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Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace

by Elizabeth Shown Mills

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1,5861711,040 (4.76)12
History is not just a collection of documents-- and all records are not created equal. To analyze and decide what to believe, we also need certain facts about the records themselves.

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The definitive book for sourcing all and any kind of information found regarding genealogy. I love this book! It's indispensable. I wish I had purchased this book back in 2007 when it was originally published. I have the 3rd printing, 2015 edition. ( )
  MissysBookshelf | Aug 27, 2023 |
The definitive reference book for genealogical citations. This is a must have writing manual for students, researchers and writers of family history. ( )
  bselletti | May 28, 2022 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The real draw of this book to me is is it explained Primary documentation quite well in under one chapter. SO many of our researchers can't wrap their mind around that basic and important concept to the point that I've had important figures in the community try and use second hand trivial newspaper stories told 80 years after the fact as Primary research! ( )
1 vote mighel | Dec 4, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book seems to be a first-rate handbook about evaluating and citing evidence, intended for historians and genealogists. I am neither, but my mother did some genealogical research and my education was mostly in the sciences, so I appreciate the difficulty and importance of questions of evidence.

The Foreword begins with the statement "All sources lie" by 'Lawrence of Arabia'. Fascinating to see the intellectual kinship between T. E. Lawrence and Dr. Gregory House. The first chapter is a concise, lucid exposition of epistemology applied to historical evidence. Points to the author for including references to two books by Joe Nickell about photographic evidence and detecting fraud.

The rest of the book is an extensive discussion of types of evidence, such as artifacts, government and church records, and various publications. To show how complete it is, one can learn here how to cite Frakturs and samplers.

One thing I learned from this book was the word 'presentism': interpreting the past through current ideology or opinions. The example given is that the phrase 'free people of color' did not mean just African Americans: it included Native Americans and other ethnic groups. Another thing I learned was how content analysis can help detect fraud: forgers often include extra detail to make their documents plausible, and this extra information can be tested for accuracy (p. 32). Finally, I learned that there is such a thing as negative evidence: some states will issue a Certificate of Failure to Find if a search for a death certificate does not reveal one (p. 463-4).

The astute reader will see a problem with the book: it discusses how to cite online data such as web pages, blogs, etc. Since the book dates back to 2007, it is already being overtaken by technology. For example, a future edition will probably mention Facebook and YouTube explicitly, as well as photos taken with cell phones. In other words, to be most useful, this book should be available online, with updates more than once a year. I don't see a reference to an online version mentioned in the book itself.

Otherwise, the book is quite complete. The only other thing that I did not find therein was a discussion of how to cite cuneiform tablets. ( )
3 vote bertilak | Jul 26, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A very useful book for researchers. The author provides an exhaustive list of resources (online and off) for verifying data. Aimed at historical research. ( )
1 vote LocusAmoenus | Jul 23, 2009 |
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In memory of
Grady McWhiney
Mentor & friend

Who taught me to probe the past carefully
and report it as it was, not as I wish it were
First words

All sources lie.
Lawrence of Arabia

Sir Lawrence's hyperbole is understood by all who seek to recontruct history. Sources err. Sources quibble. Sources exaggerate. Sources misremember. Sources are biased. Sources have egos and ideologies. Sources jostle for a toehold in the marketplace of ideas.
Fundamentals of Evidence Analysis

Basis Issues
1.1 Analysis & Mindset

As history researchers, we do not speculate. We test. We critically observe and carefully record. Then we weigh the accumulated evidence, analyzing the individual parts as well as the whole, without favoring any theory. Bias, ego, ideology, patronage, prejudice, pride, or shame cannot shape our decisions as we appraise our evidence. To do so is to warp reality and deny ourselves the understanding of the past that is, after all, the reason for our labor.
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History is not just a collection of documents-- and all records are not created equal. To analyze and decide what to believe, we also need certain facts about the records themselves.

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