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What impacts our ability to uncover historical truth?

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Presentation on theme: "What impacts our ability to uncover historical truth?"— Presentation transcript:

1 What impacts our ability to uncover historical truth?
Comparative Civilizations 12

2 Is it Primary or Secondary? Hint: There are five secondary
Newspaper articles Novels Objects from the time Biographies Oral histories Textbooks Photographs Poems, art, music Speeches Dictionaries Primary Autobiographies Diaries Documents History books Eyewitness accounts Film footage Laws Letters Encyclopedias Primary Secondary Primary Secondary Primary Primary Secondary Primary Primary Primary Secondary Primary Primary . Review the differences between primary and secondary sources. Then put up the first slide in the PowerPoint notes showing a variety of historical sources. For each one, students hold up their flip books to indicate whether they think it is primary or secondary (red=primary, green=secondary). Secondary Primary Primary Primary

3 History is written by the victors.
Winston Churchill What do you think this quotation means? What might it have to teach us about our topic today: What impacts our ability to uncover historical truth?

4 Bias in history Historians must be aware of bias when interpreting both primary & secondary sources Bias: the point of view an individual brings to a situation, which affects the ability to make impartial judgments Education, patriotism, religion, political views, etc. can all contribute to bias. An author’s preconceived ideas about a situation, person, etc. might also influence how he/she interprets information and draws conclusions It is important to know a little about the author of a source, so that you can identify potential biases and keep them in mind when reading a source. Example of Bias: American history textbooks often talk about the Holocaust as a crime against humanity, but would never use the same terminology to describe their use of the atom bomb on Japan. Their bias, in this case, influences them to write of their own exploits in a less critical light. Example of preconceived ideas: Early explorers expected to find sea monsters on their voyages, so they often identified ocean creatures as legendary sea monsters.

5 Bias in history Historical documents will reflect the bias of their writers A biased source may still contain valuable information While historians try to remain objective, their own biases will have an impact: Choosing to focus on one cause or issue rather than another Choosing to document the history of one group or region instead of another Choosing to focus on an area where more/less historical evidence is available

6 Is it possible to write history that is free of bias?
Quick write You have 5 minutes to respond to the following question: Is it possible to write history that is free of bias? Note: 3 students will be chosen at random to share what they wrote. Give students 5 minutes to formulate a response then ask 3 randomly chosen students to share their views.

7 HISTORIOGRAPHY Historiography: the study of how history has been written Historiographers look at how others have interpreted the past and the biases that shaped their views Historiography recognizes that all history is written by historians, so all history will have some bias. Two historians could look at identical pieces of evidence and draw different conclusions because of their biases Views of some individuals change over time. E.g. Many absolute monarchs (e.g. Louis XIV of France and Henry VIII of England) were praised during their own time and shortly after, but were heavily criticized as tyrants in the 1930s when new dictators rose to power in Europe (Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin).

8 Schools of historical thought
Liberal: history is characterized by continuous progress Marxist: history is a struggle between the classes Post-modernist: all history is written by historians, so historical truth is relative, celebrates diversity, contributes to “fragmented” historical research Belonging to one of these schools of thought is a form of bias that would certainly influence the historian Some of the post-modernist questions: Whose history are we telling or not telling? Is history from the point of view of women, the poor or the gay community fundamentally different from “mainstream history”? If there is no historical truth, what is the point of studying history? Can men write women’s history? Can ethnic history be written by someone who does not belong to that group?

9 Developing a historical theory
Historical theories look at significant changes/developments in history and try to answer 2 main questions: Why did this change take place? What effects did this change have on the people who experienced it? The process for developing a theory involves: Determining a focus for research & developing research questions Consulting a variety of sources & analyzing the data collected Interpreting the data & making speculations in areas where there is a lack of factual evidence. Historical theories will always be biased because they are based on historians’ interpretations of the facts. NOTE: Theory is used to indicate that we can never know with 100% certainty that our interpretations of data are correct, especially with ancient history where our records are very incomplete. BUT just because something is a theory doesn’t mean that it is not reliable. If many scholars agree with a theory and there is a large quantity of evidence that supports it, you can be confident that the theory is a good one. Good historians will be cautious not to jump to conclusions when developing theories. Historians will typically try to focus their research on a topic that is not well-covered already or where significant controversy still exists. It is in the process of interpretation and speculation that the theory is developed. History really is a blend of facts and opinions, which leads to controversy and new developments in the field.

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