I have been doing some reading in preparation for going back to uni and I have come across one of my pet hates in book. That of no references and bibliographies. As a historian my first port of call is to look at the references and bibliography to look at the reverence of the sources that have been cited in the work. What is the point of not citing your references? It just raises question marks over the methodology being utilised and whether or not what is being written can be trusted.

Is this something non-academic publishers are pursuing? This was a key criticism of Vincent Orange’s biography of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Slessor published by Grub Street. However, in his more recent biography of Air Chief Marshal Dowding this was rectified so maybe they are listening. It is annoying though as someone seeking out potential resources for my own research the ability to see what is being used elsewhere and to decide whether or not they have any value is very important and should not be overlooked.

I was always told as an undergrad that a good historian does not read the book first but looks at the references and bibliography.  This also raises the question of the most appropriate referencing system used in historical work. No in wider academia there seems to be a significant shift to the use of the Harvard system of referencing, however, in History we seem to have stuck with footnotes. Why is this? I think it is because of the varied nature of our sources, both primary and secondary. These sources on occasion require explanation, something that the Harvard system does not allow. We can often use a footnote to further explain a point or to make the reader, especially important in a thesis, aware that you recognise another aspect of a debate that is not the primary focus of the debate in question.


3 thoughts on “Pet Hate

  1. Just last week I obtained a book on the Imperial German Navy’s invasion of the Baltic islands during the Great War. It has zero citations and an unbelievably short bibliography. Now, a book on the very same topic has citations and an extensive bibliography. Ugh!

  2. What makes it worse is that the book I have been re-reading is the only biography out there on Leigh-Mallory. The author cites many sources but no indication of where they are from. Most importantly he uses a diary that L-M is supposed to have kept during the Normandy operation but no indication of where it is from. I know it is not in his papers at the RAF museum as I have the catalogue for that. It means an email to the author. Luckily he is easy to find as he is an MEP here in the UK. However, it might not always be so easy.

  3. Yeah, it is a shame that that is the on work on Leigh-Mallory, at least in my case there are a few books on Operation Albion. I hope he responds to your email!

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