Answered By: Deborah Kelley-Milburn
Last Updated: Mar 21, 2017     Views: 6526

The "Harvard System" is something of a misnomer, as there is no official institutional connection.

It's another name for the author/date citation system, the custom of using author and date in parentheses, e.g. (Robbins 1987) to refer readers to the full bibliographic citations in appended bibliographies.  Some Harvard faculty were among the first practitioners in the late 19th century, and the name stuck, particularly in England and the Commonwealth countries. 

For a full explanation, please see the Wikipedia article for Parenthetical References; History.  The definitive scholarly article on the subject is Chernin C. The "Harvard System": a mystery dispelled.  British Medical Journal 297:1062-1063, October 22, 1988.  

If you're looking for authoritative guidance, there are many excellent sources freely available online, and the Chicago Manual of Style has an excellent chapter on Author-Date Referencing. Harvard Library has no guide to this system, as most of our scholars use APA, Chicago, MLA or another specific to their discipline.

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