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Evidence Explained: An Interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills

Dipping into the Genealogy Pointers archives, we unearthed a fascinating interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills, author of “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.”

As one of the most respected and influential persons in American genealogy, Published widely in academic and popular presses, she was editor of the “National Genealogical Society Quarterly” (NGSQ) for 16 years.

Mrs. Mills has also taught for 13 years at a National Archives-based institute on archival records and, for 20 years, headed the program in advanced research methodology at Samford University in Alabama.

Mrs. Mills knows records, loves records, and regularly shares her expertise in them with audiences across three continents.

“EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” is Elizabeth Mills’ third major publication pertaining to source citation. Her earlier works include: “EVIDENCE! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian” (1997) and “QUICKSHEET: Citing Online Historical Resources “Evidence!” Style” (2005). The groundbreaking “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” analyses citation principals and includes more than 1,000 citation models for virtually every source type. In the process, it covers all contemporary and electronic history sources–including digital, audio, and video sources–most of which are still not discussed in traditional style manuals.

“Genealogy Pointers” spoke with Mrs. Mills about the making “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” and how researchers can benefit from it. Here are the exchanges from that conversation:

GENEALOGY POINTERS (GP): Why did you write this book?

ELIZABETH SHOWN MILLS (ESM): Researchers need help and want help, but what they need today is not available elsewhere. Those who study history now probe far beyond the materials covered by standard citation guides–combing long-ignored original, grassroots-level records for fresh insight into our world. Thanks to modern technology, billions of these original records are now easily accessible through many different media. However, today’s researchers also know two things: First, all these records are not created equal. Second, the real reason to carefully identify sources for each piece of information is to ensure that we use the best sources possible. Otherwise, we just can’t reach reliable conclusions. Analyzing evidence is no easy task, considering the volume of information available, the diversity of the records, all the quirks within each type of document, and all the media formats.

Since the 1997 publication of the original “briefcase edition” of “EVIDENCE!” (which compactly covers 100 of the most common types of history sources), researchers have deluged me with questions about thousands of other materials. I definitely understand their angst, after three decades of my own research in the archives of most western nations, as well as writing for journals and presses in several academic fields and 16 years of editing a major scholarly journal. The new “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” draws on that experience–but it’s also rooted in four file drawers of inquiries and debates generated by the users of that first edition.

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