Historiography (The Study of How People Study History)

U.S. History Tutorial

Historiography (The Study of How People Study History)

Intro

Historiography is the study of the study of history. In a clearer sense, it is the study of how people study history. Throughout the study of history, there are factors which can affect the reliability of that source. As is said, to the history goes the victors. As such, most of the ‘mainstream’ history is whatever those who were in power, were victorious in a situation and/or had influence thought about a certain event. Their own perspective.

Sample Problem

One of my favorite examples of this comes from museums.
There was a British ship that sank while Britain and France were at war. In a British museum, it is taught that the ship sank because of a strong gust of wind. However, a French museum claims that the ship sank because they blasted it with a canon. Who is correct? What is the ‘true’ history of this event? How can we decide?

Solution

In truth, there is no such thing as ‘true’ history. However, there are ways to verify certain events and sources. Has this ship been found? If so, is there a hole in it from a canon ball? One way of verifying is actually seeing and examining an artifact from the particular event in history.

How about if no ship has been recovered? That is when it becomes more complicated. Truly, the most effective way to verify a portion of history is to expand your research. Sources from different kinds of people, from kings to peasants, as well as people from different backgrounds, such as young or old. This allows the amount of bias to reduce greatly for when you can make an educated guess at what took place.

Keep in mind, all sources have bias. It is inescapable. This is why there is no such thing as a ‘true’ history. Even the simple fact that people witnessed an event from different perspectives creates a natural bias. An example would be the catastrophe of Pompeii. Some saw it as a divine retribution for the sins of those who angered the gods. Some, of a more scientific mind, saw it as a natural phenomena. Vastly different perspectives for the exact same event.



About The Author

History And Japanese Tutor
A history buff since age 5, I\'m currently studying for my Masters Degree in history. I am also fluent in Japanese and have been invited to speak at the East Asian Conference here in Pennsylvania to review my paper on Shinto (a Japanese religion). However, my love of history involves ALL aspects of ...
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