From reliable sources : an introduction to historical methods

From reliable sources is an introduction to historical methodology, an overview of the techniques historians must master in order to reconstruct the past. Its focus is on the basics of source criticism and is a 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.

Table of Contents

Introduction --
I. The source: the basis of our knowledge about the past. A. What is source? ; B. Source of typologies, their evolution and complementarity ; C. The impact of communications and information technology on the production of sources ; D. Storing and delivering information --
II. Technical analysis of sources. A. Clio's laboratory. 1. Paleography, 2. Diplomatics, 3. Archaeology, 4. Statistics, 5. Additional technical tools ; B. Source criticism: the great tradition. 1. The "genealogy" of the document, 2. Genesis of a document, 3. The "originality" of the document, 4. Interpretation of the document, 5. Authorial authority, 6. Competence of the observer, 7. 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 interpretative approaches. A. Interdisciplinarity. 1. The social sciences, 2. The humanities ; B. The politics of history writing. 1. The Annales, 2. The "New Left" and new histories, 3. The new cultural history --
V. The nature of historical knowledge. A. Change and continuity ; B. Causality. 1. Causal factors. a. Religious ideology, clericalism, and anticlericalism, b. Social and economic factors, c. Biology and "race", d. Environment, e. Science, technology, and inventions, f. Power, g. Public opinion and the mass media, 2. The role of the individual ; C. History today. 1. The problem of objectivity, 2. The status of the "fact" --
Research bibliography. I. Bibliographies, guides, dictionaries ; II. Additional readings on selected technical topics ; III. Basic readings on historiography and theory.