Author-date System - Origins and Use

Origins and Use

According to an 1896 paper by Charles Sedgwick Minot of the Harvard Medical School, the origin of the author-date style is attributed to a paper by Edward Laurens Mark, Hersey professor of anatomy and director of the zoological laboratory at Harvard University, who may have copied it from the cataloguing system used then and now by the library of Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. In 1881 Mark wrote a paper on the embryogenesis of the garden slug, in which he included an author-date citation in parentheses on page 194, the first known instance of such a reference. Until then, according to Eli Chernin writing in the British Medical Journal, references had appeared in inconsistent styles in footnotes, referred to in the text using a variety of printers' symbols, including asterisks and daggers. Chernin writes that a 1903 festschrift dedicated to Mark by 140 students, including Theodore Roosevelt, confirms that the author-date system is attributable to Mark. The festschrift pays tribute to Mark's 1881 paper, writing that it "introduced into zoology a proper fullness and accuracy of citation and a convenient and uniform method of referring from text to bibliography." According to an editorial note in the British Medical Journal in 1945, an unconfirmed anecdote is that the term "Harvard system" was introduced by an English visitor to Harvard University library, who was impressed by the citation system and dubbed it "Harvard system" upon his return to England.

Although it originated in biology, it is now more common in humanities, history, and social science. It is favored by a few scientific journals, including the major biology journal Cell.

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