Source List Arrangements



1 February 2014

Source lists—those things we called “bibliographies” in the old days when most of what we cited were actually "biblios"—can become a quagmire if we just collect citations without an overall scheme for organizing them.

There are many approaches to organizing a source list. We need that flexibility because historical materials are richly varied. Sometimes, we need our source list to identify an exact item: a specific letter, for example, or the one microfilm roll we actually used from a huge series. At other times, in our source list, we will cite more generally to a larger body of material, then use the reference notes to handle more-specific details.

We may organize a source list by author, collection, type of source, or repository. In most case, items on a source list are not numbered. In other cases—as with a lecture handout where we need to quickly call audience attention to a specific item—numbering is appropriate.

So, what about consistency?  Well, truths are hard to come by in history, but here's one: when dealing with historical materials, utter consistency is utterly impossible.

The most effective system for history researchers is one that divides sources into broad categories, such as

  • author and title (for published and authored sources)
  • collections (for manuscript sources)
  • repositories (for manuscript sources)
  • subject areas
  • geographic locales
  • source types

EE 2.47-54 and 6.3 discuss the pros and cons of each approach and provide explicit examples. Three of those sections are reproduced here at EE’s website under the “Sample Pages” tab ( EE’s Appendix B, the manual’s Bibliography (which actually is limited to "biblios," also illustrates some of these schemes.