21 Chicago Manual of Style: The “frenemy” of all history students

Reliance on the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS, or “Chicago style”) as a guide for citing sources and organizing bibliographies sets those who write history apart from most other disciplines. While the Chicago style note system requires patience to learn and continued access to the CMOS guide itself— even those who’ve been in the field for decades still have to look things up in the latest edition of the guide regularly—it’s worth it for research papers. Historians prefer the Chicago notes style because it is flexible and thus allows for a complex evidence trail, and because its superscript numbers distract readers less than long parenthetical citations inside the text. By learning the principles of the Chicago style and keeping a copy of Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research papers, Theses, and Dissertations by your desk, or a link to the Chicago Manual of Style’s quick citation guide (or similar web site) open on your laptop, you should be able to master the basics of this citation system.

The central difference between the Chicago style you will use in history research papers and the other reference systems is that the CMOS guide mandates the use of notes (either footnotes or endnotes) to cite sources rather than permitting parenthetical references to sources within the text itself. While the CMOS guide does offer an in-text citation style (called “author-date”), you are likely more familiar with the in-text citation systems of either the Modern Language Association’s MLA style—oriented toward images, books, and literature common to the arts and humanities—or the American Psychological Association’s APA style—which was developed to accommodate references to technical scholarship in the social sciences. In-text citation schemes such as Chicago’s author-date, MLA and APA styles serve their purpose, but they do not accommodate the references common to history. Primary sources come in many different formats well beyond published texts, including government reports, images, maps, correspondence, physical artifacts, video recordings, and more. Moreover, the unpublished archival materials common to historical research often have several different layers of organization, including collection names, boxes, and folders. Recording this sometimes-complex information via notes—either at the bottom of the page or at the end of the document—makes it easier for readers to concentrate on the text, while still preserving a clear and complete evidence trail for peers and fellow scholars (or skeptics) who wish to replicate the author’s sources.

So, your instructors have a reason for requiring Chicago style—how do you go about doing it correctly? Mostly, you’ll want to consult your guide frequently. But what follows here is a brief explanation of the fundamental rules and basic procedures, followed by links and videos that allow you to see the system in action. If you can master these core principles, you will find accessing the particulars of citing the sources for your paper easier.

Fundamentals to the basic form of Chicago style:

  • Proper Chicago style uses either footnotes or endnotes, but not both. Notes at the bottom of each page are called footnotes and those at the end of the document are called endnotes. Both are acceptable, though your instructor may have a preference. Be sure to ask. Whether footnotes or endnotes, you mark a note by inserting a superscript Arabic numerals (e.g. 1) inside the text. MS Word and other word processing systems have a “References” tab which guides you through this process.
  • Each note refers to the sources for that sentence, even if there is more than one source. That is, if you used two newspaper articles or a newspaper article and a journal article to make a point, both are cited in a single note at the end of the sentence. Moreover, numbers of the notes are sequential, so there will be only one note 1, one note 2, etc. In Chicago style, sources are not attached to a number or a publication date as they can be in other citation styles.
  • Note form and bibliographic form are different. Basic differences between Chicago style note and bibliographic form:
    • A footnote or endnote is a sentence, as a rule, and so uses more commas (not periods) and parentheses as punctuation. A bibliographic entry is a series of sentences, and so is dominated by periods.
    • In a note, the author is First name Last name (followed by a comma); in a bibliographic entry it’s Last name, First name (followed by a period)
    • Moreover, be aware that most databases which offer an option to prepare your citation in Chicago Manual of Style form will present it in bibliographic NOT note form. You will need to translate from bibliographic to note form when you use citations pre-formatted by JSTOR (and similar databases) before you plug them into an endnote or footnote.
  • Citations require information. This statement seems obvious, but short-changing the information needed in a correct Chicago style note is one of the most common mistakes students make. You need to consult a guide, but at a minimum, you should familiarize yourself with the following requirements:
    • For publications such as books, you need full author name, full title, place of publication, full title of the press, and the year it was published. If it’s an edited volume and you are only using one essay, you’ll need all of the above PLUS the author (or authors) and essay title of your essay, as well as the pages the essay covers in the book.
    • For publications such as journals or periodicals, record the author, essay full title, journal title, volume number, year of publication, page numbers of the entire article AND the page number(s) of any specific information or direct quote you use.
    • For publications such as newspapers or periodicals, what you record depends on what’s available. Newspapers changed a good bit between the eighteenth century, when they became common, and the current digital world. Still, follow the rule of recording as much info as you can. At a minimum, you’ll need to cite the full title of the newspaper, the city and state (if in the United States) where it was published, and the date of publication. Twentieth-century newspapers often have an article title and the reporter’s byline, which you should include, along with a page number, especially if you are referring to a newspaper that has more than one section. For all newspapers and periodicals, citations should include either the name of the database and/or the URL and the date you accessed it.
    • For unpublished primary sources, record as much information as possible. That means not just the title of a collection you used in an archive, but the folder number, the box number, as well as information about the document itself. For example, if you are referring to correspondence between two individuals, record both the writer and the recipient as well as the date. Here too, record the name of the database, the URL, and the date you accessed it. See the section on archives in “Researching Historically.”
  • After the first full citation, you should use a shortened form rather than repeat details such as publication information and URLs. Consult your guide to see what the shortened form should be for each type of source.
  • Bibliographies contain every source listed in a note, as well as other sources consulted even if you did not cite them directly. Sources you looked at but did not use for information do not need to be included in the bibliography. Bibliographies should be divided into two parts, “Primary Sources” and “Secondary sources” with each source of that type listed alphabetically therein. (Often instructors—and publishers—do not require a bibliography when the author includes full citations in the notes.
How to Insert a Footnote in Word



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

How History is Made: A Student’s Guide to Reading, Writing, and Thinking in the Discipline Copyright © 2022 by Stephanie Cole; Kimberly Breuer; Scott W. Palmer; and Brandon Blakeslee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book