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What is History? The Past is the events and incidents that had elapsed after having existed or taken place in a period before the present. The term History may be employed in two quite different senses: it may mean • the events and actions that together make up the human past • the accounts given of that past and the modes of investigation whereby they are arrived at or constructed When used in the first sense, the word refers to what as a matter of fact happened. When used in the second sense, it refers to the study and description of those happenings.
Why Study History? We study history for a variety of reasons: • to understand people who thought and acted differently than we do in our own time • to seek self knowledge • to make sense of a time radically different from our own time • to find a sense of distance from the present to aid us in placing our own times in perspective • to help us understand how we got to where we are now
What do Historians Do? Historians expose themselves to a wide range of human experiences for a better understanding of history. Most historians take a deep historical approach, and they closely study a community within a carefully bounded period to recover deeply buried experiences and meanings. Historians study the origins of conflict as well as the impact that such conflicts have upon those caught up in them.
Different Kinds of History • Historians study different aspects of history known as the ‘Kinds of History’. • The most common Kinds of History are: • Artifactual (tools and weapons) • Cultural (humanities) • Economical (finances) • Political (military) • Religious (beliefs) • Social (structure)
Difficulties in Gathering Information • No Actual Survivors • Incomplete Records • Lost, Destroyed, or Forged (untrue) Records • No Written Documents • Unclear or Weak Memories • Second-hand Documents
Sources of Historical Information Whether conducting research in the social sciences, humanities (especially history), arts, or natural sciences, the ability to distinguish between Primary and Secondary source material is essential. This distinction illustrates the degree to which the author of a piece is removed from the actual event being described, informing the reader as to whether the author is reporting impressions first hand (or is first to record these immediately following an event), or conveying the experiences and opinions of others—that is, second hand.
What is a Primary Source? Primary sources are the raw materials or original records created at the time an event occurs or after the event in the form of memoirs or oral histories that help us interpret the past and provide the resources necessary for historical research. These are contemporary accounts of an event, written by someone who experienced or witnessed the event in question. Modern historians prefer to use Primary sources, if available, because they offer new input on historical questions.
Use of Primary Sources • Primary Sources are useful to: • communicate the history of a nation • depict characteristics of places and regions of a nation • describe traditions of racial and ethnic groups • establish a sense of time and place • express a point of view about issues • illustrate important issues, events, and individuals • illustrate relationships among people from various racial and ethnic groups • provide information about the past • reflect the times during which they were created
Examples of Primary Sources Primary Sources are the original Artistic, Oral, and Written documents produced soon after the fact, and they include: audio or video recordings, autobiographies, community meetings, creative works, debates, diaries, E-Mail contacts, eyewitness accounts, governmental documents, interviews, journals, letters, manuscripts, memoirs, moving pictures, newspapers, objects or artifacts such as works of art or tools or weapons observation of object, official documents, literary or theatrical works, photographs, paintings, research data, reports in the natural or social sciences, sculptures, songs, speeches, and surveys
What is a Secondary Source? Secondary sources are usually an analysis of past events and times based on evidence provided by Primary Sources, and they are created by people writing about events sometime after they happened (this could be a few years later or centuries later). In other words, secondary sources are what historians create, and they usually come in the form of books and journal articles. but they may include radio or television documentaries, or conference proceedings. Secondary sources assign values to, analyze, and draw conclusions about events reported in primary sources.
Use of Secondary Sources • Provide an introduction to a topic such as encyclopedias and textbooks, which are specialized types of secondary source • Provide historical context for a topic, such as getting information on how the state effort is compared to the national and international women's suffrage movement • Providehistoriographical context (interpreted by past historians) for a topic (History is not still (inactive), but it is constantly being reinterpreted in light of new evidence and new outlooks.) • Providehints on where to find primary evidence.
Examples of Secondary Sources A good Secondary Source will have footnotes and a bibliography so you can trace the historian's trail of evidence. You can then find the evidence and present your own interpretation. Examples include audio and video tapes, biographies, CD ROMs, commentaries, Encyclopedias, history books, magazines and newspapers, reference material, science books, textbooks, and TV. Some sources could be both Primary and Secondary depending on the people who write them, the time they are written, the information they provide, and their accuracy. Some of these sources are charts, diagrams, Internet Web Sites, graphs, and tables.
Finding the Clues The task of the historian is to carefully examine the remainders of the past for clues that will help answer the question being asked. However, many primary sources are not official documents that have been preserved and stored, but they are the remnants of past societies, people, and their culture that have been left by accident. The historian must find materials that may help to tell us about the past and analyze and interpret these materials. There are a number of critical questions that the historian must address.
Evaluating Primary & Secondary SourcesCritical Questions • Are the author’s conclusions based on a single piece of evidence, or have many sources been taken into account (e.g., diary entries, along with third-party eyewitness accounts, impressions of contemporaries, newspaper accounts)? • Did the creator have firsthand knowledge? • How does the author know these details (names, dates, and times)? • Was the author present at the event or soon on the scene? • Is the document meant to persuade or inform? • Was the source originally meant to be private or public?
More Critical Questions • What biases or hidden agendas did the creator have? • When was the source created, soon after the event, years later? • Where does this information come from—personal experience, eyewitness accounts, or reports written by others? • Who created the source and for what original purpose? This must be taken into account when one is attempting to arrive at the ‘truth’ of an event.
The Past Has Gone for Good Humans, by nature, tend to forget past events or incidents and go on with their daily lives. Therefore, it is common for people to deny the past, specially, when it includes hurt and suffering. People study past civilizations, traditions, cultures, sciences, and religions in order to better understand our existence. However, as long as people are searching the mysterious history on a global scale, and as long as they have thirst for knowledge, the Past will never die. The Past will be gone for good only when people stop being interested in discovering it.
The Place of Controversy in History Historians do disagree with each other in their interpretations, as do scientists. However, history deals with human values, in a way the sciences do not, so there is more range for differences in evaluation. Historical evidence is incomplete, difficult, and imperfect. Individual books and articles may clash with each other. There will always be areas where uncertainty persists, but steadily agreed knowledge emerges in the form of works of synthesis and high-quality textbooks.
Witting and unwitting Testimony ‘Witting’ means ‘deliberate’ or ‘intentional’; ‘unwitting’ means ‘unaware’ or ‘unintentional’. ‘Testimony’ means ‘evidence’. Thus, ‘witting testimony’ is the deliberate or intentional message of a document or other source. The ‘unwitting testimony’ is the unintentional evidence (for example, the attitudes and values of the author, or about the ‘culture’ to which he/she belongs) that it also contains. Actually, it is the writer, creator, or creators of the document or source who is, or are, intentional or unintentional, not the testimony itself.
Problems with primary source language No one is more familiar than the historian with the problems of language to be encountered in primary sources, which abound in obscure technical terms, words and phrases which have changed their meanings over the centuries, attitudes and concepts which no longer exist today, and may be scarcely expressible in the language of today.
Is History Culturally Determined? Historians recognize that we are all culturally influenced, but they deny that their work (history) is culturally determined. Historians argue that, although they are prisoners of their own culture, they are well qualified to understand the influences operating on them, and therefore, escape from them. Their claim is that, in the nature of what they do, historians are studying past societies and the way in which people in these societies were affected by their culture.
Objectivity vs. Subjectivity • Historians argue that, they are aware of the danger of becoming prisoners of the dominant ideas of their own societies. • Therefore, they can produce knowledge that has an objective basis. • Because of the imperfect nature of the sources, there will always be gaps in that knowledge and disagreements over it.