— Mae D'Amico, History in the Making

Anthony Grafton, Proof and Persuasion Through History

Proof and Persuasion Through History is an article by Anthony Grafton about footnotes.  Although footnotes are thought of boring source references in order to avoid plagiarism accusations  they are really so much more, depending on the author.  At the end of the introduction Grafton theorizes that footnotes are not just the proof that a work is credible but that footnotes are the collective legacy of historians over time trying to devise a method to produce good, credible writing.

Some of the questions that Grafton seems to ask in his research are, what are the more notable authors of critical footnotes in historical writings?  What is the general opinion of footnotes in writing?  What are some criticisms of   the history of footnotes?  How do footnotes separate traditional historical writings and contemporary writings?  What was Ranke’s great contribution?

Grafton’s conclusion is that historical writing, like history itself, developed slowly, it is a work in progress.  Although Ranke may have dramaticized more than proved his work to be accurate in his footnotes, he made them a popular concept in historical writing.  They were not the most accurate footnotes, more self-justifying, but that fit in with protestant practices at the time– which is a good comment on how time periods influence historical writings.  Footnotes are the progression of historians’ efforts to legitimize their efforts throughout time.