The “Emerging Civil War Series” Series: Endnotes

A reviewer recently lamented about all the hard work it is to turn on his computer, wait for the internet to boot up, type in a web address, and go to the online repository of footnotes/endnotes for ECW books. “This reviewer has reviewed several other works in the series and find the omission of a bibliography and footnotes to be a major drawback,” he lamented. “Readers must go online to get this information.” Gasp!

The reviewer had, in fact, noted that the book he was reviewing was the thirty-ninth in the series—which meant that he should’ve known by now that the books don’t have bibliographies and footnotes in them, and aren’t ever going to, because they’re online.

The Emerging Civil War Series grew out of the experiences Kris White and I had as front-line historians at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. People would go out on a 35-minute walking tour and, after, say, “Hey is there something I could read that would tell me a bit more about this battle?” They weren’t looking to drop $35 on a 400-page hardcover, though. They wanted something that offered a good overview, stayed out of the weeds, and was affordably priced.

Ding! The ECW Series was born.

This is not a group of readers that wants footnotes, and they have repeatedly told us so. They want information and stories, which our books cater to by providing a strong, accurate narrative and a few relevant appendices at an attractive price. I’ve heard many positive remarks about the appendices from those readers over the years (see here for more on that); in contrast, I’ve never had one of those readers say, “I find the omission of footnotes a major drawback. It’s really hampering my reading experience. I wish there were fewer appendices and more footnotes.”

That the series became so popular among Civil War buffs was a really nice surprise for us. When that segment of the audience began asking for footnotes and bibliographic information, we accommodated by providing that material online, accessible through a link in a book’s table of contents. Because we’re not limited by physical space online, we could add as much additional material as we wanted without affecting the cover price of a book at all. We started this practice in the spring of 2017 and announced it in our March newsletter that year (you can read the column here).

We thought this was a great compromise, and it was a logical innovation for us considering we’re a digital platform to begin with. Yes, it requires an extra step to access the material, but anyone who really wants that info can get it. If someone is too lazy to go online get the information they say they want, then they must not want it too badly. Considering that about 2% of our readers request this information, we would be doing a disservice to the vast majority of our readers by swapping out appendices for footnotes.

I’m 100% comfortable with this arrangement, but as you can tell, I still get a little testy about it because, after 39 books, some people still want to grind that ax. I understand that many traditionalists like their books just so—really, I get it. But ECW was born of the digital age and on the front lines of battlefield interpretation. We’d be silly luddites not to embrace the lessons and advantages that intersection has taught us.

In an ideal world, some day the authors of our earliest books might go back and add footnotes to those un-footnoted volumes—but, considering  I co-wrote a lot of those early books and I don’t have to go do that myself, I don’t expect others to, either. I’m too busy looking forward. We have a lot more stories to tell, books to publish, and, yes, sources to cite.

Look for those sources online. 😉

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8 Responses to The “Emerging Civil War Series” Series: Endnotes

  1. Theodore Peter Savas says:

    Well stated, Chris. As the publisher, I will now stop bringing up the issue with you. 🙂

    Just kidding.

    –tps

  2. Dale Fishel says:

    I learned through a period of some years lending minor editing support (and occasional suggestions) in helping Sam Hood with a couple of his books that one must keep a skeptical eye on the content of history books. Sadly, some well known works proved to be (in some measure) closer to fiction…and once these ‘myths’ make it onto paper they’re nearly impossible to correct. And yet, at times it is really time consuming and frustrating to find the “truth trail” in a new work. It puts the reader in an uncomfortable place to develop a true understanding of events without a lot of follow-up. The old adage of “If it’s too good to be true” rings a bell…if it’s “a bit too fantastic” one has to look further into credible sources to decide.

    • Chris Mackowski says:

      Very true! That’s why we added the “Suggested Readings” section at the end of each book. Our initial target audience wasn’t apt to be looking to run down original sources, but if they wanted to know about a particular story or episode, the Suggested Readings would point them toward a deeper exploration.

  3. John B. Sinclair says:

    Chris, I agree completely with your decision on footnotes (though as an old former law review editor I love footnotes) for the ECW series. I do think, however, the reference to them can get easily overlooked at the bottom of the table of contents (and why there?). If you want to put them there, at least use bold face type to highlight them. Otherwise, maybe put the footnote reference on top of the Suggested Reading section at the back of a book where most folks may be looking for them? As it stands, the footnotes reference in each book does not attract reader attention, which adds to reader complaints and then correspondingly higher blood pressure readings for you.

    • Chris Mackowski says:

      Hi, John. I put the link to the notes at the end of the TOC because I consider the notes additional content. Listing the link with the rest of the content seemed like the most logical place to put it.

  4. John+Foskett says:

    That criticism reminds me of the reviews on Amazon that give a one-star rating because the book didn’t cover what it said it wouldn’t cover. These books are clearly not intended as “scholarly” studies. But they reflect current scholarship combined with good maps and illustrations, usually a tour guide, and – as noted – a reference to the main studies. I routinely and strongly recommend them as excellent supplements for readers who have the principal studies on the subject.

  5. Joshua Horn says:

    I’m probably in no place to criticize your obviously popular series that I’m probably not even the target audience for. But I want to put in a good word for footnotes. To me they are more than just a reference tool. They show and symbolize the scholarship behind the book. I remember when I was first seriously getting interested in history I was pretty fascinated by the footnotes at the bottom of the page. Even if they aren’t “used” they give a small window into the historian’s research process, the sources he used and the breath of his scholarship. And now, having seen all manner of fake quotes intentionally and unintentionally circulated, I rather distrust any quote that doesn’t have a reference.

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