Wednesday, September 09, 2009

More historiography

Again, for those who are curious just what a professional historian does.

Factors in source analysis and interpretation

Source types:

• Remains—material goods and structures
• Testimonial--written, oral, pictorial

Source analysis:

Intentionality—was the source created to impart information. If so what intentional or unintentional biases does it contain?
Accuracy—does a testimonial source knowingly or unknowingly contain inaccurate data.
Implications—what can material goods (both relics and the physical nature of testimonials) tell us about the time period? What does their placement say about the context of the era?
Intentionally misleading information can be useful. Why did the writer lie and what was the importance of doing so? Lies can act as an indicator of insecurities or important events.

Sources typologies, evolution, and complementarity:

Written sources:

Narrative—AKA literary. Chronicles or tracts in narrative form written to impart a message. Examples include scientific and news articles; ego documents such as diaries and biographies; entertainment texts such as novels and poetry.
Judicial—AKA diplomatic. Exist in or create a new legal situation. Usually has specific format: metadata, protocol, body, closing. Contains authentication, witness, dates, etc…
Social—products of record keeping by bureaucracies: official accounts, minutes, administrative, fiscal, social record keeping (birth certificates…)

Oral sources:

• Can be difficult to verify
• Often records information not written down during chaotic times such as war, famine, strikes, and natural disasters. Individuals may not record information if they fear reprisals or legal sanctions.
Interviews—complex art. Must be careful with questions, have defined information to seek, and yet must be flexible to pursue unexpected avenues or to avoid dead ends. Source interpretation requires extreme care.
Hard Interview—Interviewer has reconstructed historical situation beforehand and uses the interview to flesh out or enrich the narrative. Can be both fact-finding and an interpretation.

Archaeological Evidence:
Can provide data on…
• The existence of communities
• placement of communities
• culture
• way of life
• artistic ambitions
• trade networks and finance (placement of coins and trade goods)

New sources:

• Audio recordings
• Television
• Computer files

Preservation bias: The availability of sources is affected by the means of spreading it. Generally the faster the spread, the more data that is preserved.
Messenger, foot—six miles per hour
Basic signals—flags, trumpets, semaphore: extremely limited bandwidth
Messenger, mounted—12 – 18 miles per hour. First appears in Asia ca. 200BCE. Mediterranean 1000 BCE
Clay tablets, alphabets—drastically increase messenger bandwidth
Post systems—increase message speed through remounts and chains of messengers.30 - 50 miles per day or faster!
Modern communications—fast and voluminous with broad bandwidth in easily preserved or recorded media. Can be narrowcasted or be an act of mass communications. Mass communications can create collective memories.

General categories of correspondence:

Secret—business, military, economic, diplomatic: often encoded
General news correspondence—eventually replaced by newspapers. Often commentaries on recent events were sent with business documents

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