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Documents, editions and translations

Nicholson, Helen Jane ORCID: 2017. Documents, editions and translations. Loughran, Tracey Louise, ed. A Practical Guide to Studying History: Skill and Approaches, London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 171-183.

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Historians usually draw their evidence from written documents of some sort. Since ancient times, scholars have accepted that contemporary, preferably eye-witness records provide the most reliable source of evidence for past events. This means that all historians must base their work on original documents from the historical period that they are studying. Very often, however, they will rely on published documents that have been edited or even translated, rather than the originals. As historians we need to ask what impact the use of such edited documents has on the accuracy of our work. In historical terms, a document is a written record, but it need not be written on paper. Before the invention of the typewriter, most documents were not printed, so historians must learn their subjects’ handwriting as well as their language. These original documents were written in the language of their creators, following the conventions for writing that were then in use. Sometimes they were created as a temporary record and were never intended for later generations to decipher. As many of the published documents studied by students at university have gone through a process of editing and possibly translation, what the student sees on the printed page has already been partially interpreted, even before the student lays eyes on it. It can be difficult to work out what is from the original document and what has been introduced by the editor. So students must not take documents at face value, but what is the face value of a document? This chapter explores the problems that face scholars and students approaching documents, editions and translations of primary sources in the study of history.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
ISBN: 9781472529985
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Last Modified: 02 Nov 2022 11:12

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