Engaging the Art of Peritext: From the Promise of the Index to the Allure of the Footnote

By Cayo Gamber.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

When searching for information in a book, many students are lost without a “Search Box” to type words into and “Enter” button to hit. In my paper, I will describe ways to engage such students in the allure of footnotes/endnotes and goodwill of indices. In recent years, I have asked students to bring in their research handbook in order to review with them how to document various sources. It quickly became clear to me that none of them (and at most one of them) knew how to “search” a handbook. When I explained to them that they should consult the index, they found it counterintuitive to go to the back of the book. Moreover, when we discussed some of the scholarship they were required to read, it became clear to me that they never read endnotes and rarely read footnotes. For example, there were subtle points the writer had made in a footnote of which they were unaware. I explained how footnotes and endnotes “free” the writer; for often it is here that she can ruminate on a particular point or he can discuss the nuances of a given word choice, theory, or example. As a result of learning how poorly acquainted they are to the artful format of a book, I developed a series of staged exercises which introduce them to various ways books “work” - ways that are specific to the skill, sophistication, and subtlety with which printed texts, and books in particular, are conceptualized and crafted.

Keywords: Index, Footnote, Format

International Journal of the Book, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp.55-66. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.297MB).

Dr. Cayo Gamber

Assistant Professor of Writing, The University Writing Program, The George Washington University, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA

Cayo Gamber is an Assistant Professor of Writing at the George Washington University. She currently teaches a writing seminar, Legacies of the Holocaust, focused on researching primary documents related to the Holocaust (e.g., oral histories of survivors and archival photographs); Introduction to Women’s Studies; and From Barbie Dolls to Guerilla Girls: A Study of Women in/and Media. Her research interests include analyzing the memorialization of warfare, teaching the Holocaust through primary documents and literature, and the role of popular culture (e.g., the Barbie doll and Nancy Drew) in creating Western notions of girlhood and womanhood.


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