Citation in humanities scholarship


The very articulate Astronomer Royal Martin Reese has described the goal of science in this way:

The aim of science is to unify disparate ideas, so we don’t need to remember them all. I mean we don’t need to record the fall of every apple, because Newton told us they all fall the same way.

(From an interview with the arresting title “Cosmic Origami and What We Don’t Know;” full transcription online here.)

This remark captures a quintessential difference between the natural sciences and the humanities. Humanists, too, unify disparate ideas, but we must record each unique phenomenon that we study. If we develop a unified view of oral poetry, for example, we will never conclude that “I’m familiar with the Iliad, so I don’t have to remember the Odyssey,” or “I’ve studied Greek poetry so I don’t need to know about the Serbo-Croatian oral poetry that Parry and Lord studied.” We don’t study apples. Recording and remembering are basic to scholarship in the humanities.

This has important implications for how we work in a digital world. We record and remember through citation, so before anything else we must develop a sound infrastructure for citation.

Reading assignment

Please skim (rapidly) over this article for an overview of how citation with URN notation is used in the Homer Multitext project. In our seminar meeting, we will introduce the mechanics of scholarly citation using URN notation.

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