For several weeks now you’ve been analyzing primary sources for your weekly writing assignments. I’ve described them for you as the building blocks of the historian’s craft. All of our arguments have to be based upon evidence left to us from the people at the time.
But while they are vitally important to our understanding of the past, they can often be desperately flawed. Every primary source document comes filled with all sorts of bias. Authors of diaries, for example, usually tell us events only as they saw them or, worse, as they want us to see them. Diarists usually write with an audience in mind, telling the story as they want to tell it. Likewise, the authors of newspaper articles, private letters, and court depositions all bring the prejudices of their own lives to their documents. Finally, for many periods and places in human history we have remarkably few sources to rely upon. And those sources we do have are skewed to being from the people with the most power and education in the society.
It is the job of the historian take all those issues into consideration and to produce an analysis of the primary source evidence that helps us use it to better understand the past. A book or journal article by a historian, therefore, isn’t a simple statement of facts. It is that historian’s interpretation of the past. Only through a never-ending argument about historical interpretations do we arrive at a story that you might put in a textbook and call it American history.
My question for you in this discussion forum is, given the historical process I just described, is there such a thing as a real history of the United States? If we develop historical knowledge through a process of interpretation, how are we to think about the results? Does history even exist? Do any of these issues change what you thought history was when I posed that question in our first discussion?
For this discussion, your response should be between 200 and 400 words long. Remember that you also have to post a substantial response to another student’s submission. A full grading rubric is available at this link.
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