Why Has Evidence Formed the Basis of Research

Whyhas verifiable evidence formed the basis of genuine historical research since the nineteenth century?

Verifiable evidence has undoubtedly formed the basis of genuine historical research since the nineteenth century. Verifiable evidence begins with sources, the material and textual traces of the past. Anything can be an historical source - letters, legal records, financial accounts, literary narratives, paintings, photographs, buildings, discarded rubbish, postcards, tombstones, stained-glass windows, graffiti, royal writs, rebellious pamphlets… anything, in fact, which offers the possibility of catching a small glimpse of the past. Richard Evans argues ‘’ historians amass facts from hard evidence and draw valid conclusions.’’ On the other hand some idealists stress that the incomplete and imperfect nature of the historical record obliges the historian to employ a considerable degree of human intuition and imagination. There are also people who simply argue that it is impossible to know what happened in the past, even through evidence.

History is an intellectual discipline that goes back to the ancient Greeks. One of the first real historian, Thucydides, did a remarkable thing. He set out to distance himself from his own political system and to write a work that examined critically what happened to Greece in the Peloponnesian Wars. He not only told of his own side’s virtues and victories but of its mistakes and disasters. Thucydides also distanced himself from his own culture and religion. Instead of the mythical tales that all previous human societies had used to affirm their place in the cosmos, he faced the fact that the Greek oracles could not foretell their future and that the Greek gods could not ensure their fortunes. Thucydides decided that to learn about the course of human affairs, he would not consult sacred texts or prophets or the sanctioned scribes of the era. Rather, he would go out and either witness events himself or compile evidence only...