29 August 2014
Contrary to the old cliché, facts do not speak for themselves. Facts are chameleons whose shape and color reflect their handlers. A fact is only a piece of information. A beginning researcher and a skilled one can read the same information in a record and draw two separate conclusions, based upon the degree of knowledge and experience each brings to bear on the subject.
As history researchers, we don't just collect facts (i.e., information), we also have to know the principles of research methodology, document analysis, and evidence correlation in order to correctly interpret those "facts" that we happen to find.
In a nutshell, skilled research means
- understanding the nature of the record and the conditions under which it was created;
- understanding the language of the record;
- understanding the relevant laws of the place and time;
- understanding the cultural context of the community;
- comparing and contrasting minute details to establish a meaning for the whole that is greater than the sum of the parts;
- determining what 'facts' qualify to be considered evidence.
Photo credit: "Information is not knowledge," CanStockPhoto (http://www.canstockphoto.com/images-photos/correlation.html#file_view.php?id=20703530 : downloaded 4 August 2014), used under license.