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From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods 1st Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801485602
ISBN-10: 0801485606
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Editorial Reviews


"Among the books designed to teach aspiring historians proper procedures for their work, this volume ranks high. . . .Readers will especially appreciate the care taken to show the link between methodological innovations and the historical contexts in which they occurred."―Choice, January 2002, Vol. 39, No. 5

"If the best historians, beginning with Thucydides, have been skeptical of metaphysical absolutes, they have also been reluctant to immerse themselves in antiquarianism. The present book draws strength from this tension."―Charles Sullivan, Common Knowledge, 2003

"Historians generally have had to work out for themselves the different ways to read and use sources, the issue of how much we actually can learn from the past, the different ways that historical questions have been asked, and the uses to which history can be put. From Reliable Sources makes this process easier by laying out the principal elements of historiography and source criticism. No one, after reading this book, will be able to think again of sources as unproblematic conveyors of simple facts."―Constance Brittain Bouchard, University of Akron

"Both learned and informative, From Reliable Sources is clearly the outcome of extensive archival and critical experience. With its accessible balance of exposition and example, it is also a pleasure to read. There is nothing else like this in English."―Isabel V. Hull, Cornell University

About the Author

Walter Prevenier is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Ghent (Belgium) and the author or coauthor of numerous books, including From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods, also from Cornell, and The Promised Lands: The Low Countries Under Burgundian Rule, 1369–1530.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (April 26, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801485606
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801485602
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dr. Lee D. Carlson HALL OF FAME on December 25, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
History used to be a subject that one could view as somewhat ancillary, as an interesting subject but one that was not really needed to function in the modern world. One could dispense with studying history and still maintain a proper perspective of world events. Any inaccuracies in the reporting of world events were the responsibility of reporters, and historians were viewed in general as occupiers of an ivory tower. They were held to be trustworthy because not much weight was assigned to their scholarly activities.

In general, this attitude about history and historians is now considered to be a mistake. Because of some very volatile and dangerous events in the early twenty-first century, the study of history should be viewed now as one of the most important, if not the most important scholarly activity. One can easily observe the enormous weight that is placed on events of the past, due in part to the ideological agendas that are deeply embedded in contemporary politics. And some historians have chosen to use historical analysis to justify a political agenda, or have acted as sycophants for the institutions that host them. It would be fair to say that some historians are now viewed with extreme skepticism, and many are therefore looking into the historical record and seeking answers on their own. These historical auto-didactics are hungry for tools of analysis in which to study and interpret past events.

This short book gives an introduction to these tools, and any reader, whether of the afore-mentioned type or not, will gain a lot from its perusal. It gives much insight into how historians view and find sources, and is primarily written for non-experts (such as this reviewer) in historical analysis.
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Format: Paperback
Finding the right sources for a book, article, paper, or project is much more difficult than it seems. Every subject generally has a large list of material available for use. But in order to generate a significant contribution to this field, historians need to sort out the reliable sources that fit their topic. From Reliable Sources helps this process by producing a "guideline" to finding the best material and how it can be put to use. This book is a useful guide to the various techniques professional historians have devised for analyzing sources. It gets across the point of finding the best sources in order to produce quality historical scholarship.

The critical analysis of a source is the first step to this process. What follows is whether or not the historian believes that the source is reliable. An important message conveyed by the authors is that no source is perfectly reliable. This leads to the limitations faced by historians today, such as change and causality, and how they deal with them. Its significance to historical writing is vital because historians today use different methodologies than their predecessors. Historiography is a daily changing profession where scholars and historians continually struggle with finding the right sources.
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History writing is usually considered to have begun with the Greek Herodotus in the 4th century BC with his efforts to distinguish between myth and verifiable stories and that has been the basic problem of writing history ever since. In his history of the Gallic Wars Julius Caesar celebrated the military power of the Romans, along with his own formidable talents as a military leader. Livy fed Roman chauvinism with a history that celebrated eight proud centuries of the Roman past. Thucydides, Polybius, Sallust, Plutarch and Suetonius each brought their own approach or treatment of characters. Augustine portrayed history as an enactment of God's plan. Others wrote accounts to convince readers of the justice of a cause while Guibert of Nogent painted Mohammed in the worst possible light, not caring if the tales were true but only if they helped his case. Matthias Flacius Illyricus's chief purpose was to demonstrate that the Roman Church's claim to be the direct heir of first-century Christianity had no historical basis. Medieval historiography was designed to serve Christianity and in the Middle Ages historians entered the service of lords, monarchs and the state where their primary task was to create glorious pasts, fabricate evidence or select information to give legitimacy to the elite to whom it was offered.
Leopold von Ranke is credited with the founding of the scientific method of history writing but even so he betrays an unclerical ideology and a commitment to the national state so historians must always consider the conditions under which a source was produced, the intentions that motivated it and the reliability of that source.
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Format: Paperback
Overall, the material presented in the book is quite excellent. One particularly good section was that on modern storage techniques for information and data. However. Every point is backed up with examples - multiple examples. For each and every point. In some areas, these points are repeated again, where techniques and concepts overlap from previous areas and perspectives. This made the text feel VERY repetitive. Almost to the point of being unreadable. The book could certainly have utilized a more frugal editing prior to publication.
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