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Blast the Footnotes into Cyberspace: Moving the Footnotes in a Physical Book to the Author's Website


On August 18, 2014 Stacey Patton of the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article entitled "Wait, Your Footnotes Are in Cyberspace?" This described the decision of social historian Rick Perlstein to put the extensive footnotes for his book, The Invisible Bridge. The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reaganon his website together with links to the original source documents rather than to have them published at the back of the physical edition of his book.

Patton wrote:

“ 'We’re all discussing the invisible bridge between the arguments made in Perlstein’s book and the citations living elsewhere online,' said Mick Gusinde-Duffy, editor in chief at the University of Georgia Press.

"The mammoth political biography checks in at 880 pages—and retails for $37.50—but it contains no bibliography and not a single endnote or footnote. That’s because Perlstein and his publisher, Simon & Schuster, kept the citations out of the book. Instead he posted a full list on his personal website,

“ 'Putting linkable notes online was an innovation,' said Perlstein in a phone interview last week. 'I wanted my scholarship to be as transparent as possible. I wanted the experience to be fun for readers and useful for teachers of history.'

"Perlstein said his decision was based on the lack of conversation among readers about the sources he used in his first two hit books, Nixonland and Before the Storm. This time, he said, he wants to foster more interaction with those readers.

“ 'I was frustrated that not enough people were engaging with my notes,' he said. 'I began to feel like this chunk of 150 pages of notes was deadweight, and that they’ve stopped serving any kind of scholarly, civic, or literary function. They’re useless for most readers.'

"The idea was not without precedent. Perlstein said he was inspired by Tony Judt, whose book Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, promised to omit print citations in favor of digital ones. Postwar was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. (The Pulitzer board felt that Judt’s work was outstanding, according to David M. Kennedy, a historian at Stanford University who sat on the committee, but it ultimately decided that it could not award a prize to a book without citations.)

“ 'I knew I’d be taking a risk and starting a conversation,' Perlstein said. 'And it’s a debate that I welcome.' "

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