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Some reflections on current historical practice: I was contacted the other day by a budding scholar who is writing on an important political issue in the early republic. He had seen an announcement of the latest volume of The Papers of Andrew Jackson, and wrote, very politely, to ask if there was anything in it that might pertain to his subject. He seemed quite miffed when I suggested that rather than ask me, he should get a copy and look for himself. The exchange brought to mind some curious citations to Andrew Jackson's presidential messages that I'd noticed in recent reading. Historians were once taught to always "cite to the standard source." For presidential messages to Congress up through the end of the nineteenth century, including the annual "State of the Union" addresses, the accepted standard source was James D. Richardson's A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, an official compendium sanctioned by Congress and published as a government document in the Congressional Serial Set. While Richardson's texts were authoritative, scholars who wanted to be especially scrupulous could also go direct to the original printings of the messages. In Jackson's day, the annual message was printed officially in four places: in the House Journal and Senate Journal, and as a House Document and Senate Document. All these, in turn, are part of the Serial Set. Accessing these sources has never been hard. The Serial Set was widely disseminated in bound volumes and microcopy, and thirty years ago there was a set of Richardson in nearly every library in the country. (The modest public library in Ashland, Wisconsin, where I was living at the time, had two.) The internet has now made it absurdly easy. Richardson is on Google books, and the Serial Set is available by subscription from ProQuest. For those without a subscription, the Library of Congress has mounted original page images of the House and Senate journals (along with such other valuable sources as the Statutes at Large, the American State Papers, and the Congressional Globe) on its free American Memory webpage, A Century of Lawmaking For a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875. So if there was ever excuse for citing, or even reading, presidential messages secondhand, there certainly is none now. Consider then the following citations. I don't mean to single out these authors, publishers, and journals for special attention, nor to suggest that the problem is limited to presidential messages or to Jackson. Rather, the fact that I came across these cases without any deliberate searching and all within a very confined subject area suggests that the practice is widespread. These are examples I just happened to see. 1. Within three pages (395-397) in Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson (HarperCollins, 2008), author David S. Reynolds cites three of Jackson's messages to three different websites: the Maysville Road Veto to a few snippets of text on a now partially inoperative site called "Andrew Jackson on the Web"; a passage on Indian removal to an unrecoverable page on http://allamericanpatriots.com, and the seventh annual message to a corrupted text on a website now calling itself The Nomadic Spirit. 2. A new monograph entitled Creek Paths and Federal Roads (UNC Press, 2010, pp. 222, 234) cites a passage on Indian removal from Jackson's second annual message to a heavily but silently abridged text on "100 milestone documents" at http://ourdocuments.gov, a site intended for school use. 3. An article in the summer 2010 issue of Journal of the Early Republic (p. 271) cites quotations from two of Jackson's annual messages to a book called The Statesmanship of Andrew Jackson, edited by Francis Newton Thorpe and published in 1909. This citation is less egregious than the previous two. Thorpe's texts appear to be faithful copies of Richardson's. But you have to check Richardson to be sure; and then, having done that, why not cite it instead of this obscure secondhand printing? Back in the day when books and journals were more aggressively copy-edited, footnotes like this would not have reached print. The website citations violate standards of both accuracy and permanence. Websites come and go, and the minute these ones go dark or change their URL, as some cited in Waking Giant have already done, the references to them become worthless. The deeper and more alarming problem is that all these citations are essentially random, justified by nothing more than the authors' momentary convenience and enabled by their credulity. You can find anything on the internet, authentic or fraudulent. What does it say about our standards that reputable authors now think it acceptable practice to credit, quote, and cite any version of a text that they happen to stumble upon, without bothering to check its origin, completeness, or accuracy? These authors not only cited bad sources, but trusted them. That puts us but one step away -- if that -- from "I saw it somewhere, so it must be true," a research standard that erases the only firm line separating legitimate historians from cranks and nutcases. History is an evidence-based discipline, and when we forsake sound practices in the use and citation of evidence we forfeit our claims to be reliable purveyors of historical knowledge. Alas, it seems that too many people just can't be bothered to do it right anymore. I expect replies pointing out how ungracious and impolitic it is to say this. I'll be thankful for one pointing out where I'm wrong. Daniel Feller University of Tennessee