THE FOOTNOTE by Anthony Grafton


A Curious History
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 A curious history, indeed. Few accoutrements of scholarship have been as denigrated as the lowly footnote, as this lively and fascinating narrative demonstrates. Scorned equally by scholar, student, and publisher, the footnote has lost its traditional place at the foot of the page and is now relegated to the ``endnotes'' following a chapter or at the end of a book. Noâl Coward once remarked that having to read a footnote resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love. This longstanding animosity toward the footnote derives from a tradition that perceived of historical writing as a form of literature. Few scholars lavish the necessary attention on the notes and even fewer readers take notice. Only the insecure graduate student or fledgling scholar piles up note after note and by doing so claims a place in the guild of the profession. But a careful reading of footnotes is both revealing and rewarding, according to Grafton, a historian at Princeton University. The footnote, as he correctly and convincingly points out, is critical to the scientific nature of historical writing and therefore reflects both the ideology and technical practices of the craft. The footnote confers ``proof'' that the historian has visited the appropriate archives, dusted off the necessary documents, and consulted and exhausted the secondary literature. It is, in short, a badge of legitimacy. The reader familiar with Grafton's work will recognize the author's extraordinary range and familiarity with German, French, English, and Italian historical writing from the early modern period to the late 20th century. Grafton has, in fact, written a sly work of historiography, a kind of celebration of the gritty details of scholarly exploration, and not merely a chronicle of the despised footnote. Oh, yes; read his footnotes. (Happily, his publisher realized that endnotes would not do here.)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-674-90215-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1997