Citing in Popular Publishing
Recently, while at a friend’s house I picked up a local history book that was sitting on their coffee table. The book focused on the history of Espanola Ontario that was written by a local history enthusiast. In the introduction of the book, the author stated that he had not made an effort to record any sources; however if readers were curious they could contact him and he might be able to point them to where his information came from. Instantly, the academic historian in me cringed and I began to lament the state of local history writing.
However, upon later reflection I began to think about the larger question of citations in popular publishing, local history works, and public history writing. Footnotes or endnotes are standard practice in academic writing. But, they are rarely used in more popular publishing. In my mind good public history writing should find a way to cite information without being intrusive.
Digitally published information can include hyperlinks as a means of providing supplemental and source information without the formality of a footnote. Print publishing is faced with a slightly more arduous task of integrating sources into the flow of writing. Despite the many intrusive methods of citing information, good writers can seamlessly note where material derived from within the context of their writing. I think it is crucial that academic historians who desire to be accessible to a popular audience consider how to maintain historical credibility while appealing to the reading sensibilities of the public at large.
Public history works which immediately come to mind as having successfully integrated source material and popular writing include: Beautiful Barrie: The and its people, No Place to Run: The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the First World War (includes a well organized section of endnotes), and the majority of the articles printed in Canada’s History Magazine.
What works do you consider successful balances of academic and popular history writing?