Based upon: Anderson, Maureen, Ian Keese & Anne Lowe, 2012, Retroactive 7, Jacaranda, Milton, pp 24 7 25
People’s values form their beliefs about what is right and wrong, and influence their attitudes, behaviour and viewpoints. Their values and attitudes are linked to those of their communities, to the situations in which they live, and to their ideas, experiences and opportunities. These things shape their view of the world and their perspectives on its peoples and events.
The perspective of a source
Historians are interested in the perspective of the people who created their sources – what might have influenced the way the creator presented and reported on a
particular situation. For example, the source could be affected by the creator’s [gender], political and religious beliefs, nationality, level in society and life experiences.
Things that were important to people in past societies might be very different from things we find important in our world. To understand people’s actions and reactions in the past, we need to develop historical empathy – the ability to see the past through the eyes and different viewpoints of its participants. historical empathy is understanding why a particular person living at a particular time in the past would have acted in a certain way. It is also about realising that other people living in the same time period might have acted in a variety of ways because they looked at the same event from a variety of different viewpoints – just as we do in our time. It is not about understanding how we would have reacted if we were bringing our twenty-first-century values and attitudes to a particular situation in an earlier time period.
Interpretations and contestability
Historians use sources to come up with an interpretation (explanation) of the past. As they develop their interpretations, historians try to be aware of their perspective and make sure they take into account the sources that support and the sources that contradict their hypothesis.
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