I'm always happy to receive my latest copy of Studies in the Age of Chaucer. I had been anticipating volume 29 ever since the NCS in NYC of 2006. I've wanted to spend some time with the written version of two lectures, David Wallace's Presidential Address ("New Chaucer Topographies") and Susan Crane's Biennial Chaucer Lecture ("For the Birds"). The thick volume arrived yesterday and I immediately flipped to Wallace's essay. Let me share with you today my surprise about its footnotes.
They are copious and authoritative, just as SAC demands. But these are not the footnotes of a SAC article c.2005, or 1995, or 1985: Wallace's footnotes ought to be hyperlinked. They contain what might be the first citation of a blog in the journal (footnote 5 reads simply "http://houseoffame.blogspot.com") -- though, I hasten to add, only as a way of not speaking about blogs. The footnoted sentence in the main text reads "In speaking of new Chaucer topographies, I bypass the Chaucer blogger (whoever you are: some say a Langlandian ABD)." This just after an observation about how the World Wide Web keeps us "continually connected." Alas, poor Chaucer blog [and your nonLanglandian nonABD author], you are discarded for a starting point at Peter Ackroyd.
The footnotes demonstrate just how plugged in David Wallace is ... not surprising, since David Wallace has impressed me since I met him as a graduate student in 1990 as someone who simply knows everything about everything and can express it in an inimitable fashion. The Guardian is cited by its URL, not via its print version (footnote 14). A definition of Gotham City is pulled from the Superman Homepage (footnote 12). The essay's first footnote even references the officially published responses to the NCS conference at which the lecture was delivered. The Canterbury Tales "Medieval Misadventures" attraction gets a literary nod via a Sylvia Plath reference ("feauturing grotesquely animated puppets, [it] opens (to amend Sylvia Plath) with horsepiss in darkness," 7) and a footnote sending readers to the attraction's webpage. Baba Brinkman's Rap Canterbury Tales likewise sees its website published in the footnotes, and even Jody Foster rapping Eminem at U Penn's commencement receives a dutiful link (footnote 22).
To which I say: yahoo. And also, bravo. Scholarly publishing ought to be forthright in acknowledging that information arrives from many venues, and that the internet has altered how we conduct much of our research. I am very happy to see those URLs proliferate, even as they make me wonder about the future of publishing hard copy journals.
What surprised me, though, was the presence of an entity which has until now been one I warn my students in dire terms to flee: Wikipedia. Wallace defines vogueing by quoting the Wikipedia entry in footnote 9. Wikipedia being Wikipedia, someone has already changed the entry, so it no longer quite coincides with his quotation (the substance remains the same, but the Madonna element has been downplayed by an anonymous redactor with some small animus against her). Wikipedia resurfaces in footnote 24, to source a biography of Darcus Howe given in the main text (footnote 24 is in fact the last reference to internet materials; footnotes 25-45 often invoke conferences and performances, however, stressing the vitality of the essay's subject).
Part of what spurred this post is that more scholarly, less ephemeral references -- e.g. to voguing -- can be found elsewhere. But am I simply worried about the erosion of my own scholarly authority? Is it possible that I need to rethink the Wikipedia warning I put on my research paper instructions? Is Wikipedia still what I thought it was: a plethora of vanity pages, lightly researched facts, and eccentric information sprinkled with some good entries that are nonetheless susceptible to constant mischief, all of it frosted with a deceptively bright layer of supposed fact checking, group correction, and peer review? How did Wikipedia bust into SAC? Or am I waaaay behind the times here? I am curious to hear from ITM readers: where do you stand on Wikipedia?