Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Triangulation: Analysis of historical documents

Why we must revisit and review evidence to understand history

NOTE FROM DearMYRTLE: The audio version of this blog entry is available in DearMYRTLE's podcast collection.

Our friend Mike Sullivan brought an online 25-minute video interview to Ol' Myrt’s attention that has prompted the following thoughts based on the participants’ comments:

  • People will lie either intentionally or unintentionally, and this is one of the reasons it is important to preserve old documents to provide an “evidence check” against faulty recollection.
  • We need more than one eyewitness, to get closer to the truth about an event.
  • More than one surviving document of eyewitness accounts is necessary to adequately evaluate a historical event.
  • Historical “truths” are subject to the prejudices of the viewer regardless of attempts to provide an impartial analysis. It nearly impossible to escape cultural influences.

The online video in question is Face to Face: Alabama State Archivist interview. “Dr. Ed Bridges is the Director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History. Bridges has held the post since 1982. The Alabama Department of Archives and History began in 1901. The oldest state archives in the country it holds most of the items chronicling Alabama’s history. Bridges will discuss the role of the Department of Archives and its job of maintaining state records.”

Our friend Mike explains “It is true that unfortunately we can not preserve everything of historical value but in the discussion concerning the saved Civil War ship CSS Alabama, Dr. Bridges pointed out that through the preservation of the ship's log book and triangulation with other important documents, today we can piece together the truth of the history of this ship.” Mike continues:

  • The interviewer pointed out that in history books, we don't really know what is fact from fiction -- all the more reason to preserve as many documents as possible.
  • Multiple copies of microfilm in differing locations is the only way to insure that if the original record is lost, destroyed or deteriorates to the point where they can no longer be handled by the general public, at least they are preserved.
  • With distribution of copies, there can never be a lost record again. If one collection is destroyed by fire, flood or other reasons, that collection can be rebuilt from another copy.
  • It is so important to save historical artifacts such as cannons, cabins and Civil War ships, which can always help tell the stories of our histories but only the documents can tell us the truth.

One cannot overemphasize the need of responsible citizens to look again at surviving documents to see if the history being taught is accurate, and that conclusions were not skewed by inapproriate societal pressures influencing the previous historian, who may have been too close to the situation to see the bigger picture. Microfilming and proper storage is the least we can do to preserve those documents for future generations.

It is our legacy, it is their heritage.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

(c) 2007 Pat Richley All Rights Reserved.

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