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History of Harvard Citation Style

For academics, be at high school level or at post-doc level, it is essential to include referencing. Referencing plays a huge role in making you an accountable researcher. If you do not cite the sources you are using in your thesis or academic paper, you are basically using another researcher’s work and claiming it as your own. This not only misleads your examiners and readers, but also holds you accountable for plagiarism.

Accurately and clearly referencing your research is one of the various ways to avoid plagiarizing work. In addition to academic dishonesty, referencing has its own practical reasons as well. In research, everyone is allowed to factually prove a particular claim wrong by producing counterproductive research. For this, referencing allows the researchers to know the sources of the materials they can use to build their argument. Also, referencing helps the researcher to revise or double-check their own content used in an academic piece.

One important thing you need to keep in mind about referencing is that there are different ways for researchers to cite their work. Each referencing style comes with its own merits and characteristics. Our focus in this article is to talk about one of the simplest and widely used methods of referencing, the Harvard style.

How Does the Harvard System Work?

The Harvard referencing style is one of the most acceptable and easiest systems. In simpler ways, if you spot a ‘author: date’ citation, know that it is Harvard style. In the Harvard style, you mention the author’s name, the year of the publication and the page number, all in the brackets. For example, here’s what a Harvard citation looks like:

(Winkler 1990: 188-89)

In case you do not have a page number, then simply present it as:

(Winkler 1990)

The other ways to use Harvard citation to cite research are as followed:

(Higgs 1986; Hogg 1987): in situations when you want to cite two or more authors.

…Higgs (1986: 216 – 17): when you want to cite within a sentence.

The History of Harvard Referencing System

As mentioned earlier, Harvard citation system is known as the parenthetical author-date system. Not like APA or MLA referencing styles, the style originated in the 1880s when a professor of Zoology at Harvard University first adopted the parenthetical references.

Going into detail, the author-date origin in research was attributed by Edward Laurens Mark, the Hersey professor teaching anatomy and he was also the director of the Zoological lab work conducted at Harvard University. It is said that Professor Edward was inspired by the cataloging system at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology library and hence, he started the referencing through Harvard style.

In 1881, Professor Edward worked on his research on the subject of embryogenesis of the garden slug. It was within this research that he included the author-date citation in parentheses. Professor Edward did this on page number 194 of his research, and that marked the first-ever existence of this referencing style. According to British Medical Journal’s Eli Chernin, it wasn’t until Professor Edward’s contribution when researchers stopped the inconsistent referencing styles in the footnotes. The researchers back then usually used a variety of texts, including daggers and asterisks.

harvard citation style
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

In 1903, Chernin wrote that 1903 festschrift honors to Professor Edward by his 140 students, which include Theodore Roosevelt and confirmed that the author-date referencing style is attributed to Professor Edward. Additionally, the festschrift also included Professor Edwards’ 1881 paper and wrote the following about the paper: ” this work introduced into zoology a proper fullness and accuracy of citation and a convenient and uniform method of referring from text to bibliography.”

Later in 1945, the British Medical Journal’s editorial note, it was noted through an unconfirmed anecdote that the “Owen System” was later introduced by an unnamed English visitor to Harvard library, which then led to the dubbing of Professor Edward’s work as ‘Harvard system’.

While the citation and referencing may have originated from Zoology/Biology, researchers of different disciplines such as social sciences, history and humanities use it. Scientific journals, specifically biology journals favor the Harvard referencing system.

Just like for other referencing systems, it is important that you follow the manual and learn about the referencing and citation ways when it comes to Harvard referencing. If you are not following the style correctly, you will not lose marks on the assignment (be it a thesis or other academic paper) but will not be able to publish your findings in a notable publication. Essentially, as mentioned earlier, whatever referencing style you feel comfortable using or are instructed to use, you need to make sure that you do it correctly. And having this said, every referencing style has stark differences, so you can’t mix them together.

Now you know a short story of Harvard referencing style. Happy enough?

So, here’s everything you need to know about the Harvard referencing style. If you are interested in getting the assignment done following all the necessary referencing criteria, you know where to come!

Laura Orta

Laura Orta is an avid author on Writing Metier's blog. Before embarking on her writing career, she practiced media law in one of the local media. Aside from writing, she works as a private tutor to help students with their academic needs. Laura and her husband share their home near the ocean in northern Portugal with two extraordinary boys and a lifetime collection of books.

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