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Visual Quotations: Referencing Visual Sources as Historical Evidence

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It is widely acknowledged that hitherto undervalued forms of historical evidence such as paintings, prints and ceramics should enjoy a higher status in historical research. The rise of cultural history in the latter decades of the twentieth century has cemented the role of such evidence in newly evolving historical narratives. However, the logistics of integrating visual references into academic writing continue to pose challenges for researchers and inhibit the use of such material in research degrees, journal articles and books. This article addresses the need to create a consistent and comprehensive system for referencing visual material in academic historical research and will argue that such a process represents a crucial step in establishing high-quality visual analysis for all periods of historical enquiry. The first half of the article outlines the obstacles facing historians who want to engage in visual analysis. These include: the inconsistent cataloging of visual material in archives, galleries and museums; the use of “transient” sources such as websites, where visual imagery can be digitized in a variety of formats; the limitations of existing conventions for referencing visual material, which were generally designed for art-historical analysis and are therefore not always appropriate for historical analysis; the difficulty in referencing the type of media and attributing “authorship”—particularly when the source includes a range of media, and finally, the limitations placed on the number of images permitted by publishers. The second half of the article suggests possible solutions for the challenges outlined, including the proposal of a new style manual to provide a consistent and extensive model for referencing visual evidence. Only if such a model were established, could visual imagery be elevated from the status of the merely “illustrative” material to that of important and integral evidence in historical research.
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Keywords: Academic Writing; Captions; Citation; Footnotes; References; Visual Sources

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2008

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