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?
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