The Fun of Footnotes

In “The Footnote from De Thou to Ranke,” Anthony Grafton examines, in a very dynamic way, a dynamic that contemporarily is a standard practice: footnotes!  What distinguishes Grafton’s examination is the element of humor which is utilized to great effect.  This is evidenced by the fact that Grafton goes so far as to compare footnotes to toilets and the sewers.  They perform an unpleasant though all to necessary function.  However, they are not viewed with the veneration and respect they deserve until there’s a problem.  Grafton, being a responsible, if somewhat cuckoo of a scholar, also purports his assessment by explaining, in as much detail as necessary, the evolution of this tool.  Grafton offers a brief glimpse into the history of this truly vital tool which today we simply take for granted.  I think what Grafton offers is the essence of why we need this tool.  The author may understand what they mean, however that doesn’t mean that the audience will understand you.  Nor does it necessarily mean that they have to agree with you.  What this tool offers is a road-map by which we can track the trail the author has taken to arrive at his conclusions.  This helps us to do this work in a more scientific way.  It consists of research, facts, feelings, thoughts, arguments, analysis, and semi-conclusions.  Ultimately, this work is up to us and it is crucial that we conduct it in a way that others can understand.

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