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The Footnote: A Curious History by Anthony Grafton Review by: Donald R. Kelley The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Autumn, 1998), pp. 283-285 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/207048 . Accessed: 07/11/2013 09:46
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Reviews The Footnote: A Curious History. By Anthony Grafton (Cambridge,


Mass., Harvard University Press, I997)
241

pp.

$22.95

The story of the footnote is indeed a "curious" one, in Grafton's telling, especially since the protagonist is so hard to identify, except in its late and most conspicuous forms.1 Among its more remote progenitors, the footnote may claim the medieval gloss, marginal commentary, listing of opiniones,parenthetical references, and other annotational and hypertextual apparatusthat add to, and distract from, the text.2 Grafton discusses some of this technical prehistory, but for the most part, he sticks to the mainstream practice of historians, moving (like a good detective) in reverse chronological order from contemporary practice to earlier precedents. Central to this version of the story are Leopold von Ranke's critical forays and archival obsessions; Edward Gibbon's erudite jokes, rhetorical asides, and lethal put-downs; Pierre Bayle's antiquarian spillovers and digressions; and other instances of the erudite scientific tradition of historical writing as expressed in footnotes. Bayle is represented, conventionally, as a Cartesian because of his skeptical attitude, although his reliance on massive erudition seems remote from a philosophy that tends to view history as a source of error and an enemy of science. Gibbon is located, following Arnaldo Momigliano, at the intersection of postRenaissance learning and historiographical narrative-between the extremes of Richard Bentley and Alexander Pope. Ranke, along with other founders of professional history, labors under the banner of "back to the sources" (recalling the old humanist motto, adfontes) and, in this connection, enlists footnotes into the cause of the "science" of history. More recent examples include the case of Ernst Kantorowicz, whose great biography of Emperor Friedrich II provoked a storm of criticism because of its flamboyant and ideologically suspect narrative and lack of scholarly apparatus-which, in turn, inspired a response from annoKantorowicz in the form of a second volume (Ergdnzungsband) tating his narrative. Kantorowicz more than made up this omission in later publications, such as the recently republished King's Two Bodies (Princeton, I957), which boasted full, even "excessive," annotations (over 1,400 of them)-because of the possibility that (as the author suggested) "the reader will find more material appealing to his taste and his interests bunredin the footnotes than resuscitated in the text" (x-xi).
I Note that the terminology of "foot" (or "bottom') note is limited to English and the Germanic (and Scandinavian) languages. Romance languages make do with simply "note," occasionally adding "note at the bottom of the page." 2 Let us not forget addenda and corrigenda.

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284

DONALD

R. KELLEY

Other scholars figuring in this survey range from Jacques-Auguste de Thou, the sixteenth-century historian, who shared Ranke's demand for Quellenforschung but not for the attendant apparatus of a more professional age, Gottlieb Wilhelm Rabener, the eighteenth-century author of a satirical volume consisting entirely of footnotes. That his work was not entirely a joke is suggested by the tendency of some readers (including myself) to peruse footnotes before (and occasionally instead) of the text. For several centuries, the footnote has followed a career located somewhere between scholarly practice (later elevated to the level of and a quasiliterarygenre. A by-prod"science"-Anmerkungswissenschaft) uct (in its classic form) of typography, the footnote (and in its company, endnotes and marginal notes) serves many functions-illustrative, demonstrative, serendipitous, and hortative (see, Siehe, Cf, Vide, Voir,etc.). It has accommodated all sorts of artful adornment, critical controversy, pretentious display, humorous or snotty aside, relief from the danger of plagiarism and the "anxiety of influence" (in Harold Bloom's phrase), and (for less skillful authors) indulgence in all sorts of irrelevancy.3 The rise of the footnote, and footnote wars, was driven especially by doctrinal and confessional history, as Grafton shows in his fine discussion of ecclesiastical history. The basic function of the footnote has been to prove what the text asserts,but its unfortunate risks are the interruption of the narrative and the disfigurement of the page. In this regard, the footnote belongs under the rubric of "apparatus," closer to the assembling of critical editions and reference works than to the writing of history in a classical sense. As Veyne remarked, "The habit of citing authorities, of scholarly annotation, was not invented by historians but came from theological controversy and juridical practice, where Scripture, the Pandects, or trial proceedings were cited."4 Grafton notes the juridical precedent, especially legal allegations, but does not sufficiently emphasize it (for example, some 6,ooo of these citations appear in Jean Bodin's Republic[ 566], by Ralph Giesey's count). Historical scholars followed suit in the sixteenth century; Jean DuTillet adorned their tests with marginalized bibliographical annotations to found their argument on the "preuves" culled from historiographical tradition, legal commentaries, and the archives. Grafton's book (already well received and extensively reviewed) offers a small and entertaining cornucopia of illustrations and anecdotes The history of the to suggest the main outlines of Fussnotengeschichte.
3 Omitted are footnotes inflicted on an author by later scholars, the locus classicus being Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire(1776-1778), which was elaborately corrected and updated by the likes of Henry Hart Milman, Francois-Pierre-GuillaumeGuizot, and John Bagnell Bury, footnoting footnotes as well as text. 4 Paul Veyne (trans. Paula Wissing), Did the GreeksBelieve Their Myths? (Chicago, I988),

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REVIEWS

285

footnote is inexhaustible, and every scholar will have his examples and opinions. Among the merits of this book are its employment of the published literature about this topic and its accounts of the varieties of and changes in this extraordinarily scholarly practice. Much more, however, remains to be said. For instance, Grafton makes no reference to one of the true curiosities of the early modern period-Johann Kepler's Dream (1634), the text of which is a tall tale of science fiction, with footnoted information (thrice the size of the text) added from his more literal- and scientific-minded waking state. Grafton mentions the notorious semiserious pedantry of T. S. Eliot's ad absurdum notes to his Wasteland(1922), but not the reductio performed by James Joyce in the second section, second book, of Finnegan's Wake, which examines the whence and the whereto of humanity with 229 delicious and dreamlike obfuscations-the inversion of Kepler's practice: What the text asserts the notes derange. Joyce's playfulness is also part of the "curious history" (isn't it?). Donald R. Kelley Rutgers University

The Comparative Imagination:On the History of Racism, Nationalism, and Social Movements.By George M. Fredrickson (Berkeley, University of
California Press, 1997) 241 pp. $27.50

This new collection of essays proves again that Fredrickson is a master of the practice and theory of comparative history. He explores how and why to employ comparison, as well as its implications for the study of race generally and for the specific contrasts and similarities between South Africa and the United States. The result expands upon his already magisterial contribution, providing a crucial bridge between historical narrative and social science analysis. Fredrickson begins with a justification and discussion of the comparative method. Acknowledging that any historical narrative is informed by implicit comparison, he argues for a more explicit use of such method to break down further the Balkanization of his own discipline. As his own work has long demonstrated, crossnational analysis is a crucial antidote to parochialism and easy assumptions of exceptionalism. Fredrickson contends that the comparison of two similar cases at the national level not only illuminates each case while avoiding superficiality, but he also takes into account subnational differences and international influences. Fredrickson recommends inductive analysis informed by theoretical debates but not driven by a pre-ordained theoretical commitment. He criticizes the single-narrative historicism that, like postmodern explanation, evades causation and tends to see all cases as exceptional. But he also attacks comparative structural analysis for its reductionism and its

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