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Investigating the past using sources

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Naomi Gladwin

on 6 February 2014

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Transcript of Investigating the past using sources

Investigating the Past Using Sources
The Mystery of History
History is about detective work. The word 'history' comes from the Greek word 'historia', which means both 'learning by inquiry' and 'narrative' or 'story'. This suggests that history, like detective work, is about asking questions, collecting information and searching for clues that may produce evidence. Both detectives and historians want to reconstruct the past.

What would a detective use as clues to solve a case?
Asking Historical Questions
Historians usually begin their investigations by trying to identify what is already known about a particular event, person or period of time and what still remains to be known. To guide their research, historians ask the typical questions that detectives ask:

Fact, Fiction and Opinion
Primary and Secondary Sources
Primary sources: Created during the period the historian is investigating.

Secondary sources: Created after the period the historian is investigating.
The historians clues are those things that provide information about people's experiences of daily life in past times - a tool, a weapon, a diary extract, a painting, a sculpture, an official document, a child's toy, an interview with someone who was there, and so on.

Does anyone know what historians' clues are called?
Historians use a variety of sources in an attempt to accurately reconstruct the past. Sources can provide information about the particular person, event, society or problem that is under investigation. This information can become evidence of many aspects of daily life in a particular society - for example, people's diet, the types of work they did and the level of technology in their societies.
A ziggurut in ancient Sumer, Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq and Kuwait)
How could this source
be both a primary and
secondary one?
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a primary source must always be better than a secondary source because it was created 'at the time'. A historian knows that this is not necessarily true. How come?

What advantages could secondary sources have?
What happened?
Where did it happen?
Why did it happen?
When did it happen?
How did it happen?
Who did it?
Next, a historian will try to formulate ideas that might answer these questions. Such an idea is called a

As a historian's investigation progresses, a hypothesis is constantly tested to see if it fits the evidence that is emerging from the sources. Based on what the sources tell them, historians may change their hypotheses a number of times as they strive to develop an explanation of the past that matches the evidence they have gathered.

The identification in 2013 of King Richard's body shows that the skeleton had 10 wounds, eight of them to the head, clearly inflicted in battle and suggesting he had lost his helmet. The skull showed that a blade had hacked away part of the rear of the skull. King Richard III was the last English king to be killed in battle.

When you want to use a source as evidence, it is important to decide whether:

It expresses
about the past - meaning what really happened; the truth; the reality of an event, situation or person.
It is someone's
- meaning someone's personal viewpoint.
The information it provides is
and therefore not true at all - meaning information someone has made up.
Meaning, Purpose and Context
in sources
Historians search for the meaning of a source by thinking about the purpose for which it was created and the context in which it was produced.

of a source means where and in what circumstances someone created the source, and what the facts are surrounding the creation of the source.
of a source is what the creator of a source hoped would happen as a result of producing the source.

To understand what might have influenced the creator of a source, the historian thinks about what the creator intended it to achieve. The source creator may have been trying to convince his or her audience to take certain action or to agree or disagree with a particular viewpoint.
Usefulness, Reliability and Perspective in Sources
Historians are also interested in the
of a source. This means thinking about what might have influenced the way the author presented and reported on a particular situation. The source someone creates could be affected by:

What country he or she came from
What level of society he or she belonged to (upper, middle, lower class)
What leader or political party he or she supported
the experiences that influenced his or her outlook on life.
Historians also think about the
of a particular source.

When they think about
, they are thinking about:

whether the source is complete or incomplete
whether the source is biased - that is, whether or not it provides too positive or negative a view of something
whether the source agrees with information that people already accept about a particular topic.
When historians consider the
of a source, they are thinking about how it can be used to improve our understanding of the past.
What would the context and purpose be of this speech?
Cause and Effect
Cause and effect is the link between what causes, or motivates an action and the effects of that action.
Can you think of an example?
How to Analyse an Image
Images are important historical documents that can tell you a lot about the past. Learning how to analyse images is a skill that historians use so they can understand more about the events, culture and societies of the past. In order to analyse images, historians ask questions such as, "Who created the image?", "When was it created?" and "Why was it created?

As part of analysing images, historians also ask, "What does the image NOT tell us?" Perhaps the image might not be complete, or perhaps there might be other information about the image that is not immediately obvious.
Aspects of Examining an Image
1. Examine the image itself:
What is happening in this image? Describe what you see.
Where is the image set and what type of setting is it?
What type of image is it, and what tools were used to create it?
What does the image tell us about the past?
If someone created this image today, would it be the same? If not, what would be different about it?
2. Examine the content:
What story does the image tell? Does it tell one story or multiple stories?
What kinds of people, animals, objects are shown?
What might be missing from this image?
3. Examine the context:
Who created the image? (Do we always know?)
When was it created?
Why do you think the image was created?
Who do you think was the audience for the image?
How does it relate to the period of history in which it was created?
Let's have a look at the reliability and usefulness of a source written by Tacitus; a famous historian during the ancient Roman times in the First Century CE.
Ecclesia and Synagoga
Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, France (c.1230)
-What do you notice about these statues?
-Compare the statues

Ecclesia and Synagoga
Church window of St. John's Church in Werben/ Elbe River, Germany (c.1414-1467)
- What is different about this image?

We're going to be focusing on the statues in red below, built on the south entrance to the Strasbourg Catherdral in France...
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