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Old November 10th, 2017, 11:40 PM   #1
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How to ensure objectivity in historical research?

i also need few examples to elaborate the answer
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Old November 11th, 2017, 06:24 AM   #2

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Here are a half dozen things to keep in mind.

1. Know thy self. We all have prejudices that we pick up along the way. Prejudices tend to be stereotypical. They may, or may not have anything to do with reality, but they always weigh in with a Butcher's Thumb emotionally when challenged. If you know your prejudices, you have some potential for mitigating loss of objective focus.

2. Control your emotions. Faced with conflicting propositions, or evidence, we tend to let our personal emotions regarding them influence our judgement. Some of those almost unconscious beliefs are patriotism, religion, partisan politics, sex, and our personal character, objectives and goals.

3. Understand that no definitive answers are possible with any historical question.
No one can see and understand the totality of events, trends and conditions relevant to being fully informed. The same event witnessed by three people, may generate a half dozen different narratives, with some variations being hopelessly at odds with the others. When we compare and contrast different versions of the same event, we need to weigh both primary and secondary sources ... each of which will bring something to the party.

4. Nothing lasts forever. The reality we live in is not static, but dynamic. We, especially the young often assume that their experience encapsulates the totality of things and events. No so. One of the basic facts of life is human life at least involves going through phases from the time we are born until we die. What we know and believe evolves constantly, and in each of life's phases our views, knowledge and skills are changing. The brightest college freshman will view history very differently than the old Professor who has devoted sixty years studying just a portion of one historical event. The Professor is not necessarily right, but will have a huge store of knowledge from which to draw tentative conclusions. Don't judge the past by current fashion, or the values of our own short lives. We've evolved from that, and what we "know and believe" today may be tossed on the trash heap tomorrow. What was deadly sin can with a few years be regarded as a high virtue.

5. Consider your sources. Who ye gon' to believe? Primary sources recorded by actual participants in the event, direct witnesses, or Secondary Sources written by folks who were not present, or involved. Both Privates and Generals participate in a battle, but their perspectives are quite different. One may give us insights into the minds of soldiers who are facing imminent mayhem and death, but have nothing to offer as to why, or how the battle came to visit their little corner of the field. The differences between a five volume scholarly work regarded by peers as definitive may have more value than something written to sell. The Washington Post v. the Mt. Holly Weekly v. check-out counter tabloids v. a ten second segment on Network News v. paper backs and reports on Social Media. Tweets? Hardly signify. It is important to read widely with as many sources as you can manage. Selection of what you use for your objectives depends a lot on what those objectives are. Generally, I tend to give more weight to established scholars whose reputation and work I admire, and the personal letters, journals, diaries, and official records. I have a relative whose preference are Historical Novels, and argues that more truth is found in fiction than in fact.

When you are selecting your materials look for books that have extensive notes, footnotes, appendices, Bibliography (annotated is a plus), and a thick Index. If your source is old, published before you were born, then study it first and then follow up with more recent scholarly works that may incorporate new findings.

6. Keep your focus as narrow as possible. The more narrowly you frame your study, the more quickly and thoroughly your research will be. If you study for ten hours a lynching that took place in rattlebox, Texas in 1879, you should be better prepared than if your study is "Lynching in the American South: 1865 - 1965". Both are studying extra-judicial executions in the South, and both contribute a bit toward understanding the larger questions that a historian might have. This is the "specific" v. the "general". General topics with wide focus may give us a broad overview of a subject, but the narrowly studied can supply details that are more informative to some questions about how humans deal with events.
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Old November 11th, 2017, 07:31 AM   #3

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Peer review.
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Old November 11th, 2017, 06:59 PM   #4

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With all my Internet posts, I have become a seasoned (if not professional) writer:
1) Be aware of your prejudice and the limitations of your knowledge.
2) Take the case with as many frames of references as possible.
3) Limit your scope
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Old November 12th, 2017, 09:30 AM   #5

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Eliminate all personal pronouns.
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Old November 12th, 2017, 10:02 AM   #6

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Objectivity is a quite tremendous word to use in a scientific environment.

To be objective, something needs a system of reference. How will we define this system of reference?

So, let's leave "objectivity" in the word of philosophy.

"Empirical" is better. But history shows some limitations about being empirical [we cannot ask to France to go back to Napoleon era just to make a "what if" experiment!].

Reality is that to be objective means to be less subjective.

I'm discussing and considering a "church house" in Dura Europos. Well, the general agreement [which is based on Yale Uni paradigm, since Yale run the early excavations, removing the pivotal finds, which are now at Yale Gallery] is that there was a place of meeting of Christians there ...

Is it objective? Well ... debating the matter I have discovered that some aspects were substantially objective [on the side of who run the early excavations], but quite subjective from a more scientific perspective. But generally the final report about Dura Europos has considered "objective".

I'm not that sure ...
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Old November 12th, 2017, 10:08 AM   #7

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You can write what ever you want.
But as long there is no peer review- it will never be accepted as a scientific paper.
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Old November 12th, 2017, 11:37 AM   #8

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Originally Posted by Isleifson View Post
You can write what ever you want.
But as long there is no peer review- it will never be accepted as a scientific paper.
Peer reviewed works can be reevaluated ... [I'm just thinking to the example I've mentioned ... I've contacted Yale Art Gallery and they have still to answer ... and there are reasons to think that at Yale they have made a tremendous mistake regarding a "nomen sacrum" [supposed] in an inscription, but I'm optimistic, they will explain me something].

So ... let's not generate the myth of peer review. Also peer review is [in a certain measure] subjective.

P.S. I start from a blessed condition of ignorance ... I'm not a professional historian.

Last edited by AlpinLuke; November 12th, 2017 at 11:40 AM.
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