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Technology and Term Papers – A Photo Essay

by Oliver B. Pollak

A new school year starts. Desktops, laptops, and netbooks challenge pencils and ballpoints (a late 1940s innovation). One writing helpmate has repeatedly adjusted to technological change.

Kate L. Turabian, progressed from a department secretary at the University of Chicago in 1925, to secretary in the Registrar's office, and in 1930 to dissertation secretary, the gatekeeper of thesis and dissertation protocol. In 1937 she published A Manual for Writers, modeled on the larger, more expensive, Chicago Manual of Style, dating from the turn of the last century.[1]

Turabian's 1937 62 page typed pamphlet "distributed by the University of Chicago Bookstore" was purchased by the University of Nebraska library for 30 cents. Turabian competed with Modern Language Association (MLA) and other disciplinary style manuals. For workers in the humanities "Turabian" became a household word much as Kodak, Polaroid, Xerox and Google. Turabian retired in 1958.

Pictures demonstrated how millions of people wrote. From 1955 to 1987, the covers of the 1955 3rd (which I used as an undergraduate, $1), 1973 4th ($3.95), and 1987 5th ($8.95) displayed a cavalcade of writers' tools. For over four decades the illustrated cover revealed changes in writing instruments.

The index also noted changes. The 5th edition "Computerized word processing" became "computer software, using" in the 2003 7th.

The 1996 6th ($13) and 2007 7th ($17) editions appeared when the computer dominated typewriters and manuscripts, and regrettably returned to generic covers.

In August 1987 Turabian's sales were listed at more than 5 million copies.[2] Two months later the same publication described it as "The bane of every graduate student's existence—all ye know and all ye need to know about ibid., id. and op. cit.," with sales of 6 million.[3]

Turabian died the following month at the age of 94. Her obituary stated her compendium sold over 5 million copies in five editions.[4]

The back of the 2007 7th edition proclaimed "More than 8 million copies sold." Turabian is more than a burger, bun, ketchup, onions, lettuce and tomato.

Book sale statistics do not tell reveal Turabian's sway. At the end of the semester students sell their books. The used book market evades book sale statistics as do books loaned or handed down to friends, relatives, Greeks. And that does not touch the multiplier effect, the same owner using the book several times over the years. Imagine how much wealthier Turabian, her heirs and the University of Chicago Press would be if the United States observed public lending rights where use of library books generates royalties.

Six scholars grew the 5th, 6th and 7th editions to 466 pages.

The struggle against plagiarism generates a market for student handbooks. In 2009 Turabian: The Easy Way! by Peggy and Timothy Houghton tackled the "considerable confusion" and apprehension evoked by Turabian by simplification, condensing and reducing it to 108 pages.

[1] See Oliver B. Pollak, "The Decline and Fall of Bottom Notes, loc. cit., op. cit. and a Century of the Chicago Manual of Style," Journal of Scholarly Publishing 38 (November 2006):14-30.

[2] Edwin McDowell, "Why College Classics Stay that Way," New York Times, August 2, 1987, ProQuest.

[3] "25 Years of University Press Best Sellers," New York Times, October 11, 1987, NY Book Review, 58, ProQuest.

[4] "Kate Turabian Dies; Author of Stylebook About Dissertations," New York Times, October 26, 1987, B12, ProQuest.


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