainly many such notes are necessary, but as footnotes they create an unsightly page, a problem that no level of book-design skills can truly overcome, although the best book designers do wage a heroic, protracted (and thus expensive), ultimately futile battle trying to do just that.

    And let’s not forget what can happen in page proofs. If the author decides at this late stage (and many do) to alter the text in such a way as to change a page break, then every subsequent page within the particular chapter may be affected along with its swarm of footnotes, and every subsequent footnote, along with its associated chapter text, may need to be redesignated with a new symbol. The not uncommon result is a second set of layout charges, not to mention a delay in the book’s schedule, sometimes by as long as a whole season, since the press’s production staff is also handling dozens of other books at any one time. This string of problems never arises with endnotes: even a changed page break doesn’t affect the numbering sequence of the notes.

    In short, for reasons I do not understand,* historians make a fetish of the footnote even though endnotes are superior in every way but one (the reader’s immediate access to the note).

    I’m glad that Historiann brought this subject up, and I’m happy to take this opportunity to request that you historians kindly interrogate your attachment to the footnote and please, please just get over it. You’ll be doing yourselves a favor, too. We editors, ever a tactful bunch, have a euphemistic term of art that covers many a footnote-fetishist historian: “high-maintenance author.” Trust me, no author wants his or her name associated with that label in any publishing house.**

    * Several historians have told me that their books would not be taken seriously by other historians if the books used endnotes rather than footnotes. I take this as confirmation of what I am calling a footnote fetish. One of the hoariest pieces of writing advice is “Murder your darlings.” Let’s start with the footnote. (By the way, the present footnote would have made a perfectly fine endnote.)

    ** While the diva Kathleen Battle and Wynton Marsalis were recording their joint CD, titled “Baroque Duet,” Sony’s in-house staff privately referred to the project by a different title: “Bitch with Trumpets.” (This, too, would have made a fine endnote.)


  18. I have longer thoughts that I’ll make once I’m not buried under a pile of exams to be graded but in response to Jan:

    This probably isn’t something I’d push too vigorously when I get to the book publishing page of my life, in part b/c I think the switch to endnotes has already happened, but the one way in which footnotes are superior that you note (“immediate access to the note”) isn’t as minor as you may think. Quick polling of my students over the past several weeks has shown that they’ll look at footnotes if they’re on the page, and they won’t look at them if they aren’t. I certainly see how this could all be a pain, and I think it’s completely reasonable for presses to demand that authors cut down on the discursive footnotes if they’re going to be on the same page as the text, but I think they’re more central than your position states.

    Oh, and btw, MLA folks get to tell us where they’re getting their information from, why do historians have to hunt around in sometimes poorly designed notes pages?


  19. Jan: “endnotes are superior in every way but one (the reader’s immediate access to the note)”

    And who is the book actually for? The publisher? The editor? Or that poor blighter relegated to parentheses?


    (Harrumph, harrumph, harrumph. Not to say, “Bah! Humbug!)


  20. As an academic reader, it is a massive pain in my butt to be constantly flipping to the back of the book to check the endnotes. And as a historian reading a book in my field I need to do that basically all the time, so that I can keep ongoing tabs on how to evaluate the claims being made.

    So no, it’s not just a fetish. But thanks for assuming you know the ins and outs of my profession based on a few offhand comments!


  21. Jan, thanks for commenting and sharing your perspective. I really appreciate it.

    We may not like hearing it from Jan, but from what I understand, academic presses are trying to stay alive economically as their funding from the unis that (allegedly) support them dries up. They are non-profit operations who employ a lot of good, smart people, and at least this blog’s editorial line is that we try to *support* non-profit entities that employ good, smart people. They’re not making any dough for anyone. Rather, they’re performing a vital service in publishing scholarship.

    Footnotes v. endnotes are not the hill I want to die on. I was informed by my publisher that endnotes are the house style, but I liked my editor and publisher and thought that what they offered me (keen book design, a quality series, really responsive editor & production staff, etc.) were more important than footnotes.

    As thefrogprincess said, most of us are happy just to see our work in print (yes, in CODEX. That’s a hill I’m quite willing to die on!) and most of us need the imprimatur of a scholarly publisher that will put our books through peer review.

    I’ll just add that Jan was giving us her point of view as a press insider. I’m perfectly willing to believe that there are a lot of pain in the a$$ historians who don’t get their copy edits done or page proofs done accurately & on time, which leads to the extra costs and delays ze cites. I regret it whenever anyone in my profession acts badly and/or in bad faith. After all, wasting a uni press’s time and money just makes it more difficult for historians in the immediate and/or distant future to get their work published.


  22. I know I’m in a minority here among historians, but I prefer endnotes. I try to read pretty widely in fields beyond my own, and I find it easier to get the gist of the argument if I am not distracted by footnotes. (The reason I’m distracted, of course, is that they’re fascinating, for the reasons Matt mentions. Then, of course, when I do read things in fields close enough to my own that I need the nitty-gritty, I have to flip to the back of the book, but that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make, as long as the notes have proper running heads so you can quickly find the appropriate section. It drives me nuts when there are no running heads in the notes or the running heads only have the chapter numbers. I guess we all have our pet peeves.


  23. Oh yes, I’m glad for Jan’s information, especially since it’s becoming clearer and clearer that endnotes are where it’s at. I just wanted to question that one thing: i.e. the idea that endnotes are vastly superior except for the reader, who is kinda the most crucial person here. In other words, I think there are good reasons for footnotes that don’t fall into Jan’s fetish category. (Which is, indeed, highly ridiculous.)


  24. “Footnotes v. endnotes are not the hill I want to die on…” Totally agreed with this formulation. But in the larger frame of the question, it’s interesting how unquestioningly universities purport to just *know* that things like nanotech centers, translational medicine research pavilions, and other hype-able apparati are inherently (and vastly) more important to the human condition than old tired “cost centers” like libraries and presses. University presses are trying to survive in value contexts where the highest level institutional officers are tirelessly on standby to cut ribbons on mile-long devices to crash zenons into phootons to find out where the universe began and to blabber on endlessly about that in the glossy sheets they send out monthly to alumni. But ask a reference librarian why they can’t get a $1000 atlas and the pained answer always comes down to budgetary inelasticities.


  25. I love my Kindle. I’ve got nerve damage in my left hand and arm. The days of hauling folio-sized codices around for fun and grad school are long gone for me.

    Kindles began to support pagination as of early 2011. Not every book sold on the platform includes pagination, mind you, but publishers can make this happen. Pagination is tied to a particular ISBN so this gives your ebook a print ‘cousin’ of sorts.

    Until pagination is widely rolled out, it’s a good idea to check and see if pagination shows up for the ebook you’re considering adopting as a course text. (Kindle allows you to download sample chapter to your device or computer, free of charge.) That’s time-consuming at this point (note to university press & text/reference publishers: make this metadata widely available). But tell students you won’t accept “location” as a page number equivalent and make them work a bit. Heck, if there’s even a snippet view on Google Books, they could cross-reference from the two sites to figure out the page number of the print edition.

    I also like the ease of clicking on a hyperlinked note in the e-text, reading the reference and then returning the text via the back button. It’s easier to do that with an ereader than with an unwieldy print volume!

    I can highight passages and make notes on the same in my Kindle. For instance, my grad students are reading Leslie Howsam’s “Old Books and New Histories” – I bought a copy for 9.99 on my Kindle and I’ve made 74 highlights with 12 notes on that text so far. All of those passages and comments are available on my computer as well as my ereader, thanks to the close integration. I can keep them private or share them publicly. So not only do I have a convenient copy of the text always in my purse, but my notes are available in multiple locations.


  26. While I appreciate Jan’s point of view as a publishing insider, I have to point out that I, and most of the other historians I know who have published in the last 10 years or so, had to submit camera-ready copy of the manuscript that was NOT given to someone else for page design (or even copy editing) – something which mitigates her point that page design and re-design costs are part of what has led publisher to use endnotes. My publisher is a very well-known British one, and while there were many aspects of publishing my book that drove me crazy, if they had tried to make me shift to endnotes in the name of economy, I think it might have been a hill I’d be willing to die on 🙂


  27. Not the hill I want to die on…I love that!

    I sense in Jan’s comment an entirely understandable impatience with some of the more precious divas of our profession. I can only imagine how infuriating they are to deal with. Nevertheless, I have to agree with those who feel that the interaction of text and footnote is an integral part of historical writing.

    It’s interesting that UK academic presses have, by and large, kept the footnote. Which i applaud. However, it should be noted that as Jan points out, this makes any changes at proof stage nigh on impossible (although I am sure that doesn’t stop some of my high maintenance colleagues trying). It is also worth mentioning that most of our lovingly footnoted books retail for £60 or so. I don’t know whether there is a connection – perhaps it’s just a different way of dealing with the chill economic winds.


  28. Yeah, I was just going to pipe in that I have noticed that some of the books I have reviewed recently from Cambridge UP, Edinburgh UP and Boydell and Brewer all had footnotes, not endnotes. And, it does make a difference for the historical reader, as we do actually read the footnotes- they ain’t just proving our working and so can be hidden away – but part of what historians are engaging with.

    I published with a UK university press, but in a series that used endnotes, not footnotes, so I had no choice on this. But, they were still quite sniffy about changes at the proof stage. I was told any changes to the text should not change the pagination, and encouraged me if swapping words to replace them with the same amount of letters!


  29. I was given a choice of footnotes or endnotes. They pushed endnotes but I picked footnotes. I wouldn’t have died on that hill, either, although I feel very strongly about preserving footnotes. As was said upthread, the interaction of note and text is a crucial part of the process for me. Having to flip back and forth constantly is very disruptive. Readers of scholarly works are not just passive consumers of information; we’re participating in a conversation, and the notes are integral to that conversation.


  30. I love footnotes, and reading them as a parallel text. The moment I felt I was really a scholar was when I was writing my dissertation, and wrote a footnote that corrected a classic 18th century county history. But I’ve resigned myself to endnotes in most modern publications.

    I can live with endnotes, AS LONG AS there are the running heads Ruth mentioned which tell you what pages they reference. I become murderous when a book has notes to “Chapter 2”. Do I remember which chapter number I’m in? Rarely! I am still puzzled by Jan’s comments: I get that footnotes were easier when there was still manual typesetting, but when everything is computerized, I don’t get why it’s any more expensive to have footnotes. Unless you use less paper because you have to have an extra space?

    Our library (the library of the future, it bills itself) has bought gazillions of ebooks – net library, ebrary, etc. Those are essentially photographs of the pages, so you can get the page. And they work well when I’m panicked writing a lecture the night before I give it, or when I’m doing my own footnotes. But you can’t yet read them on your IPAD or Kindle (well, you could read them on your iPad browser) and reading a long book when you really want to READ it (not skim or just raid it) on a computer screen is the pits. Then ILL is the cure.

    So I am convinced that ebook technology is not ready for prime time, or at least scholarly time. But it’s handy, and it does allow me to get amazing amounts of work done sitting at home….


  31. This has all been so helpful. I do not have any kind of e-reader, but am considering one for the reasons and purposes mentioned up-thread: fiction and non-academic non-fiction reading. I just tell my students that all of their footnotes (I do insist on those–for one thing, it’s easier for me to grade) must refer to the pagination of the codex. I suspect, however, that in another ten years e-readers and publishers will have solved this pesky pagination problem, and we’ll all be using e-readers and footnotes will go directly to the reader’s brain, using a complicated bionic interface.


  32. H’Ann – part of my feeling on this is my own way of interacting with a text, which is of course informed by the technology that I learned to read on. Basically, aside from citation issues, I think e-readers don’t actually allow for us to have a spacial relationship to the text, which for literary scholarship is (for me) problematic (i.e., it does actually matter what things look like on the page, and oftentimes its what it looks like on the page that tells me where a passage is… it’s the difference between being a reader who recalls a precise “search phrase” and being a reader who remembers “hey, wasn’t there a sentence about a third of the way down on the page, about 50 pages in, that relates to this other passage a hundred pages later, but I don’t recall specific words in that passage….”) I suppose one of the things that I wonder is whether, if I’d learned to read on e-reader technology, if I would read more for “search terms” and less for spatial relationships within a narrative, if that makes sense. It may be the case that what’s at stake here is less which is the “preferable” format and which is the format that works with my brain, as it developed reading books in printed format. That said, going along with this, I don’t think that the note-taking capability on *any* e-reading device – no, not even the iPad! – matches the note-taking capability of writing marginalia in a physical book. I might be more of a fan of the e-reader technology for work if I could take notes the way that I need to take notes within that technology.

    In terms of citation, the issue isn’t, really, as I’ve thought about it, whether there is pagination or not. If the pagination exists only within a particular e-reader’s format (whether Sony, or Kindle, or Nook, or whatever), and if one can’t access that “edition” without that particular e-reader, the problem for academics and for research is accessibility. If my student cites a Wordsworth Classics edition of a book, even though the one that I own is a Penguin edition in class, I can easily get my hands on a copy of a Wordsworth Classics edition, without actually buying that edition for myself, if necessary, in order to check a citation. In contrast, if a student cites the pagination from a Sony reader and I don’t have that reader, my options are either not to check the citation, or to go out and by a Sony reader, if its pagination doesn’t line up with a codex version that’s out in the world. Page numbers aren’t actually the point: the point is actually the identifiability of the citation, if that makes sense.

    This isn’t an issue with journal articles, as the databases do provide uniform citation information (page numbers) regardless of format (PDF or HTML). In contrast, the e-reader technology relies on proprietary formats, which don’t translate across various e-reader formats (Nook vs. Kindle vs. Sony, etc.), and which don’t have a connection to a codex edition. In other words, the only reason it helps that Kindle supports page numbers is if everybody is reading on a Kindle. What academics need, in order for this technology to work for us, is for all e-readers to have editions with the same pagination, and ideally, pagination that correlates to a print edition.

    It’s also worth noting: I don’t typically allow students to cite from a different *codex* edition of a book than the one that I ordered for the class. The point here is that we all need to be working from the *same* text – because different texts have different errors, different notes, different whatever. The language – down to the last typo – *matters* in terms of literary interpretation. And further: it’s common in my field to expect people to cite from the “authoritative” edition of a novel in publication – so, for example, if one is writing on Joyce’s Ulysses, one can only get permission from the Joyce estate to cite from the novel if one uses the Random House edition – not the Gabler, even though the Gabler edition is the one that people most frequently use for teaching. So perhaps my comfort with telling students that the Kindle is a no-go has something to do with the fact that in my discipline, we’re very particular about which *edition* of a particular book is appropriate – let alone which format. I’m not sure that these things matter in the same way with critical sources, but I do think that there is an emphasis, at least in my discipline, on the idea that one must attend to the integrity of a particular published text – that not just any edition will do. Obviously this sort of specificity is not demanded of undergraduates, nor would I think it appropriate if it were, but I think the refusal of sources that can’t be checked fits on a continuum with this practice.


  33. er, spatial. And also: I do still love my Kindle. It’s amazing not only for pleasure-reading, but also to have a library of stuff I work on handy even thought it’s not what I would cite from. (So, for example, the searchability is great in addition to my codex version, and also it’s great to be able to double-check something if I don’t have the physical book handy.) I’m just saying that for now it’s a supplement for me – not the main event.


  34. @Dr Crazy, I think that ‘spatial’ issues are also true for historical sources, that we can increasingly access scanned and online. There is quite a lot of historical work around the signficance of the edition, the price and format (quarto, folio, chapbook) to the level of authority that a text possesses and so its influence on the reader and society more broadly. All these things are lost with an e-text, where the authority in many ways becomes equal for all texts in problematic ways (which I guess we can also see in the problems with our students’ inability to distinguish between wikipedia and an e-monograph in terms of authority).


  35. I’m with Susan: I much prefer footnotes, but I can live with endnotes *so long as they have a header that tracks to the page number.* Setting aside poor memory of what chapter I’m reading, it’s also annoying to have to find the start of the endnotes for chapter 4 and then look got note 34. I can much more easily easily find chapter 4, n. 34 when I know it’s on page 202 and the endnotes section says, on p. 314, “notes to pp. 200-203.” Simple. If all UPs that insist on endnotes would use headers in their endnotes, I’d be much more sold on endnotes.


  36. Dr. Crazy and Feminist Avatar–I completely get what you’re both saying about wanting a spatial orientation in the text. I think that’s fundamental to my suspicion that they’d ever be useful to me.

    Every book I’ve consulted recently–at least in my memory, which admittedly is pretty sketchy–has endnotes with running headers. So, I find them pretty easy to use; I agree that putting the page range of notes at the top of the page makes them a LOT easier to use.


  37. To be clear – I’m not disputing the real costs that footnotes impose on the publishing process. I’ve only published an edited volume so far, but my co-editor and I chose to publish that in a series that does endnotes rather than footnotes. Of the places that seemed suitable for this book, that was the one place that would publish in paperback immediately, and we decided that price accessibility was more important than footnotes. However, the suggestion that the desire to have academic work published in the form most useful to its target audience is just a frivolous whim rankled. A lot. I’m currently circulating a proposal for my first single-author book. I’ve worked on this project for six years already, and will probably spend several more years of consistent work on it. This is par for the course for historians and, I assume, authors in many other fields. My stake in having it published in the most useful possible format is not a fetish.


  38. I haven’t used any ereader technology (though I know fellow grad students who swear by them for pdfs). By why don’t they use the same technolgy that MS word does for footnotes, in which you just put your mouse over the little “1” and the note pops up? I’ve found it enormously useful when, for example, proofreading a friend’s dissertation chapter that I don’t have to scroll down to double-check the footnote (though it would be nicer if MS Word’s pop-up footnote bubbles showed the italicization).


  39. I love my Kindle too, but one issue — I think — is that books that are published directly to e-book editions can standardize page #’s whereas older codex versions that are converted to e-book can’t (sorry: somebody may have already said this. I’m grading and checking in to Historiann for a little intelligent conversation, but reading fast.)

    I rarely buy books I am using for work on Kindle — only do it when I need it, like, NOW — or am testing it out for future classroom use and am too lazy to go to the library (which relies almost entirely on student labor apparantly untrained in the use of the alphabet, so it is unlikely I would find it anyway.) But if I am citing & need a page # what I do is this: go to Amazon, click on “Look inside this book” and then search the phrase.


  40. Legal scholars are much better off. Law reviews still use footnotes, not endnotes, and so do case publishers. Westlaw and Lexis long ago solved the problem of online pagination by inserting into the online text the page numbers from print official and unofficial case reporters. And the footnotes in online texts are hyperlinked. We all rue the expense of Westlaw and Lexis, but damn, they have good software engineers.


  41. Coming late to this one, too…ran across this item today on HuffPo that might be of interest to anyone curious about errors they see in many e-reader editions.

    A lot of what you see now is an artifact of using many different typesetting programs–most of them incompatible with each other–over a period of the past 35 years. The programs were optimized for print presentation; other uses hadn’t been imagined yet. And books are comparatively hard: most are one-offs, meaning the efficiencies available for content with same look and functionality (such as journal articles) haven’t been available.

    This is changing. Standards are emerging. Publishers are developing workflows that assume online publishing will be an eventuality. E-reader device programming will become more sophisticated as better data becomes available. It has taken about 15 years for development of these capabilities in journals; five years–or less–is reasonable for books.

    Stay tuned. There’s some really cool stuff right around the corner.


  42. Hi, I don’t know if anyone is still reading this discussion, but I’ve been annoyed for a while and no one I’ve talked to understands what I’m talking about. This is the place to say what bugs me!

    I’m not an “academic” or a “scholar.”. I’m just a reasonably intelligent, decently educated person who loves to read and learn new things in all kinds of subjects. I’m more interested in some than others. Footnotes are awesome! If I understand the terminology correctly, an endnote is just a footnote that is at the end of the chapter or book, but still has a number. I actually prefer those, although bottom of the page is OK too.
    What I don’t understand is what possible good it does to have a note at the end that just references part of a sentence and a page number. That is so irritating! A tiny little number as I’m reading tells me there is more to be known about this particular detail, if I choose to pursue it. I can ignore it or not. But if I read the whole chapter, and THEN go to the notes (or even if I look at the notes first), how am I supposed to remember those little bits of sentences?! If I had known when I was reading the sentence there was more, I could have made a better choice about whether or not to read the note.

    It is not such a bother if it is “only” citations, since I am just reading for my own enjoyment, but sometimes there are notes that could lead to whole new ways of thinking about the subject, more books to read, more to learn! Why do they have to make it so complicated when there’s such an easy solution? Tiny little numbers.

    Also, in response to some of the comments given here, it doesn’t seem like it would really cost a publisher so much to rearrange numbers and references to pages as changes are made. That’s the sort of thing computers are good at, isn’t it?

    Thanks for reading this! I feel better for having vented. 🙂


  43. Thanks for your comments, Shannon. I say RIGHT ON! Endnotes are better than nothing, and nothing is what those weak citations you describe are worth.

    I’m so glad you see the importance and usefulness of footnotes & endnotes!


  44. Thank you for this — I was indeed wondering why footnotes are relegated to the end of books (so often) when many readers logically prefer to have notes as FOOTnotes. Reader comments above regarding footnotes and e-reading platforms such as Kindle also seems to confirm the need for a return to FOOTnotes. I recently published an e-text (Creative Commons) and made the decision to format the text the way I prefer to read — with footnotes at the bottom of each page. Looks uglier but academic texts are first and foremost scholarly tools and should be designed as such — for their utility.

    Dr. Strangelove
    University of Ottawa
    PS — the etext is here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B8-LXoAP8Kn0YW9pU2YzZURkS0U


  45. I find the publishing trend of quoting the first part of the sentence, then ellipses, and then the source to be really irritating. They should put in footnotes or end notes. Reading a history book without them is like reading a code.

    Liked by 1 person

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