Almost History


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Mar 3, 1998
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I received a new book today called "Almost History" by Roger Burns. In it, it describes the Mesaba message, which could have saved the Titanic if it had been properly heeded. What was unusual was the manner in which that section was footnoted...it gave, without comment, the URL to Glenn Dunstan's Titanic Radio Page. I would think that electronic websites do not make for a valid printed footnote, simply because a simple server change (Glenn has changed servers at least once) will invalidate the reference. The author should have, in my opinion, at least have referenced Glenn by name. The author is a Deputy Executive Director for the National Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives. I would think he would know better. Or, am I wrong...are URLs valid references for print media?

Parks
 

Mike Herbold

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It seems to me anybody can get a Titanic website. Witness all the "I Love You, Leo" sites of 1998. Anybody can join a conversation like here on the ET board and express an opinion or make a conjecture or propose a theory. That's the beauty of this forum. It's quick and we bounce ideas and information off each other. But does that make it worthy of a reference in a book? How many times have we seen discussions go on for a long time only to find a correction much later? Personally I'm unimpressed anytime I see a URL in a footnote.

I do agree that the reference should include a name rather than just a URL which can disappear before the book is even published. The internet has many advantages over the printed word, but permanence is definitely not one of them.
 
Jun 4, 2000
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Hello Parks and Mike H,

URLs are valid references for print media. And full citation of references should be given, irrespective of source/media. But as Mike posted, validity as a reference may in no way reflect the validity of the source - or information. Much of this depends on the context and use: for example I use many internet sources for my work, but most of these have .gov or .edu suffixes rather than being hosted through YourSite4Free.com or the like...
wink.gif


Another element that interests me in all this is the number of Titanic historians and researchers who have seen their work quoted or otherwise used in books or other print media. And the referencing? More often than not it's given as 'various web sites'.

I have to agree that the lack of referencing for the footnote seems unusual. For example, standard Harvard and other recognised systems for the referencing of electronic information use the following:

[ul][*]author/editor [*]year of publication [*]article title [*]journal title [*]the type of medium (eg CD ROM, on-line, etc) [*]pages or length [*]"Available" statement (eg WWW address, supplier and name of electronic database, email address, etc) [*]access date[/li][/list] (see http://www.library.unisa.edu.au/internet/intguide/cite.htm) Or to give the appropriate referencing:

O'Connor, Mary. 1999. Citing or referencing electronic sources of information
(On-line) Available: http://www.library.unisa.edu.au/internet/intguide/intintro.htm (Accessed 9 December 2000)

This system is for in-text references (including footnotes), reference lists and bibliographies - ie everything. While some of the details may not be applicable (or possible) depending on the circumstances, it does seem peculiar that a senior(?) NARA personage didn't provide basic referencing information for the footnote. One rule for print based sources and another for electronic is sloppy scholarship indeed.

Oh well, another thing that there's probably no answer for...

Cheers, F
 
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Um, er... I forgot to ask what the book's like - apart from its referencing idiosyncracies, that is...

Parks, what's the book like?

Thanks,

F
 
Mar 3, 1998
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One additional note.

I talked with Glenn Dunstan, the author of the Titanic Radio Page, this morning and he was completely unaware of "Almost History," the fact that information had been pulled from his site for use in the book, and that his URL was referenced in a footnote. It may be that a URL technically can be used as a valid reference, but shouldn't the book's author at least contact the webpage author as a matter of courtesy?

I also think about the lifespan of a book. Books should be able to outlive the humans who contributed to it...in my view, a book is one of the main vehicles for handing information down from one generation to the next. I am currently reading through a book originally published in 1915 about the wireless. I am glad the author of that book didn't use as a reference the station call letters of a guy who provided information for the book. Imagine me trying to electronically contact a Marconi station of 1915 nowadays to request more information! Or take another view...imagine a researcher reading through "Almost History" in the year 2085 and hoping the footnote on Titanic will point him to amplifying information. I would wager that the URL will be long defunct by that time. If we're going to start referencing websites, we are going to make life very difficult for future researchers!

Ah, well...I don't mean to dis "Almost History." It appears to be a fascinating book and I intend to give a copy to my Dad for Christmas.

Parks
 
Jun 4, 2000
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It may be that a URL technically can be used as a valid reference, but shouldn't the book's author at least contact the webpage author as a matter of courtesy?

I'm not disagreeing with you on manners, but how many here have contacted all the authors/editors of the material they've used in their published writings? There are practicalities.

If we're going to start referencing websites, we are going to make life very difficult for future researchers!

Too true to be funny and all the more reason for a full reference, anything to help the poor bunny following in the writer's footsteps. But the ephemeral nature of some sources has always been an issue, and will continue to be so as new media emerge, evolve and are then surpassed. I have enough trouble just keeping up with journals!

F
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Sadly, it is my duty to relate that books are no longer intended to last "forever." True acid-free paper is expensive, as is the proper sewn binding necessary for longevity. Publishers consider their products more as a commodity like eggs or razor blades than as a contribution to the common culture. Worse, the funding of many libraries is tied to the percentage of the collection that circulates (is loaned out) each year. This means that classic reference works so prized by researchers are quickly discarded in favor of more recent genre fiction.

Quality web sites will probably last as long as the rest of today's culture. But, that seems to be long enough in these days of 7-second attention spans.

Titanic? Dude, that's so...five minutes ago.

--David G. Brown
 

Pat Cook

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Parks wrote:

> It may be that a URL technically can be used as a valid reference, but shouldn't the book's author at least contact the webpage author as a matter of
courtesy? <

Parks, O M! How are you, sir?

Just a bit here based on personal experience (if this has been covered, I apologize). Actually, in most cases, it is up to the publisher to contact all sources for permission - in some cases, they insist upon it. I feel, however, the author should follow up on this, though.

Best regards,
Cook
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Parks--

Yup, I did publish a book, and a might good one (in my never-humble opinion), which is what prompted my feeble attempt at sarcasm.

My relationship with International Marine was (and continues to be) quite close. The editors there helped me produce a much better book that I could have written on my own. However, it is frustrating to face the reality that the publisher is more concerned with deadlines than adding one more fact. Changes cost money.

Publishers aren't the only ones facing money problems. I pointed out some errors in materials published by a great Mid-West museum that is hosting a Titanic exhibit. The answer from the curator was, in so many words, "don't bother us with the facts, we're only doing this to make money."

-- David G. Brown
 

Inger Sheil

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Feb 9, 1999
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Fi -

'Various web sites'...

Grrrrrrrrrrrr. And you know why I'm growling.

Good points on the difficulties inherant referencing sources...take a look at some of Marcus' 'private information' footnotes, etc. Material used to compile a book has never been restricted to printed matter. I do agree, though, that a site name and author should be included along with a URL - after all, we don't refer in formal referencing to just the title of a book. Name, date of publication, publisher, etc are rather standard inclusions.

All the best,

Ing
(still woozy from Dublin and the pints...)
 
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