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  • Academic Quotations from Aged Newspapers May 8, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Modern , trackback

    future of the carolinas

    There follows what may be the most boring post ever put up here. Apologies ahead of time: I tried to make the title as tedious as possible to keep thrillseekers and glue-sniffers away. First, some background. In the last two years I have published half a dozen academic articles that include or, in two cases, depend on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspaper reports. The academic journals that have published said articles have all been thrown into panic by their extensive use of newspapers. The problem for them was how to reference newspapers. One journal refused to put newspapers in the final bibliography, but relegated them to notes. Another put them in the final bibliography but did not include page numbers (wth!!!!). A third chopped and changed and, in the end, had an editorial meeting to decide what to do. Again and again emails arrived with the plea that this is or that periodical had never had to deal with the problem before. I was bewildered by this because as far as I am concerned newspaper articles should be treated like any other article: as fully as possible and with dignity. My problem, in any case, is another. How do you quote from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspapers? Sound easy? Well, it is driving me mad.

    I was trained as a medievalist and a medieval text should be copied out and then improved with other versions or educated guesses on the part of the author. All these improvements and guesses should be set out in a critical apparatus. The reader should immediately be able to check where this or that word came from. Punctuation is also added as this is not typically present. With newspapers things are easier, yet more difficult. The obvious thing would be to copy down what you see on the page. But let’s try this, just to give an idea of how tricky things can get. The following is taken from a northern English paper in the 1880s. The content is unimportant.



    An extensive manufacturer, on being asked recently in what part of the country the larger part of his goods were shipped, replied, that while they were shipped into nearly every section of the country, the best market was at the South, especially in the States of Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas ; and on being asked from whence the raw material from which his goods were made came, replied, “Oh, we get all our stock from the South.”

    Now labourers can be employed at the South at-least one-third cheaper than they can at the North, and in North and South Carolina help is even cheaper than elsewhere at the South.

    I’ve copied this out but there are a number of things that many editors would change before quoting it, say, in a book. A list follows:

    1) Title to normal title caps: The Future of the Carolinas [I would change as large type looks so ugly on the non-newspaper page, it does though give an idea that an extract comes from a newspaper.]

    2) Delete dividing line between title and text. [I would agree, we have to reproduce the text not the formatting or the font]

    3) Remove the standard Victorian space between ‘Carolinas’ and ‘;’ [Victorian punctuation is very ugly to modern eyes, I’d get rid of the space between colons, semi-colons. I’d keep though the Victorian habit of having small caps after an exclamation mark. John cried: – ‘Well! she shouldn’t have done that’. Another problem is the irregular use of dashes and colons to introduce speech. Enough to drive you mad…]

    4) Unite the two paragraphs: [paragraph spacing should be preserved]

    5) Changing single inverted commas to double inverted commas so ‘Oh, we get all our stock from the South’. [It is necessary to standardize inverted commas in a text even in quotations]

    6) Correcting typos so ‘at least’ rather than ‘at-least’. [I would use sic here: or is a silent correction enough?]

    7) Correct grammatical mistakes, e.g. ‘in the North’, not ‘at the North’ [I would use sic here, not least because mistakes for moderns are not necessarily mistakes for our ancestors. It can also give some idea of the carelessness of the author or the type-setter, which can be important information. On reflection, I would use sic in 6 for the same reason]

    Rereading this I recognize that my own solution is an untidy and inconsistent one. Why, after all should I get rid of some aspects of Victorian punctuation and preserve others? Is anyone able to offer any more general rules? Also I’m curious about how other historians check texts like this. I print my transcript and read back to my wife or aupair: it is brutal (particularly for them) and very time-consuming. drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


    15 April 2013: April says: you ended with several inquires, but the one that seems most pertinent was, ‘Is anyone able to offer any more general rules?’ As I’m sure many of your readers have already come forward to tell you, “Yes”. But in my humble opinion this wasn’t meant to be a simple yes or no question and I therefore feel compelled to give a more meaningful ‘riposte’. Putting aside general rules of fair-play, catch-as-catch-can and cricket-in-the-corner, I generally believe that when it comes to editing anyone else’s words or, plainly put, editing another author’s work, with or without emphasis on punctuation and syntax — especially when that author is likely long dead — is just plain one-upmanship in a base sort of fashion not to mention a wee bit, well, rude to put a fine point on it. Besides, editing when taken to the sort of extremes you mention in your post, is for the timidly faint-of-heart, those who fear asking their readers to work a bit for their part of the process. And who are we to say that this newspaper or that is being unclear or any less deserving of our fullness of quotation than, say, Shakespeare? The general rule to which you alluded in your question is simple: always put quotation marks around the entirety of that which one is quoting directly. It’s really that simple. If you want to just paraphrase then there are other general rules for that, but you didn’t ask about those rules, so we won’t address them now. However, the issue of ‘to bibliographize or not to bibliographize’ old, especially defunct, newspapers, is, again, simply answered: of course. For example, T. S. Elliot is, in a word or two, mortally defunct, yet he is always given full credit for his poetry even if Ezra Pound deserves a good half of it (now there was an editor!). And as to leaving out page numbers for old newspaper articles, truly, isn’t it enough that the author (in your case you) has chosen to use the most obscure, bedimmed references possible? For an editor to leave out the page numbering seems a rather trenchant iniquitousness, does it not? Plainly put, even if the good reader should find said newspaper in some mouldering pile in some library’s deepest bowels, same said reader would then be obliged to read all that eeny-teeny print on age darkened, brittle pages before finding the article in question — if find it (the article) reader, in fact, ever does. Which brings on a word of advise — or ‘aviser’ if you are in the mood to translate Old French — seems in order; if one’s editors should try to dissuade one from the straight path of the simplicity of these forthright rules, then one should gird-up one’s loins and tell said editor that people have been known to commit suicide while in jail for plagiarism and/or while questing for an obfuscatory reference, don’t they realize? And they as editors wouldn’t like to be in any way responsible for such a wretched state of affairs, would they? One more thing in relation to what I’ve already mentioned above: I made up “cricket-in-the-corner” so there are actually no rules to it, general or otherwise, but please note that I’ve quoted my own self, in this case, because it’s simply the right, fair and correct way to live by the golden rule. Didn’t see that rule coming? Never mind, neither did I. Next up is Alan who writes: I have been (obsessively) editing and proofreading texts for some thirty years now, so I can see a few more grammatical mistakes and peculiarities. However, common usage has changed, and this is a North American text anyway. First of all, goods are shipped to a destination, not in a destination. Also, “what part of the country” is incorrect; it should be “which”. Next, to conform to more modern usage, I would remove the comma after “replied”, although this may be a matter of personal preference rather than compliance with any rule. Once again, we have the verb “shipped”, but this time with “into”. Next, we have “at the South”; but as you have already mentioned “at the North”, that particular point has been made. In the phrase “especially in the States of Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas”, I consider the word “in” to be redundant. You may differ. The spaces before colons and semi-colons are still used in French punctuation; I hate it. In the phrase “from whence”, the word “from” is definitely redundant; but “whence” was already fading from the English language, and people were forgetting how to use it. Finally, I would put a comma after the word “now” in the last sentence, thus: An extensive manufacturer, on being asked recently to which part of the country the larger part of his goods were shipped, replied that while they were shipped to nearly every section of the country, the best market was in the South, especially the States of Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas; and on being asked whence the raw material from which his goods were made came, replied, “Oh, we get all our stock from the South.” Now, labourers can be employed in the South at least one-third cheaper than they can in the North, and in North and South Carolina help is even cheaper than elsewhere at the South. Thanks April and Alan!

    30 June 2013: Brett from Airminded writes What I mainly wanted to say was that I entirely sympathise with your post on quoting newspapers! I do this frequently and encounter the same difficulties in deciding how to reproduce the text. In fact, I’d make the same choices as you on points 1-7. Another problem is  how to quote multiple headlines, often in varying  type sizes and capitalisations and with dividing lines:


    I would probably render it as ‘Something important. Something less important’ or just ‘Something important’ in a citation. I did the latter in footnotes in my PhD thesis and book ms., as I agree that newspaper articles should be cited like any other. In particular, not giving page numbers is inexcusably rude! I have been blaming the author for this, but from your experience maybe it’s the editor who is to blame? Though I have to say, all my articles have cited newspapers, some extensively, and not once has any editor even quibbled over my citations. Maybe you were unlucky! Or I’ve been lucky…’ Thanks Brett!