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Relibility of history

Historical research involves the collection of original or primary documents (the job of libraries and archives), the close reading of the documents, and their interpretation in terms of larger historical issues. In recent decades, many more primary documents (such as letters and papers of historical figures) have been made easily available in bound volumes or online. For instance, the Jefferson Papers project at Princeton begun in 1950 has just published volume 30, reaching February 1801. More recently, primary sources have been put online, such as the complete run of the The Times, the New York Times and other major newspapers. Some of these are proprietary and must be accessed through libraries; others, such asMaking of America, which publishes 19th century magazines, are open to the public. Scholars doing research publish their results in books and journal articles. The books are usually published by university presses or by commercial houses like W.W. Norton and Greenwood which emulate the university press standards. Reputable history books and journal articles always include footnotes and bibliographies giving the sources used in great detail. Most journals contain book reviews by scholars that evaluate the quality of new books, and usually summarize some of their new ideas. The American Historical Review (all fields of history) and Journal of American History (US history) each publish 1000 or more fulllength reviews a year. Many of the major journals are online, as far back as 1885, especially throughJSTOR.org. A good book or article will spell out the historiographical debates that are ongoing, and alert readers to other major studies. On many topics, there are different interpretive schools which use the same documents and facts but use different frameworks and come to different conclusions. Useful access points include: scholar.google.com and books.google.com, and (through libraries) ABC-CLIOs two abstract services, American: History and Life (for journal articles and book reviews dealing with the US and Canada), and Historical Abstracts (for the rest of the world.) Research libraries will hold paper guides to authoritative sources. The most useful is The American Historical Association's Guide to Historical Literature, edited by Mary Beth Norton and Pamela Gerardi 2 vol (1995), which is an annotated bibliography of authoritative sources in all fields of history. In historical pages the user is assisted by having an annotated bibliography of the best resources. Users will often have to use inter-library loan to obtain books, so a short annotation explaining the value and POV of the book may be helpful. There are many other sources of historical information, but their authority varies. A recent trend is a proliferation of specialized encyclopedias on historical topics. These are edited by experts who commission scholars to write the articles, and then review each article for quality control. They can be considered authoritative for Wikipedia. General encyclopedias, like theEncyclopedia Britannica or Encarta, sometimes have authoritative signed articles written by specialists and including references. However, unsigned entries are written in batches by freelancers and must be used with caution. College textbooks are updated every few years, are evaluated by many specialists, and usually try to keep abreast of the scholarship, but they are often without footnotes and usually do not spell out the

historiographical debates. Textbooks at the K-12 level do not try to be authoritative and should be avoided by Wikipedia editors. Every place has guide books, which usually contain a capsule history of the area, but the great majority do not pretend to be authoritative. Textbooks in various academic disciplines often include a historical introduction to the discipline. The authors of these introductions are seldom as familiar with the historical literature as they are with their discipline itself. They write these introductions to provide some background to the discipline as it is currently practiced and to inculcate students into the values of the discipline. Such historical introductions should not be treated as historical research and should be used with caution. On many historical topics there are memoirs and oral histories that specialists consult with caution, for they are filled with stories that people wish to rememberand usually recall without going back to the original documentation. Editors should use them with caution. The general public mostly gets its history from novels, films, TV shows, or tour guides at various sites. These sources are full of rumor and gossip and false or exaggerated tales. They tend to present rosy-colored histories in which the well-known names are portrayed heroically. Almost always editors can find much more authoritative sources.