From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods / Edition 1

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From Reliable Sources is a lively introduction to historical methodology, an overview of the techniques historians must master in order to reconstruct the past. Its focus on the basics of source criticism, rather than on how to find references or on the process of writing, makes it an invaluable guide for all students of history and for anyone who must extract meaning from written and unwritten sources.

Martha Howell and Walter Prevenier explore the methods employed by historians to establish the reliability of materials; how they choose, authenticate, decode, compare, and, finally, interpret those sources. Illustrating their discussion with examples from the distant past as well as more contemporary events, they pay particular attention to recent information media, such as television, film, and videotape.

The authors do not subscribe to the positivist belief that the historian can attain objective and total knowledge of the past. Instead, they argue that each generation of historians develops its own perspective, and that our understanding of the past is constantly reshaped by the historian and the world he or she inhabits.

A substantially revised and updated edition of Prevenier's Uit goede bron, originally published in Belgium and now in its seventh edition, From Reliable Sources also provides a survey of western historiography and an extensive research bibliography.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Among the books designed to teach aspiring historians proper procedures for their work, this volume ranks high. . . .Readers will especially appreciate the care taken to show the link between methodological innovations and the historical contexts in which they occurred."—Choice, January 2002, Vol. 39, No. 5

"If the best historians, beginning with Thucydides, have been skeptical of metaphysical absolutes, they have also been reluctant to immerse themselves in antiquarianism. The present book draws strength from this tension."—Charles Sullivan, Common Knowledge, 2003

"Historians generally have had to work out for themselves the different ways to read and use sources, the issue of how much we actually can learn from the past, the different ways that historical questions have been asked, and the uses to which history can be put. From Reliable Sources makes this process easier by laying out the principal elements of historiography and source criticism. No one, after reading this book, will be able to think again of sources as unproblematic conveyors of simple facts."—Constance Brittain Bouchard, University of Akron

"Both learned and informative, From Reliable Sources is clearly the outcome of extensive archival and critical experience. With its accessible balance of exposition and example, it is also a pleasure to read. There is nothing else like this in English."—Isabel V. Hull, Cornell University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801485602
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 180,348
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Prevenier is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Ghent (Belgium) and the author or coauthor of numerous books, including From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods, also from Cornell, and The Promised Lands: The Low Countries Under Burgundian Rule, 1369–1530.

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Table of Contents

I. The Source: The Basis of Our Knowledge about the Past
A. What Is a Source?
B. Source Typologies, Their Evolution and Complementarity
C. The Impact of Communication and Information Technology on the Production of Sources
D. Storing and Delivering Information

II. Technical Analysis of Sources
A. Clio's Laboratory
Additional Technical Tools

B. Source Criticism: The Great Tradition
The "Genealogy" of the Document
Genesis of a Document
The "Originality" of the Document
Interpretation of the Document
Authorial Authority
Competence of the Observer
The Trustworthiness of the Observer

III. Historical Interpretation: The Traditional Basics
A. Comparison of Sources
B. Establishing Evidentiary Satisfaction
C. The "Facts" That Matter

IV. New Interpretive Approaches
A. Interdisciplinarity
The Social Sciences
The Humanities

B. The Politics of History Writing
The Annales
The "New Left" and New Histories
The New Cultural History

V. The Nature of Historical Knowledge
A. Change and Continuity

B. Causality
Causal Factors (Religious Ideology, Clericalism, and Anticlericalism; Social and Economic Factors; Biology and "Race"; Environment; Science, Technology, and Inventions; Power; Public Opinion and the Mass Media)
The Role of the Individual

C. History Today
The Problem of Objectivity
The Status of the "Fact"

Research Bibliography


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