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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More of History

Earlier this month I published a post on the nature of history entitled Of History. This post continues my understanding of what history is and how it is done.

History might be called the recording of certain doings and happenings. Each such recording might be said to have been done from a given world view, a particular perspective. The perception and narration of each of those happenings or doings is an interpretation by a particular human being of set of human beings. Each of us, including historians, have biases; we ca be said to be ethno-centric. That is, history is told from were the teller and his audience is, in their center. As broad-minded and objective as I am, I view the world and its doings from my placer in my culture.

I not only see and tell from my particular place, but also from my particular time. I am part of an 'us' in our time and am so disconnected from 'them' in their time that there is very much that I do not know of their vision and motivation. It is difficult for me to imagine their world much less to know it. Still, the more aware, conscious, and knowledgeable I am, the more capable of imagining their world I may be.

That of which I can be aware, conscious, and knowledgeable can be called evidence. Careful consideration of the evidence is what makes a story, history.

Science, law, history have rules of evidence and methods for dealing with it. We benefit by having a definition for 'evidence' well in mind. My definition often begins something like this: Evidence is that which is so seen that what it is, is clear and obvious to me; it is so distinct that the probability that my vision is correct, is high. I suggest that you consult your dictionary.

I have also told myself the following of evidence: Evidence helps me approach proof or truth. Evidence is a sign or indication that my proposition or hypothesis is likely.

The dictionary that I have open here calls evidence "The data on which a conclusion of judgement may be based." It also calls evidence an indication. We might ask, "How strong is this indication?"

The idea that I am trying to convey is that, the better a historians understanding of rules and methods of evidence is, the better a historian he may be.

These days among us the evidence for history most often comes in the form of documents. Documents come in various forms and qualities. They may be described and sorted in various ways. We may, for example, use a measure for the trustworthiness of their author. A common way of sorting documents is into those that are primary sources and those which are secondary sources. A given primary source may be made up of falsehoods, lies, and stupidity. However, all other things being equal, that source which is closer in time and space to the original data, is the better evidence.

There is a lot more to the understanding of history and the methods of historians, and I am likely to post more on the subject, but not just now.

As always, I shall be pleased to interact with you in the 'comments' section below. If you should choose to contact me by email, please carefully identify the post you are referencing.

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