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Reference Rot: The dangerous attrition of digital footnotes

Must be the footnotes Dave Carpenter

Footnotes are a divisive bunch, for some readers they are pure annoyance for others they provide the opportunity to explore the source and offer a potential new window into something of interest.

For Noel Coward reading footnotes was like ‘having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love.’ 

In her piece for History Today, Anna Neima alerts us to the danger of digital footnotes as more and more of scholarly life moves toward the internet. 

Noting a study by digital library researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who surveyed three and a half million scholarly articles between 1997 and 2012, that found that one in five links provided in the footnotes suffered from ‘reference rot,’ Neima calls for a “wholesale adoption of the permalink” by historians to remedy the situation.

Think about that for a minute, 20% of all internet references have officially been placed in the unrecorded history bin. 

That’s a lot of history.



Footnotes: Missing a Link? | History Today


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