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Basic methodologies of

history
Primary and secondary
evidence
HIST 1000: WEEK FOUR
Lecture notes

HIST 1000 Shehzad Martin 1


Historical evidence
(= data, information)
 Primary evidence* (recorded by someone who
witnessed, observed, or participated in, the
events directly / first-hand)
  e.g. Herodotus talked to old people who lived through the
Greco-Persian wars, when Herodotus was a child
◦ His conversations (interviews) with these people = =
primary data/information/sources/evidence
 Your phone camera recording of New Year’s celebrations in
Dataran Merdeka = primary evidence (you were there)
 *evidence in Malay = bukti

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Historical evidence
Other forms of primary evidence:

 Diaries, letters
 Public speeches
 Laws
 Official statements
 Photographs, films
 Artifacts (things made by people in the past –
clothes, tools, buildings)

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Historical evidence
 Secondary evidence = recorded by someone
else (= second-hand); published; recorded in
the past
◦  e.g. based on his interviews, Herodotus wrote his
Histories; when we read them today, for us they are
secondary data/evidence/source

 When you post your New Year’s video clip on


YouTube, it becomes secondary
evidence/data for those who will be watching
it on the internet
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Historical evidence
 Primary evidence comes directly
from the witness
 Secondary evidence is produced
using primary evidence (e.g. a book
based on the author’s travel
experience)
 Tertiary evidence is produced using
secondary evidence (e.g. a student’s
research paper based on library
books [which are themselves
secondary sources]
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We have collected the
data/evidence. But is it
reliable?
To see if evidence is reliable, historians run tests of
consistency and corroboration
 If evidence is consistent, it means that every time it appears
in a (=one) specific source (e.g. a book), it is presented
(=explained/described/categorized/dated) in the same way.
In other words, the evidence doesn’t contradict* itself.

Nicol David ended 2009 as the world’s No.1 squash player, for
the 5th time in a row. She is a consistent performer.
By contrast, the Malaysian football team won the SEA Games

but failed to qualify for the World Cup. They are highly
inconsistent.
 *bertentangan, menyanggah, menyangkal

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We have collected the
data/evidence. But is it
reliable?
A test of corroboration checks
one source of evidence against
other sources. To corroborate*
evidence means to confirm or
*validate that the evidence
appears in the same way across
multiple sources (e.g. in books,
archival records, artifacts of
material culture etc.).
In other words, to make sure
that the different sources don’t
contradict each other.
 *membenarkan, menyokong
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Example of corroboration
You are a criminal detective who has just interviewed

a witness of an incident. His testimony (= your first

source of evidence) can now be corroborated


(= used as supporting evidence) using additional
sources of evidence, e.g.:
 Parking ticket showing the driver’s location
at the time of the incident
 Sales receipt for an item that was used during the
incident
 Laboratory tests linking the item to the owner’s
DNA samples
The stronger the corroboration, the easier it will be to

convince the judge/jury of the perpetrator’s


(=attacker’s) guilt.

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When studying sources of evidence, a

Bias historian constantly needs to look out for


the bias* (= taking sides; partiality) that
is present in every source.

We all have our own biases that prevent


us from being fully objective: Based on


our personal/racial/religious background,
education and experience, we feel
comfortable with some things and we
distrust other things (often because we
never directly experienced them).
Unknowingly, we reflect this mindset in
our writing/research.
 *(sikap) berat sebelah

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Bias: Example
What type of biases can you detect in this

video?

 YouTube - Island of Yesterday: Sumatra, D


 (right-click and select ‘Open hyperlink’)

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Organizing historical data
Once the data has been tested (=verified), the historian needs to arrange

it in a way that supports a specific conclusion. The conclusion may be


formed at the start of research, or as a result of completing the
research and analyzing the data produced by the research.

Sometimes this approach is referred to as



the historical
method.
The historian must prove that supporting evidence (i.e. evidence that

supports the conclusion) is stronger than non-supporting/contradicting


evidence (which should also be acknowledged in the study).

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New directions in historical
research
1. Looking at new aspects of the past:
e.g. family history, women’s history, private
life
2. Borrowing ideas and analytical methods (e.g.
oral interviews  oral history) from other
human sciences:
e.g. from sociology, anthropology, political
science
“One hopes to see projects on … the social
history of Chinese dialect groups, of the
Malays, Indians and minority communities, …
on Singaporeans who are born of Indian-
Chinese marriages, or Malay-Chinese ones, on
the handicapped, on women in the 1950s and
1960s…”

Hong, Lysa; Huang Jianli: The Scripting of a National


History: Singapore and its Pasts. Hong Kong University
Press 2008. P. 72.
3. Using information technology to analyze
large sets of quantitative (=statistical
evidence)
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