A citation is the part of your paper that tells your reader where your source
information came from. This is one of the most important elements to your
paper. In order to evaluate your argument, your reader must be able to consult
the same sources you used. Proper citing is crucial to making a credible
and persuasive argument, and to conforming to professional standards of
Use the note format. Citations in history papers can take
the form of footnotes or endnotes. History papers should not use the parenthetic
citation style common to literature and social science papers. These do
not perform the other function of footnotes and endnotes, which is to provide
space to clarify your use of complex data or arguments, expand on points
you believe do not merit lengthy consideration in the body of your text,
and to directly address the arguments of other historians.
How footnotes work. Each time you quote a work by another
author, or use the ideas of another author, you should indicate the source
with a footnote. A footnote is indicated in the text of your paper by a
small arabic numeral written in superscript. Each new footnote gets a new
number (increment by one); do not repeat a footnote number you've already
used, even if the earlier reference is to the same work. The number refers
to a note number at the bottom of the page (or following the text of the
paper, if you are using endnotes). This note contains the citation information
for the materials you are referencing. For examples of footnotes in action,
consult Rampolla ("Quoting and Documenting Sources").
What must be cited? You must acknowledge the sources of
quotations, paraphrases, arguments, and specific references you may use.
You need not cite sources to what most would generally consider common knowledge,
like the fact that Lincoln won the Presidential election of 1860. But you
must cite your source for any claim that appears to contradict common knowledge,
like that Lincoln won the southern states in that election (since he wasn't
even on the ballot in most southern states, this claim is controversial
and must be supported). And you must cite matters of interpretation, such
as an author's ideas in why Lincoln appealed to so many voters.
If you are in doubt about citing "common knowledge" information, err on
the side of citing; even unintended failure to cite sources constitutes
Should I use footnotes or endnotes? Either of these is
fine. Most history books are now produced using endnotes, which are commonly
thought to provide cleaner looking pages. Most history professors, however,
prefer footnotes, so they can quickly check sources. Especially if you have
a computer word-processor, which makes the task easy, you should try to
What should I cite?
The easiest and most important rule to remember is: when in doubt, it is
better to cite a source than to not cite a source. In avoiding plagiarism,
it is always wiser to choose more rather than less information.
In a research paper for history, you generally need not cite common knowledge.
Common knowledge may be considered any information readily available in
any encyclopedia. Common knowledge may be comprised of basic historical
facts, such as dates of events and place names. For example, everyone knows
that the Battle of Gettysburg occurred from July 1-3, 1863, in Gettysburg,
Pennsylvania. No need to include the source of this basic information.
Arcane or debated facts of the past, however, need to be cited. These are
not readily accessible facts, agreed upon by all. No one knows when exactly
Jesus Christ lived, so if you include set dates for his birth and death,
you need to cite the author who claims to know these things.
As this suggests, you must cite all information that constitutes another
author's interpretations or arguments. Remember, the point of citation is
to acknowledge the sources of ideas that are not your own, and to provide
a path back through your research so other scholars can check your work.
If you do not include citations, your reader cannot know where your ideas
came from, and cannot check controversial statements you might make.
Matters of historical interpretation are particularly important to cite.
Let's consider the Gettysburg example again. The date and place of the battle
are common knowledge no one would think to dispute. But what about the argument
that the Confederacy lost the battle primarily because General Longstreet
failed to flank the Union forces on the left? Or that Confederate cavalry
general J.E.B. Stuart was the primary cause of defeat because he failed
to stay close to the Confederate army? Or that Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence
Chamberlain saved the Union by protecting the Union's left flank at Little
Round Top? All such claims are debatable points of interpretation. They
are not facts of the past, but arguments. If you incorporate such claims
by other authors in your paper, you must cite your sources.
How much to cite?
Remember to include a source citation every time you use the ideas or words
of another author, either directly (through quotation) or indirectly (through
paraphrase). The only exception is common factual knowledge of the variety
found in encyclopedia.
Some papers, particularly those that require less argumentation and analysis
on your part, are drawn almost wholly from other sources. In such instances,
you might find yourself citing a source for virtually every sentence. Sometimes,
it might be the same source. In these cases, it is acceptable to include
one footnote for the entire paragraph. Make sure, however, that every page
of the source used is referenced in the footnote. You may not do this if
your information comes from several sources, or if the paragraph is interrupted
by a quotation.
Before putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard): Make
sure you study your style manuals so you will avoid these common pitfalls
- misplacing footnote numbers and misusing punctuation marks in sentences
- overusing brackets within quotations to clarify meanings (avoid at
- errors in differences between first citations, subsequent citations,
and repeat citations
Guides for citing non-electronic sources:
• Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Manual to Writing in History,
• Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and
Dissertations, 6th ed.
• Research and Documentation Online (online guide from Bedford/St. Martin's
Guides for citing standard electronic sources
• A Brief Citation Guide for Internet Sources in History and the Humanities
• Online! from Bedford's/St. Martin's Press <http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/online/index.html>
Citing Electronic Sources (from the Library of Congress) <http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/resources/cite/index.html>
Online styles manuals with examples of Turabian format abound. Their quality
can vary (be particularly watchful for those that do not include samples
of Chicago-style citation). Here are a few reliable ones:
Consult also the library's list of style manuals at <http://library.bowdoin.edu/eref/write.shtml>
You may be using online resources, such as the CIS Masterfile, to find
some of your documents. But you will be looking at them on paper. You
need not cite on-line finding aids such as Lexis-Nexis or CIS Masterfile.