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The Footnote: A Curious History by Anthony Grafton Review by: George N.

Heller The Bulletin of Historical Research in Music Education, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Jan., 1999), pp. 143-146 Published by: Ithaca College Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40214992 . Accessed: 07/11/2013 09:46
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BOOK REVIEWS

Anthony Grafton. The Footnote: A Curious History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997. xi + 235 pp. Index. Hard cover, ISBN: 0-674-90215-7. $22.95. Historians - music education, music, education, and others- have long used footnotes to document their assertions and to make interesting, if sometimes less germane, information available to readers. A text does not stand alone, rather it is the latest in a series of documents attesting to or arguing about something in the past, its relationship to the present, or its significance to the future. While it is true that all history is story-telling, history necessarily differs from fiction writing in that the stories have to be true. Truth is more of an ideal than the result of research, but identifying sources and enhancing the text with interesting asides can give the reader a better understanding of what might have happened and the means to test its veracity. Anthony Grafton has written a fascinating book about this important, though often maligned, scholarly apparatus. Footnotes are of great consequence to historians. "They are the humanist's rough equivalent of the scientist's report on data: they offer the empirical support for stories told and arguments presented" (p. vii). Historians may present their theses, and readers may admire or resent them, but without footnotes no one can verify or disprove them. Historians of all stripes will profit from reading Grafton's history of historical research and writing (often called historiography) and especially from his detective work tracing history of the footnote, this vital academic detail which so many take for granted. He has organized the book following a more or less reverse chronological order, looking first at Lord Acton (1834-1902), Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886), and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) in the nineteenth century. He then takes up

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Book Reviews

David Hume (1711-1776), Voltaire Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), and Alexander (Fransois-Marie Arouet, 1694-1778), Pope (1688-1744) in the eighteenth century. Next come Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), and Ben Jonson (1572-1637) in the seventeenth century; followed by Saint Bede the Venerable (672-735) in the Medieval era; and the Greeks, Eusebius of Caesarea (fl. fourth century a.d.), Thucydides (??-c. 426 B.C.) and Herodotus (c. 484 B.c-c. 425 B.C.). Grafton also refers to earlier instances of textual documentation in allusions to Persian and Jewish annotators of religious texts. Herodotus used oral testimony rather than written documents, and his verification of sources was weak at best. Thucydides, though he used documents more than Herodotus, was not much better in ascertaining the authenticity and credibility of his sources. Eusebius is probably the first to take the craft of history seriously, using archival documents and testing and acknowledging his sources in a systematic way. The Bede and other Medieval Christian scholars were concerned with exegesis of the sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity and thus with the nature and quality of sources for these holy writings. Renaissance historians and those who followed them had a scientific (some say scientistic) interest in method, objectivity, and precision. Descartes' famous Discourse on Method (1637) was a watershed in historiography as it was in so many other academic endeavors. Jonson 's Sejanus (1603), Pascal's Provincial Letters (1657-59) and Treatise on the Vacuum (1647), and Bayle' s dictionary (1697) were also important historiographical landmarks that helped define, sort, and classify information as well as the procedures for acquiring it. Eighteenth-century historians were more concerned with debunking their predecessors, especially those who wrote under the aegis of the Church. Their topics were often secular, and their interests were more of this world than the next. Gibbon, Hume, Voltaire, Pope, and their cohorts tended to focus on politics and economics rather than religion and science. Particularly telling in this era was Hume's admonition to Gibbon to show his sources to his readers, and to do so on the same page. This plea for revelation of sources hand-in-hand with the text they support is the modern

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Book Reviews

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basis for footnotes in scholarly writing. Hegel and Ranke in the nineteenth century, and all other historians of that century and the next have followed this tradition or deviated from it at their peril. Hegel and Ranke each struggled with the proper use of footnotes without coming to any particular solution.1 Hume's correspondence with Gibbon, and especially with Gibbon's publisher, is particularly interesting. William Strahan was publishing both authors' works when, in April 1776, Hume wrote to Strahan that he had enjoyed seeing the Gibbon's first volume of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (6 vols., 1776-88), but that he was also displeased with the contents, and especially the placement of the notes:
One is also plagued with his Notes, according to the present Method of printing the Book: When a note is announced, you turn to the End of the Volume; and there you often find nothing but the Reference to an Authority: All these Authorities ought only to be printed at the Margin or the Bottom of the Page.2

The proper response to Hume's first complaint is for historians simply to consult a competent manual, such as Kate L. Turabian's famous tome. Making an effective response to Hume's second complaint is more difficult. Readers and writers must be more adamant and insistent with publishers. Readers must register their complaints in stronger language and with greater frequency, and writers must do likewise. Unless and until publishers respond to Hume's call for more complete and conveniently placed footnotes, readers will have to keep wearing out their fingers and thumbs marking their places at the ends of chapters, or worse, at the ends of books to find out what they need to know about the authority behind what they are reading. In any case, historians in all fields now have a definitive history of a crucial aspect of their craft. Reading Grafton's account should deepen the
lFor an excellent discussion of the Ranke and his importance to music education historians, see Jere T. Humphreys, Review of Leopold von Ranke and the Shaping of the Historical Discipline, Georg G. Iggers and James M. Powell, eds., in The Bulletin of Historical Research in Music Education 19 (May 1998): 207-214. 2J. Y. TGreig, The Letters of David Hume (Oxford, 1932), II, 313, cited in Grafton, Footnotes; A Curious History, 103.

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all writersand readershave for this tool, and perhapsthey will appreciation be able to influence editors and publishers to change their ways for the betterment of scholarship. - George N. Heller The Universityof Kansas

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