Directed Writing 1:
Using either Becker and Woodward or Collingwood and Jerome, discuss the conflicts and challenges that face historians (and all thinking people) when trying to use evidence to reconstruct the past. What do you see as the most appropriate way to address these challenges and produce something that may actually be useful and reflect "the truth?"
There are several challenges that thinking people face when trying to use evidence to reconstruct the past. The first, and one of the most talked about in the readings, is that the evidence could have been altered to fit someone's personal agenda or to hide something. Evidence is what points the researcher to different conclusions about history. Without evidence, many things in life would not be believable and would be just word of mouth. Evidence is used in everyday life for many things and an example of how evidence could be changed is this: If a mom were to ask her child where he has been because he is all dirty and he was to say "playing ball," the evidence would appear to support his. However, the boy was really playing in an empty lot where he wasn't supposed to. The evidence supports both stories, but one is accurate and the other has been changed in favor of the child. When trying to use evidence to discern the truth about history or anything, a multiplicity of pieces of evidence must be accessed, cross-compared, and scrutinized in the light of the author/sponsor.
In On Believing What One Reads, Woodward speaks about ways of controlling the past. He explains it this way, "who controls the present controls the past": it was that "who controls the past controls the future" (37). Thus, if the evidence is put forth in such a way that it controls the past, then the future is controlled as well. Woodward gives 4 "devices" for doing this: 1. The classification of documents, 2. The control of archives, 3. Putting the historian on the pay-roll, and 4. The publication of archives of selected evidence and testimony (37). The first two reference changing the evidence to support one thing or another, the third speaks of a writer's bias, and the fourth gives another challenge. Evidence can be left out or hidden. For anyone to make a good decision or write about something, the full truth needs to be available. If only some of the evidence is seen, then what is written may be incorrect or misleading.
As mentioned above, a third challenge is how the evidence is biased towards a certain direction. Woodward explains, "More and more often the historian is found writing the history of an institution that is paying him for his work" (36). Historians that are paid by a certain organization, have stronger feelings toward a certain direction, or that don't want the opposing side to be seen, may not have unbiased evidence behind their work, or may have taken the liberty to change the evidence to their liking. Again, the importance of finding solid evidence and then checking it with other evidence becomes apparent. Becker, in What is Evidence?, also spoke about this, "Relevant facts must be clearly established by the testimony of independent witnesses not self-deceived" (14). He also explains more, "The history written by historians, like the history informally fashioned by Mr. Everyman, is thus a convenient blend of truth and fancy, of what we commonly distinguish as 'fact' and 'interpretation'" (17).
To me, as I touched on above, the best way to get clear facts and evidence is to get them from independent sources as much as possible and to compare these facts with other sources to ensure that the evidence that is being used is accurate. It also can be extremely helpful if we look at the evidence of the evidence. By looking back behind evidence found, we can ensure that it is unbiased and accurate. One thing that I think we all tend to do is apply some of our own bias to whatever we write and speak. We are biased towards ourselves when we try to make ourselves look good and we can be biased towards different issues if we have a moral or personal preference. Many of the above issues as well as others that are unlisted, stem from the problem of self
I believe that a crucial part to doing anything successfully in this world is asking God for deeper understanding and clearer thinking. For us to properly discern the truth and see through the biases of evidence and even facts, we need God's help, infinite wisdom, and guidance. Because, as humans, we are fallible and tend to add our bias to many things, God's help is crucial so that we can present evidence we find clearly so that we don't further the chain of bias. Many of the above issues as well as others, stem from the problem of self-reliance. Bias can be a powerful thing and unless we have someone stronger to assist us through, it is very easy, even without consciously realizing it, to add our own bias and to miss the bias/misrepresentation of other facts.