Citation, Documentation of Sources

Q. I’m trying to help my high school students cite primary sources found online for history research papers using notes-bibliography formatting. How would you cite this document, a 1970 memo from Kissinger to Nixon, found on a State Department website: https://​history​.state​.gov​/historical​documents​/frus1969​-76v21​/d190.

I put the website into a citation generator and here is what it produced: “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume XXI, Chile, 1969–1973—Office of the Historian,” 2024. https://​history​.state​.gov/historical​documents​/frus1969​-76v21​/d190.

I don’t think this is correct because (a) “” is not an author’s name, (b) “Foreign Relations of the United States” is not the title of the document but the title of the collection, and (c) there should be a period, not a comma, after the title. How should this document be cited?

A. According to CMOS 14.111, letters and other correspondence found in published collections are usually cited by the names of the correspondents (sender first), the date of the correspondence (plus a place if relevant), and the information for the collection. Adapting this advice to your example—after clicking around the site to find out more about the source—we’d cite the memo in a note like this:

1. Henry Kissinger to Richard Nixon, memorandum, Washington, December 18, 1970, in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, ed. Adam Howard, vol. 21, Chile, 1969–1973, ed. James McElveen and James Siekmeier (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2014), doc. 190, https://​history​.state​.gov​/historical​documents​/frus1969​-76v21​/d190.

See also CMOS 14.120. (And note that the US Government Printing Office became the Government Publishing Office in 2014, but the former name is the one on the vol. 21 title page; see the PDF version based on the original printed edition and offered along with the source.) The same item could be cited again in shortened form like this:

2. Kissinger to Nixon, Washington, December 18, 1970.

The collection and volume (but not usually the individual document) would be added to the bibliography as follows:

Howard, Adam, ed. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976. Vol. 21, Chile, 1969–1973, edited by James McElveen and James Siekmeier. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2014. https://​history​.state​.gov/historical​documents​/frus1969​-76v21/.

Alternatively, you could cite the memo like an article on a website, using the title supplied by the publisher that appears in both the collection and on the web page for the document:

1. “Memorandum from the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon,” doc. 190, December 18, 1970, Department of State, Foreign Service Institute, Office of the Historian, https://​history​.state​.gov​/historical​documents/frus1969​-76v21/d190.

Any bibliography entry corresponding to that note would be listed under the name of the organization, and it would make more sense in this case to cite the memo rather than the collection:

US Department of State, Foreign Service Institute. “Memorandum from the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon.” Office of the Historian, doc. 190, December 18, 1970. https://​history​.state​.gov/historical​documents​/frus1969​-76v21/d190.

Citing the memo like an article is a little easier to do, but citing it in terms of the collection adds helpful context. You have some flexibility when it comes to primary sources like these. Note, for example, how editors McElveen and Siekmeier cite the memo (in their source note at the head of the document): as an artifact in a numbered box at the National Archives—or the primary source as it exists in real life.