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Humanist Archives: April 5, 2020, 9:13 a.m. Humanist 33.731 - checking citations

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 731.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

        Date: 2020-04-04 07:37:11+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: citations

I began the research for my doctoral dissertation well trained, taught
always to check references. During that time, however, I first
discovered how undependable a reference could be. In addition to errors 
from sloppiness I discovered the tell-tale phenomenon of citations that 
lead to others earlier that lead to others still earlier, in a long tail 
that eventually terminates in pure invention. Since then I've made it a
practice to hunt down the original source and seldom gone unrewarded,
not just by errors discovered but also by contexts as valuable, sometimes 
more so, than what an originating quotation or reference gave me. 
Doing such tracing is costly in time and effort, but nowadays can almost 
always be done without budging from one's desk (which, given the need for 
isolation at this moment stretching out into an indefinite future, is a 
very good thing).

On the other hand, I've learned from my medievalist partner how the words 
of authorities were used in the early Middle Ages in glosses to important 
texts. So I am already inclined to wonder about the drive to exactitude 
in our bibliographic habits, even before I reflect on the influence of 
online resources. Some rethinking of the methods we advocate, perhaps?

Long ago, in the one MA course I can still remember, a professor to
whom I will always be grateful taught all of us beginners how to use a
library, how to take notes (before photocopy machines), in short how to
do research. Does anyone now teach beginning scholars these skills and 
techniques digitally translated or entirely new?

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/),
Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist (www.dhhumanist.org)

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