Howell and Prevenier “Source Criticism” and “Historical Interpretation”

To start off with the excerpt, Howell and Prevenier discuss the genealogy of a document.  They get into detail about documents being copied and not being the original.  They state that copies often have faults in them and how historians can trace these copies back to the original (61).  Next, they discuss the genesis of a document by looking at when the document was created and by who (62).  They state that historians have to look at the reason behind the document which can help them analyze the time period (diaries, legal documents, etc.) (63).  Then, Howell and Prevenier discuss the originality of the document.  They state that when historians look at the document, they note that “most of the documents that come from the past . . . are products of an intellectual tradition” (63).  Historians have to break codes, read other documents from that time period, or just have to analyze the document in order to understand why it was written (64).  Next, they discuss the interpretation of a document by stating that trying to find the meaning of a document can be very tricky for historians.  Authorial authority is discussed next in which the authors note that historians must figure out who wrote the document; was it someone from that time period or was it passed down to them? (65).  Which relates directly with the competence of the observer – how were they mentally or physically when the document was written? (66).  Lastly, that leads historians to the trustworthiness of the observer – if they are not trustworthy, historians must analyze the documents very carefully (68).

The next reading, the Historical Interpretation, Howell and Prevenier discuss three ways in which to interpret historical documents.  The first way they note is that historians must compare sources in order to confirm their sources, or even contradict their findings (which is also very beneficial) (69).  Next, Howell and Prevenier note that historians must have enough information on their study in order to correctly understand their findings (79).  For some instances, more information is needed then others, and also sometimes not many documents are produced in a specific time period, so less information is okay.  Lastly, they discuss that not all facts matter to the historian.  Yes, they can be taken into consideration, but historians do not need to use them all, only the important ones that relate to their research (84-85).