Who or what do we rely on to get our information? Why do we believe everything we hear? Why do we continue to believe something even after we’re told it’s false?
I rely on a standard set of questions as I go about my research work. When I’m working with primary source documents, that is, some type of historical item like a written document, work of art, a building, clothing and so on, I don’t take it at face value. I ask myself, who wrote or painted or made this and for what purpose? Who is the audience? I want to know the objective of the piece and what is the bias? I want to know as much about the source of the document as I do the document itself.
As in the beginning of recorded history to the present day, when one person wants to tell another person something their point of view is influenced by all manner things: who they are on the social/political/economic scale, what is their slant, how are they influencing the listener/viewer, what are they getting out of that particular point of view? This is the tedious part of doing history, but one of the most important.
Knowing about the source of a document is what makes a responsible historian. It can take days or weeks and sometimes longer to truly grasp the bias of the document at hand.
Did you know saying, “we give attention to all sides of a story” is biased? Not every side of an issue has equal weight and airing all points of view can legitimize a lie or give weight to a point of view that is criticized by professionals. And in this era of social media and easy access to ‘facts,’ we would all do well to practice some responsible research techniques!
© 2017 Laurie J. Welch