Archive for November 10th, 2009

What is history?

10 November 2009

Contributed by Sarah Campbell

Documents

Napoleon called it a ‘myth’ and Henry Ford said it was ‘bunk’. E.H Carr delved into the topic but the question recently came back to tease me when I was reading Taylor Branch’s new book, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President last week. After 79 conversations with President Bill Clinton between 1993 and 2001, Branch begins to question ‘Is history what we do, or what we record?’ Indeed, it is a pertinent question. As historians we are trained to prioritise the precious ‘official’ primary record above all else. Yet by doing so, we nearly always fail to hear the minority voice in history. This is where interviews as a research methodology comes in. Any of us who are lucky enough to study late twentieth century history (yes it IS history, not politics!) have a unique opportunity to talk to those involved in our studies. They themselves become the primary source. But what can we really learn from this methodology? Read more