The History of Citations and Indexes

In reviewing the work of Eugene Garfield (of whom more anon) two points were fascinating.

Firstly that the idea of citation databases in the sciences came from Shepards Citations. See his 50 year old article Association of ideas techniques in documentation: Shepardizing the literature of science. I’d assumed that the legal documentation theorists drew from the mathematicians and information scientists, not the other was round. His article is worth reading.

Second the history of information science used to assume that techniques of organizing information were essentially from the Enlightenment, and the founding of the great national libraries, like the BM (now the BL) and the BN. But one doesn’t reckon with the fearsome research skills of the scholars of the history of religious texts, who’ve taken the techniques all the way back to the fourth century. Prof. Bella Hass Weinberg of St. John’s University’s paper “Who Invented the Index? An agenda for research on Information Access Features of Hebrew and Latin Manuscripts” started it off.

As the result of a claim that concordances and subject indices were first developed in France in the thirteenth century, Prof. Weinberg undertook a study of early Hebrew citation indices and found that they date back nearly six centuries earlier than those authored in France. See Predecessors of Scientific Indexing Structures in the Domain of Religion [pdf].

These techniques of organizing information are likely hardwired into how we think about scholarship and knowledge. By the way, I didn’t know (until Garfield’s paper) that Shepardizing dates back to 1873.

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