History is the interpretation of past events concerning the human experience. Here at Mesa County Libraries, we have built a new History Research Guide to cater to those interested in the pursuit of the past. One aspect I’d like to highlight on the blog is the Primary Source Guide within this new feature.
Primary Sources are the raw materials of history. Forming these sources into useful information is what makes history itself a craft. Historians construct history to understand a subject and share it. Others then take the information that a historian has gleaned and use it either for their enjoyment or functional purposes.
Functional purposes include: a lawyer defending a Native American client, or tribe on a land claim must consult the history books to provide a defense to garner the favor of a judge’s rulings. A politician consults history books, or primary source documents themselves, to draft new laws. Even mathematicians will consult history books to understand how people like Euclid, Pythagoras, and Newton came to conclusions with their theories. From this point, more innovation can be discovered, further advancing the fields of math, science, and law.
However, writing history is not as easy as collecting primary source documents and transcribing them to paper. One must filter facts from the period of the subject to understand the people that passed down their accounts of events. Also, facts are not merely facts. Facts are presumed truths. The next question should be: Well, what is truth? Truth, by definition, is an accurate representation of reality. Depending on your vantage point, truth translates into a variety of forms. It is then up to the historian to find which account is the most accurate concerning a particular event. As new facts come to light, history is then revised and argued in a wholly different way, until what is produced is universally agreed to as true. So, when do all historical facts become universally true?
Never. In the same fashion that mathematicians pursue pure mathematics to understand applied mathematics, a historian writes and rewrites history to understand the past. We try to understand the past to illumine the present. Some say it is useful to learn history because it seems to repeat itself. Unfortunately, that is not true. Events, circumstances, and people never realign perfectly in the space-time continuum to repeat themselves. If this were so, historians would be stockbrokers, bond traders, and bookies-not academics.
No, fortunately, history does not repeat itself, but it certainly seems to rhyme. With this knowledge, it can help us discern what policies, theories, and ideas to pursue in the future. Therefore, take your sources seriously, but don’t forget to have fun with them. Look at the sources provided here on our website (like the Research Guides) and also to go downstairs in the Central Branch to look into the Rashleigh Regional History Room. Our expert librarians would be happy to help you find the sources you need to get your project started. Happy hunting historians!