Citation Format Pet Peeve

6 November 2009 at 9:21 am 1 comment

| Peter Klein |

Many thanks to June Flanders for expressing, on the HET listserv, one of my own pet peeves about citation formats: using the reprint date, rather than the original date, in the in-text citation:

At the risk of sounding school-marmerish I should like to raise an issue that has been bothering me for a long time, and which reached a crisis point this afternoon. . . .

The issue is the dating of citations in papers and books on the basis of their most recent publication.  As a result of this, generations of students undoubtedly think that Ricardo wrote The High Price of Bullion in 1956, and Keynes wrote The General Theory  in 1973, etc.  What broke my camel’s back today was a citation in an NBER paper that cited “Tacitus, Cornelius (1996). The Annals of Imperial Rome. New York: Penguin.”  Not every reader of that paper (though, of course, every reader of this letter) will know that this is off by some 2,000 years.

I prefer the simplest solution, namely putting “Smith (1776)” in the text and specifying the particular edition in the bibliography entry, e.g.:

Smith, Adam. 1776. An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981.

Some people like to write the in-text citation, and maybe the bibliography entry too, as “Smith ([1776] 1981),” but I find that cumbersome. In any case, putting the original publication date in the text lets the experienced reader know, immediately, what is being referred to. In my field everybody knows Smith (1776), Menger (1871), Coase (1937), Mises (1949), Porter (1980), etc. It’s a nuisance having to flip to the back to find that “Menger (1981)” is Menger’s Grundsätze (the NYU Press edition). While I’m reading the article or book in question, I don’t care if the writer was referring to the original hardbound edition or the paperback edition or the large-print edition or the books-on-tape edition or whatever. If I want to check page numbers, then I flip to the back to find out what edition was used, but otherwise I breeze right along. Simple enough?

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Ephemera.

CFP: “Institutions in Economic Thought” Coasean Humor

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Per Bylund  |  6 November 2009 at 9:31 am

    I agree that the original publication date is important and that it should be made explicit in the reference. But I must say I prefer to have both the original publication date and all the info for the reprint version.

    The reason for this is that there are obvious problems with only supplying the original date. Most older texts have been edited (or translated) a number of times and therefore are “different” depending on what “reprint” you have. And some of the old and very famous magnum opi were originally published in multiple editions by the original author, each with a number of changes.

    Also, for most reprints before the digital age the text was typeset anew for each printed edition, thereby totally screwing up page references: page 47 in a certain reprint edition may be 48 or 63 or 26 in another.

    I like Peter’s suggestion to use
    Smith, Adam. 1776. An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981.

    The problem is to get EndNote (or other reference manager software) to show this.

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