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Chapter 3                                                                                                                                 Lesson 1

Understanding History


I.                    Historical Evidence

a.      Historians use both written and non-written sources to learn about the past.

                                                               i.      Pliny’s letter – that gave valuable information about the disaster that destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

                                                             ii.      The Wall Painting in Pompeii that showed the games that were being held in the local sports arena.

b.      Written sources include books, letters, diaries, and speeches, writing on monuments – anything with writing.

                                                               i.      Prehistory:  the history of humans before the development of writing.

c.      Non-written sources include fossils, artifacts, music, and oral traditions.  Tombs, monuments, cities are also example of non-written sources.

                                                               i.      Fossils:  the remains or imprints of a human, animal, plant, or insect.

                                                             ii.      Artifacts:  a human-made object of archaeological or historical importance.

                                                            iii.      Oral tradition:  the stories, myths, and legend passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation.

d.      Historians do not just collect facts.  They also examine the information they collect and they decide how to interpret it.

                                                               i.      Historians must keep in mind that everyone has his or her own point of view.  Whether or not the author of a source is a man or a woman, rich or poor, or young or old, will affect the way he or she sees and describes an event.


II.                 The Evaluation of Sources

a.      Historians ask questions about a source to determine how accurate and useful it is.

                                                               i.      Who was the writer?  Historians want to know the writer’s background and how if might affect his or her account of the event.

                                                             ii.      What kind of source is it?  Different kinds of sources offer different kinds of information.

                                                          iii.      When was the source produced?

1.      Primary sources:  information about people or events recorded at the time of the people or event.  Primary sources are generally more valuable to historians than are secondary sources.  They are likely to be more accurate because they were recorded when the event was fresh in people’s mind.

2.      Secondary sources:  information about people or events recorded long after the time of the people or events.

                                                           iv.      Where was the source produced?  Historians want to know if the author was actually at the event or was it written by someone who  merely heard about the event.

                                                             v.      Why was the source produced?  Understanding why a source was produced helps historians judge the accuracy of the information that is presented.  Did the writer just want to describe an event or was the purpose to prove a point, impress someone, or make someone else look bad?

III.               The Puzzle of History

a.     People of the past communicate with people of today through the writing, artifacts, and structures they leave behind.  History has been called a conversation between the present and the past.

b.      Each generation has historians who gather and interpret source of information about the past.  The interpretation varies from generation to generation.

c.      History has been compared to a jigsaw puzzle; some pieces are lost forever, some once considered to be lost have now been found, and the available pieces can be fitted together in many ways.

d.      Historians work to understand not only what happened in the past, but also how and why it happened.


Evaluating Information

Facts:  a statement that can be proven.  There are many forms of proof.  The findings of archaeologists can be proof, or proof can come from written sources or direct observation.


Reasoned Judgment:  a statement that is based on fact but has not been proven.  Key words like probably, perhaps, and possibly can help you identify reasoned judgment.


Opinion:  a statement of personal preferences, feelings, or ideas.  Words such as think and feel often indicate that a statement is an opinion.