History (General)

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What are the sources historians use to reconstruct the events of history or to research and critique history?

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History is reconstructed by the use of “documents,” “artifacts,” and “chronicles” (which category includes official accounts of events, memoirs, and personal correspondence.)  They use these remnants of a bygone time, by exercising both inductive and deductive reasoning, to support hypotheses and to validate theories.  Examples:  The kings and queens of medieval Europe had a member of their retinue called a “chronicler,” whose job was to record daily events surrounding the monarchy; these were then published as yearly records with the official seal of approval.  These “chronicles” are fruitful sources for historians and other writers—Shakespeare, for example, used the Chronicles of Holinshead and Froissart to write his history plays (ironically, we now use Shakespeare’s plays as sources of history, forgetting that he put fictive elements into his plays as well).  Personal diaries and memoirs also offer much historical evidence.  The large category “documents” includes legal papers of all kinds (court decisions, wills, licenses, etc.) and rolls (school rosters, marriage lists, memberships, etc.).  “Artifacts” includes all physical objects that survived the past, large and small, including bones, chards, architecture, coins, works of art (portraits, glassware, books, furniture, etc.).   By drawing conclusions about the whole from many parts (inductive reasoning) or by making assumptions about the unknown from the known (deductive reasoning), the historian gradually builds a hypothesis and then a theory of “history” that can include all the evidence.

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