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  • Citing the Archival Revolution

The citation of archival materials rarely serves its major purpose as a means of verification. The vast majority of scholars, no matter how seriously they are engaging a work of history, will not hop on a plane or even a Metro car to check the documents another scholar has referenced. Too few readers and book reviewers bother to follow up even on citations to published works, not to mention unpublished ones. If they did, the field would certainly be better off. But the point is, of course, that the possibility of verification exists, now and in the future, so that the author (one hopes) writes as if each note will be checked. It is the other potential purposes of the archival footnote that are too frequently ignored—including, we have to admit, in the pages of Kritika.

In a letter directed to the editors of Kritika last winter, Richard Robbins of the University of New Mexico decried the fact that most scholars in the Russian and Eurasian fields still follow the standard style of citing the archival acronym and the "alphabet soup" of letters and numbers identifying the collection, file, and folio. This is the case most often in our publications as well. He finds that "our current method of archival citation does not serve the basic purpose of footnotes, which is to give interested readers the most clear and useful information about the materials that have been employed in an article or book."

What, for example, can one make of the following citation?

RGASPI f. 495, op. 99, d. 22, l. 7.

In Kritika, at least, the archival acronym would be identified on first citation, thus making it clear that the author had worked in the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History, the former Central Party Archive. By comparing this to other sources cited by the standard method one could at least get a sense of the breadth of the author's research in this and other archives. Since this particular archive has published a relatively well-distributed guidebook, one could perhaps also access the putevoditel´ and look up the fond number, ascertaining that this document came from the collection of Agitprop IKKI, or the Comintern's Agitprop Department.

What could one say, however, if the same document were cited this way?

"V Sekretatiat TsK VKP(b). Dokladnaia zapiska o rabote komissii pri Prezidiume TsIK Soiuza SSR po organizatsii i provedeniiu prazdnovaniia [End Page 227] 10-letiia Oktiabr´skoi Revoliutsii," no earlier than 7 March 1927 (RGASPI f. 495, op. 99, d. 22, l. 7).

One can now discern a number of things: the document's genre (dokladnaia zapiska); the fact that there existed a special commission about whose work the document reported; the institutional location of this commission; the institutional location of the readers to whom it was addressed; its probable date; the topic it purported to address; and the way it was entitled. The nomenclature and language found in such a citation in themselves would provide certain insights.

We are well aware that historians in our field deal with documents generated in a formidable number of contexts, periods, and states. It is also true that there are different readerships for every scholarly work. Fuller citation is most useful to specialists on the particular topic and region of a given work; generalists and scholars in related fields and periods will be less interested in fuller information in the footnotes. Many documents contain no "official" headings or were classified quite differently from those in the early Soviet years, from which this example is drawn. Even so, it is possible to make some generalizations. The questions raised by the issue of citation style are of two different kinds: whether and how to provide more information than is usually given with the standard alphabet soup, and, more broadly, whether and how to introduce a more prominent dimension of source criticism into the scholarly text. In Kritika we have left the first issue, and frequently the second, up to the discretion of the individual scholar. We are, after all, pragmatists. We cannot dictate how authors take notes in the archives or how they design their works, even...


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