Thursday, November 29, 2018

An MLA 8 Question (or two or three)

Yesterday, I sent an inquiry to the MLA Style Center. It follows:

Section 1.2.3 in the MLA Handbook 8th edition implies that a bibliographic citation for a U.S. Supreme Court Case should begin with the named parties in the case (pp. 70-71). If we want to include author information, should that be pushed to element 4 (additional contributor)? This is what that would look like:

What follows is a continuation of the question I posed yesterday. I am citing legal documents. Clearly, MLA is not the citation format of choice for these materials, but because the bulk of New Canaan High School's instruction on citation style comes through the English department, the library exclusively teaches MLA 8 to students in grades 9-11. It is more effective to teach students to master one thing before showing them the alternatives. We do switch it up for some Advanced Placement courses, UCONN Early College Experience courses, and senior year curriculum.

Soooo... for my question:

I rethought my U.S. Supreme Court case citation after emailing yesterday's inquiry and working on a few more examples for our (temporary) MLA 8 Help Page. We are building a better one in LibGuides, but it is not finished.

Given the nature of our students' research task, I would want the title of legislation or a court opinion to appear in an embedded parenthetical reference. This would help strengthen the evidence and support teachers who are grading the work. So the citation should start with the name (not number) of the legislation or opinion (e.g., “Civil Rights Act of 1964.”, “Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.”, “Miller-El v. Cockrell.”).

This presents a challenge when determining how to classify the other elements of the citation. Can, for example, we use the legislative body - US Supreme Court or 115th Congress as a element #3 (container)? This allows the student to include more detail about authorship under element #4 (contributing author):

In the above example, we pushed the Web storage information to the second container.  Otherwise, the citation would feel disjointed: title, Web container, contributing author, number, publisher, etc. The Web container information would clumsily break up related author and title information (see the first citation in this post).

Continuing with the sequence used in the above citation, other legislative documents would be cited like this:

In the case of an executive action or order, the enacting president’s name should appear in the parenthetical reference (Bush, Obama, Trump, etc.) because authorship contextualizes the order. Therefore, the citation should begin with the author (president) name. This follows the 8th edition Handbook instructions, "If your discussion of such a work focuses on the contribution of a particular person - say, the performance of an actor or the ideas of a screenwriter - begin the entry with his or her name, followed by a descriptive label." (MLA Handbook, p.24). The title of an executive order about immigration policy is not as telling as the name of the president who issued it. An immigration order from President Obama sets up very different expectations about its content than one from President Trump.

Does this make sense? Do you agree? What would you do differently?

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