History – Knowledge of historical facts is ensured by oral tradition. The first historians, in this sense, were probably poets.

History, often written with the first capital letter, is both the study and the writing of past facts and events regardless of their variety and complexity.

History is also a human and social science. The past itself is also commonly referred to as history (synecdoche), as in the lessons of history.

History is a written account by which men and women (historians) strive to make known the past times.

These attempts are never entirely independent of conditioning extraneous to the field such as the vision of the world of their author or its culture, but they are supposed to be elaborated from sources rather than guided by speculation or ideology.

Over the centuries, historians have shaped their methods and fields of intervention, while reassessing their sources, their origin and their exploitation.

The academic discipline of studying and writing history, including the critique of methods, is historiography.
It is based on various auxiliary sciences supplementing, depending on the work carried out, the general competence of the historian.

Despite everything, it remains a human construction, inevitably inscribed in its time, capable of being used outside its domain, in particular for political purposes.

History: Criticism of sources

The practice of history requires maintaining a critical attitude towards sources. It is this permanent doubt which makes one of the specificities of the practice.

The first milestones of this reflection were laid by the school of Mauritian and Bollandist monks in the 17th century.

Historians of the so-called methodical school, Langlois and Seignobos use these “rules”, which mainly concern written testimony.

They thus distinguish two main operations of criticism, “internal criticism” and “external”:

  •  The external criticism relates to the material characters of the document such as its paper, its ink, its writing, the seals which accompany it. She questions the authenticity of the sources. This type of criticism requires knowledge of paleography, sigillography, heraldry, chronology, diplomacy and epigraphy.
  • Internal criticism is based on the consistency of the text.
  • the “criticism of provenance” which questions the origin of the source. The historian draws conclusions about the sincerity and accuracy of the testimony. The story of an official historiographer thus tends to magnify the role and the qualities of his prince.
  • the “criticism of scope” which is interested in the recipients of the text. A prefect may, in his report to the Minister of the Interior, minimize the disturbances affecting his department for fear that his superior will take him for an incapacitated person.
  • the classification of sources.

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