After reading the selections from Collingwood and Jerome, it seems as though a large portion of the challenges historians face originate from human methods of thought. The authors each discuss different problems, but both can find their roots in human information processing methods. While Collingwood chooses to focus on the thought processes of the historian conducting the research, Jerome focuses on the thoughts of those creating what may someday become research. However, in both cases and from both perspectives the difficulties that arise originate in human thought.
From the onset of his writing it is clear Jerome is skeptical of the human record of the past. In addition to citing several examples of falsified stories that became history he also quotes Froude as having said, "History [is] like a child's box of letters, with which we can spell any word we please. We have only to pick out such letters as we want, arrange them as we like, and say nothing about those which do not suit our purpose" (183). He explains, however, that his reservations do not stem from the belief that all history is deliberately falsified. Instead he refers to several studies that demonstrate the ways in which the human mind unconsciously falsifies information, even after a short amount of time. One study which involved recalling details from several black and white photographs produced only seventeen correct responses out of 282 depositions (186). Those involved not only wanted to tell the truth but believed they were. Jerome argues that if "good faith, the desire to tell the truth, ... the certainty that the testimony is true, as well as the opportunity to secure correct information, and the absence of prepossessions" could rarely produce an accurate report then true testimony is only a rare exception (187). In this case, the way humans process and recall information is the source of challenge for historians.
Collingwood also addresses the issues that arise from human processing, but he instead focuses on the processes of the historian. After recounting a literary style murder mystery, he begins to contrast two types, and therefore two different mindsets, of historians. The first mind set is that of a "scissors-and-paste" historian. Here the historian researches periods of history, learning the statements left by those who went before. Collingwood identifies this as one of the difficulties of being a scissors-and-paste historian. By only reasserting the previous statements of others, this historian cannot call himself a scientific thinker (52). Another dilemma that faces historians of this type is the overwhelming amount of evidence that is available. If the historians goal was merely to sort through previous information it would be impossible for them to accomplish this considering the amount of research that is available in our day and age. "Scientific" historians, on the other hand, create their own statements by asking questions of the evidence that is before them. Instead of only gathering previous information, this historian can hold the title of scientific thinker because of the investigative questions they use to "devise tortures under which [nature] can no longer hold her tongue" (47). This style of thinking can produce challenges also, however, as there is no exact formula of questions one can use to "torture" the answers from nature. As a result the wrong questions can be asked, as was demonstrated by the constable in Collingwood's John Doe murder mystery, which results in incorrect or unhelpful answers. Even with this challenge Collingwood clearly places the scientific historian above the scissors-and-paste historian. The challenge of a misplaced question can be easily corrected and learned from, while the limitations that face the scissors-and-paste historians are much more difficult to overcome. Regardless of the way they are viewed, both historian types that Collingwood presents face challenges because of their thought processes.
With the different types of challenges presented for both the historian and the witness it seems as though the task of recreating history would be a daunting and nearly impossible one. We do, however, have records that we treat as historical fact. We even base life or death decisions on those same witness accounts. How can this be when they seem to be wrought with so much error?
I think the answer lies with Collingwood's scientific historian. I can't possibly pretend to know what it takes to be a historian, but based on Collingwood's description of the questioning that takes place I believe it is possible for truth to be discerned. He notes that it is important for a historian to know themselves very well before they try to learn from others. This allows them to know the biases and motives behind the questions they ask and the answers they search for. If historians are able to understand this about themselves it would seem logical to believe they could also discern certain things about their witnesses. Jerome notes how any witness can be either very reliable or completely inaccurate depending on the situation and the role they play in it. By applying the skills of the scientific historian one can hope to recognize which witnesses are reliable and they can still find ways to learn from those they deem unreliable if they find the right questions to ask. Just as the facts don't always matter in politics, maybe the witness doesn't always matter in history, so long as the historian has the skills and experience necessary to determine the kind of witness they are dealing with.