History Essay 1

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Charlie Penston
1

History Essay ­ Unit 1 Introduction to Historical Interpretation and source material Historians have to use a variety of different methods when evaluating source material in order to do so effectively and properly. In doing so, a historian can recognise the authenticity of a source and then ultimately establish a better understanding of the period in which the source originated. This essay will go over the importance of acknowledging the authenticity of a source, and the skills required by the historians to evaluate source material. As well as how History is open to a range of historical interpretation, and how my own bias could affect my own case study. There are many ways in which a historian can approach a source. Some follow a specific set of questions, others question the follow up information the source provides; it all depends on the historian. Besides the many ways a historian may approach a source, the fundamental question that they’re trying to answer is, is the source authentic? and if so, what does the source truly depict of the happenings of the time period? The concept seems simple, but a historian job is to construct an accurate interpretation of the past from the surviving remains, and therefore has to remain skeptical despite the appetite for the possible information the source may be able to provide. An initial basic skill a historian must take to a source to recognise the authenticity of it is to establish what type of source it is; a primary or secondary source. A primary source being a physical artefact or record created at the time makes it undoubtedly more reliable than a secondary source and without it history is open to too much subjectivity and therefore is not history at all “The discovery and analysis of primary sources alone does not make history, but without the study of primary sources there is no history” (Arthur
Marwick, The new nature of history, p 156). A secondary source is the accounts of the past created by the people at sometime after they happened, although not as reliable as a primary source it is equally as important and, as long as it’s authentic, can provide a very vivid portrait to the happenings of the time. After establishing what type of source it is the historian must ascertain what the source actually depicts both wittingly and unwittingly. The Witting testimony is the information that the source provides at face value, and therefore in a matter of speaking is the information that wants to be found, and perceived in the way that it was presented . The Unwitting testimony is the opposite, and refers to any information that is identified that wasn’t deliberately put there for the purpose of being useful “They may not be what they seem to be; they may signify very much more than is immediately apparent; they may be couched in obscure and antiquated forms which are meaningless to the untutored eye” (John Tosh, The Pursuit of History, p 91), and therefore even the most improbable sources may be the most important.
It is a hard concept to comprehend, that no matter how open minded, objective, or generally straight you may think you are it is impossible to avoid a degree of ambiguity and subjectivity when evaluating sources. This concept can be used in relation to the study of History itself, and how it’s open to a range of historical interpretation. You have to accept that everyone who

Charlie Penston
2

has ever lived has had a certain degree of bias, and their accounts of history (Being secondary sources), will definitely be slated a number of different ways depending on their environment, upbringing, lifestyle, financial situation, and the very fact that they are a completely different person to yourself. You’ll never truly be able to comprehend another person's thought process, or even why they think the way they do. Therefore, as a Historian, you have to accept this and ultimately use it to your…