Footnoting Lectures

As I rebuild this site for the third time, I am again reminded of the nagging problem of my failure to footnote my lectures as I have gone through my career.  This issue occurred to me for two reasons over the years:

  1. The handwritten lecture notes handed down to me by my mentor teacher, who was also my World History teacher at Rio Grande High School, Jo Marie Anderson, were full of facts and interpretations that I could not easily track down.
  2. After I started putting my lecture notes on the web, they became far more real than I had anticipated. I started getting questions and complaints by email. When I wrote about Islam or Christianity, it occurred to me that I might be endangering myself if fanatics chose to see what I was writing as heresy. I was teaching in the South Valley of Albuquerque, and there were some very aggressively Christian and Mormon parents who were clearly analyzing my notes for slights against God.

I have also found myself being wrong over the years. New discoveries in history, or new books I have read led me to realize that I had been teaching as facts things that were erroneous. Given that Wikipedia is basically the only source any student (and most teachers) actually use, it occurred to me that I should provide at least as much footnoting as Wikipedia does.  The whole point of footnoting is to let people track down where you found your information, and thus check its veracity. I should let people know where and why I was led astray so they can untangle the good from the bad of my work.

The problem, of course, is what to do about the seventy or eighty lectures I have written over the years. The lectures are all nicely laid out in old-school hierarchical format and they contain a great many specific dates and key assertions. But going back and footnoting all of that would take forever.

So mostly I just wish I had always done this as I went along. If I were starting again, I would take the extra five minutes for every lecture to actually footnote it all. It’s tempting to just say “it’s just crap on the web” and just write it off as a caveat emptor situation, but that is an abrogation of professional responsibility. And in a time when the world is awash with bad interpretations and loose connections to factual reality, that hardly seems like an appropriate approach.

I suppose I’ll just take the time where I can to at least attribute my notes to particular books I have read, but I don’t know that other concerns won’t take precedence going forward. Crap.

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Posted in teaching practice

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