Teaching students to properly reference and cite sources is a central course objective in many humanities and social sciences classes. Depending on the discipline, students are instructed to use one of several citation styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian, and more) and are warned of the cardinal sin of bad citation – plagiarism.
Using proper citations is equally important when using archival materials. We provide students with citations for each document based on our archives’ style guide. In our standard archives introduction, we also include a brief explanation of how to read a primary source citation (see the handout students received here.). We teach students to use the citation to identify information about the specific item (author, title, date), the archival collection from which the document came, and the repository that holds that collection.
But, we explain to students, creating and using a proper citation for archival materials is not really about plagiarism. It is important to properly cite archival documents not to avoid claiming someone else’s work as our own, but because it guides the reader back to the original source, so they can verify claims or draw their own research-based conclusions.
We think an intimidating tone is counterproductive to engaging new students in archival research. This is why we have devised a new way to present care and handling procedures, which are regularly presented as a list of “thou shalt not”s, to students. Likewise, citations provide a chance to turn a typically punitive conversation into an empowering one.
We explain that citations create a trail of breadcrumbs; that they are the footprints of the history of ideas. We tell every student who visits the archives and analyzes an original primary source that because they are a part of a scholarly conversation throughout time, they have a responsibility to properly cite the materials they reference.
In homework assignments or papers, therefore, we do expect to see our collections cited. This is even more important online, where students discuss or post photos of primary sources using tools like course blogs or social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
By and large, students respond positively to the idea that they are part of a continuum of scholarship based on primary source research. As an added benefit, discussing citation in the context of the archives creates opportunities for students to think critically about how information is circulated on the Internet.
Julie Golia and Robin M. Katz, “Teaching Students about Citations,” TeachArchives.org, accessed [insert date here], http://wwww.teacharchives.org/articles/citations/.