General Citation Considerations

In some ways, the Internet poses problems for those who want to make fixed references to documents which are frequently less than permanent and generally subject to alteration. Yet historians and humanists have for generations faced similar problems in citing sources. Private correspondence held by families of its recipients or in duplicate copies made the authors, for example, has long posed citation difficulties similar in nature to individual e-mail correspondence (and gopher and World Wide Web sites as well).

New electronic information technology, however, has brought with it advocates of scholarly citations whose concerns are designed first to meet the needs of the new technology and only then the interests of humanistic scholarship. In contrast, historians and their brethren have scholarly inclinations that lead them in two directions: one toward the need for precision in identifying a source and its provenance and the other focusing on a desire to provide a guide to a source's location for subsequent researchers.

The date of a source, for example, is one area where the two views are sometimes far apart, as has been made clear in numerous comments and questions about previous versions of this Guide. For information technologists, the most recent posting date for a Web or gopher site in which a document is found generally provides the best date for a citation. Yet historians are more interested in the date when a particular document was written or created. The preference here has been for the latter.

Another problem involves the citation of e-mail correspondence. Such sources are seen as undependable by information technologists unless they exist in some electronic archive; the archive then becomes the primary source citation. Humanistic scholars also are concerned about issues of impermanence, such as the question of paper documents which, once cited, are donated to an obscure library or archive, even destroyed. Yet their citations are to the original source, and only secondarily indicate a new location or note the material is no longer extant. Such practice seems appropriate for historian's citations of Internet materials as well.

At the same time, there are certain conventions in the use of the Internet which require the attention of humanities scholars. It is appropriate, for example, to recognize the convention of using pointed brackets, < >, to enclose electronic addresses. Standard Internet practice is also to put the address on one line so that, if a hypertext link to that address is created, it can be easily and accurately read. An address which continues onto a second line often cannot be read as a complete address. But in print citations it is often preferable for the address to continue from one line to another. When that is necessary, the compromise suggested here is that punctuation marks in Internet addresses (such as @ . or / but not ~) be at the end of one line with only letters, numbers, or ~ beginning on the next line.

Generally, the use of URL (Uniform Resource Locator) addresses is also preferred for most Internet materials. Nonetheless, humanists who for the time being access material at gopher sites through a gopher address, following a particular menu path, or by anonymous File Transfer Protocol (ftp) may prefer a citation format that actually replicates how they found the material. (This may change as URL access through the World Wide Web becomes more universal).

There are also questions about how to deal with frequent changes in Internet addresses, especially as Web sites are updated and expanded. Even the best attempts at citing such material may lead subsequent researchers to a dead end. This is a particular concern not just for humanists, but also for information technologists. No method of citation can overcome this particular problem which, instead, cries out for great foresight in planning Web sites in addition to careful explanations and Web links to materials which may be moved.

The use of an author's e-mail address was also mentioned as a concern by some of those who commented on earlier versions of this Guide. Such citations can, indeed, be problematic. Please be considerate of those whose work you cite. In this Guide the only addresses included are those which are a part of the public record (for example, listed at the WWW or gopher site in the citation) or for which permission has been obtained.

Finally, it should be noted again that this Guide is based upon citation principles contained in Turabian's, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. This has led to certain conventions which would not appear in other formats. One of these is the representation of italics for book and journal titles. These are indicated here by opening and ending asterisks (* *) in the belief that they are more distinctive on the computer screen than other possibilities, such as opening and ending underscoring (_ _).

Some historians advocate using other basic citation principles and formats--such as MLA or APA--especially for electronic sources. There are also a variety of questions raised for citations of CD-ROM, binary files, and other electronic materials. While these issues are not addresses in this Guide, the bibliography below will lead to citation suggestions for some of these applications.