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In his much-discussed new book, the political historian Rick Perlstein describes The Invisible Bridge—how the fall of Richard Nixon paved the way for the rise of Ronald Reagan and modern conservatism in 1970s America. But for a number of historians and editors at scholarly presses, the book’s title has taken on an unexpected second meaning.
“We’re all discussing the invisible bridge between the arguments made in Perlstein’s book and the citations living elsewhere online,” said Mick Gusinde-Duffy, editor in chief at the University of Georgia Press.
The mammoth political biography checks in at 880 pages—and retails for $37.50—but it contains no bibliography and not a single endnote or footnote. That’s because Perlstein and his publisher, Simon & Schuster, kept the citations out of the book. Instead he posted a full list on his personal website, rickperlstein.net.
“Putting linkable notes online was an innovation,” said Perlstein in a phone interview last week. “I wanted my scholarship to be as transparent as possible. I wanted the experience to be fun for readers and useful for teachers of history.”
Perlstein said his decision was based on the lack of conversation among readers about the sources he used in his first two hit books, Nixonland and Before the Storm. This time, he said, he wants to foster more interaction with those readers.
“I was frustrated that not enough people were engaging with my notes,” he said. “I began to feel like this chunk of 150 pages of notes was deadweight, and that they’ve stopped serving any kind of scholarly, civic, or literary function. They’re useless for most readers.”
The idea was not without precedent. Perlstein said he was inspired by Tony Judt, whose book Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, promised to omit print citations in favor of digital ones. Postwar was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. (The Pulitzer board felt that Judt’s work was outstanding, according to David M. Kennedy, a historian at Stanford University who sat on the committee, but it ultimately decided that it could not award a prize to a book without citations.)
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