Skip to content

College of Humanities & Sciences

Department of History

Chicago-Style Citation for Historians

Historians most commonly use Chicago’s note-style citation, based in the Chicago Manual of Style, now in its 17th ed. (U of Chicago, 2017). Notes (either footnotes or endnotes) are the single most flexible and broadly-applicable form of documentation available to academic writers. This format is not typically used by the social or physical sciences, because their sources tend to be recent and specific in genre. Historians, on the other hand, work with every kind of human artifact and writing, across thousands of years. As such, MLA, APA, and Chicago Author-Date styles cannot meet our needs.

Chicago note-style citation has two parts: footnotes (or endnotes), and a bibliography.

Creating Footnotes or Endnotes in your Word Processor

Notes are appended to specific statements made in the body of a paper wherever a reference is needed. Their placement is indicated by a superscript number at the end of the relevant sentence. These notes are numbered sequentially throughout the paper. The notes to which the superscript numbers refer may appear at the bottom of the page where that sentence appears (footnotes) or in a single run at the end of the body of your paper (endnotes).

This video offers guidance on how to place notes in your paper as you work in MS Word.

Chicago Note and Bibliography Citation Style

The formats for citing a source are different in each of the two parts of the Chicago note-style citation system.  Notes are grammatically arranged like a sentence.  For example, if you were citing a modern book, it might look as follows in your notes:

Firstname Lastname, Title of the Book (City: Publisher, Year), ##.

Notice especially that the parts of this note citation are connected by commas, the names are offered in normal speaking order, and there is a page number, so that a reader can navigate to the material you have used with precision.

Bibliography entries, on the other hand, appear in an alphabetical listing at the very end of a paper, and they are intended to be scanned through rather like you might scan a phone book, dictionary, or encyclopedia, looking for a specific entry.  Each entry is grammatically a paragraph, and if you were citing a modern book, it might look like this:

Lastname, Firstname.  Title of Book. City: Publisher, Year.

Notice here that the parts of the citation are separated by periods; the last name appears first (for alphabetization purposes); and the whole source is indicated, so there’s no page numbers for a book (but there can be for articles.)

Some Important Distinctions:

  1. If you are looking at the Chicago Manual either online or in hard copy, do not mistake their author-date system for the note-based style.  You do not want author-date!
  2. Within the note-based style, you must use the correct format for each of the two parts of the citation system.  Do not put bibliographic entries in the notes, or notation-style entries in the bibliography.
  3. You must also use the correct notation format for the type of source you are noting.  This is more complex; don’t try to ‘wing it.’ There’s a format for virtually anything you might ever care to site, and you need to find it. 
    1. Routinely published texts (such as books, journal articles, essays in collected volumes, and so on) are listed in the Chicago Manual’s Quick Style Guide.
    2. More unusual or one-of-a-kind materials such as archival materials, manuscripts, visual media, and other, more obscure materials each have their own citation formats. To find support on how to cite those materials, see Chapter 14 of the Chicago Manual of Style.

Some do’s and don’ts:

  1. Do make certain of the citation requirements of your specific course instructor before you begin to write, and keep the Chicago Manual handy while you write.
  2. Do set aside some time during your editing process to check through your citations for style errors.
  3. Do seek out your professors if you have an unusual source to cite and are uncertain about the format.  A brief double-check in advance is far more professional than “winging it.”
  4. As you write, do enter a citation any time you think you might need one.  They are easy enough to remove while editing, if you find you’ve been over-noting!
  5. Do not wait until you are finished with the writing process to enter your notes; that approach is apt to leave students with missing citations, which may appear as plagiarism.  Enter your notes as you go.
  6. Do not simply cut and paste a pre-formatted citation you find somewhere on the web and insert that citation into your paper without checking it against Chicago style.  When we ask for Chicago, we expect Chicago, and it is up to students to adhere to it with care.
  7. Do not use “Ibid.” for repeated citations. Second and further citations of the same source may use short form citations in Chicago style, as laid out in sections 14.24 forward of the Chicago Manual.
  8. Do not work from the premise that thorough and correct citations are a trivial irritation.  If you were working on in a web design project and none of the links worked, you would rightfully be considered to have failed at web design.  Likewise, you’re not succeeding in writing history if your citations – our ‘hyperlinks’ – don’t work.
View graphic versionView graphic versionView graphic version