"Historians deal with source materials. The classical sources are written texts, such as contracts between governments, programs of political groups, or personal correspondences. However, especially in the last decades historians have been devoting more attention to pictures and audiovisual sources. To explore the culture and everyday habits of the past, they analyze theater plays, propaganda posters, and children’s songs. Artifacts like cinema tickets, beer bottles, or toys are used as historical sources as well.
Starting from the sources, historians develop historical narratives. Describing and interpreting forces historians to reduce the more complex and “un-tellable” reality. If their descriptions and interpretations are accepted by other academics in the field and by the intellectual community, then they have managed to establish a new historical narrative. History writing is not the re-construction of a “truth” from the sources. There are several possible narratives of the same historical events. Historians – the narrators – share different personal and cultural values and different perspectives on history.
Choosing their sources and delimiting their topics, they pre-form the resulting narratives. Thus, multiple perspectives on history emerge as well as controversies about the meaning of history. Historians feel obliged to question their basic assumptions, the choice of their sources and the methodology their research is based on. Furthermore, the theoretical and methodological reflection of history writing provides opportunities for broad academic exchange beyond the limitations of peculiar subjects of historiography."
Christian Domnitz, in cooperation with Philipp Ther: Historiography is based on source work. 1st Chapter of Unit 1 of the History Module. © East European Studies Online; 2010.