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Reading primary sources: the interpretation of texts from nineteenth- and twentieth-century history

Reading primary sources: the interpretation of texts from nineteenth- and twentieth-century history

Dobson, Miriam; Ziemann, Benjamin

How does the historian approach primary sources? How do interpretations differ? How can they be used to write history? Reading Primary Sourcesgoes a long way to providing answers for these questions. In the first part of this unique volume, the chapters give an overview of both traditional and new methodological approaches to the use of sources, analyzing the way that these have changed over time. The second part gives an overview of twelve different types of written sources, including letters, opinion polls, surveillance reports, diaries, novels, newspapers, and dreams, taking into account the huge expansion in the range of written primary sources used by historians over the last thirty years. This book is an up-to-date introduction into the historical context of these different genres, the ways they should be read, the possible insights and results these sources offer and the pitfalls of their interpretation. All of the chapters push the reader beyond a conventional understanding of source texts as mere "reflections" of a given reality, instead fostering an understanding of how each of the various genres has to be seen as a medium in its own right. Taking examples of sources from around the globe, and also including a student-friendly further reading section, this is the perfect companion for every student of history who wants to engage with sources

Book. English.
Published London: Routledge, 2009
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Statement of responsibility: edited by Miriam Dobson and Benjamin Ziemann
ISBN: 0415429560, 0415429579, 9780415429566, 9780415429573
Note: Includes bibliographical references and index.
Physical Description: vi, 259 p. ; 24 cm.
Series: Routledge guides to using historical sources


  1. Acknowledgments.
  2. List of Contributors.
  3. List of Abbreviations
  4. Part 1: Reading Primary Sources: Contexts and Approaches
  5. 1. Reading Primary Sources. An Introduction Benjamin Ziemann/Miriam Dobson
  6. 2. Understanding History. Hermeneutics and Source Criticism in Historical Scholarship
  7. Philipp Müller
  8. 3. Reading Texts after the Linguistic Turn. Approaches from Literary Studies and their Implications Christoph Reinfandt
  9. Part 2: Varieties of Primary Sources and their Interpretation 1. Letters Miriam Dobson
  10. 2. Surveillance Reports Moritz Föllmer
  11. 3. Court Files Claudia Verhoeven
  12. 4. Opinion Polls Anja Kruke
  13. 5. Memoranda Kristina Spohr Readman
  14. 6. Diaries Christa Hämmerle, translated by Andrew Evans
  15. 7. Novels Julia Reid
  16. 8. Autobiography David Carlson
  17. 9. Newspapers Stephen Vella
  18. 10. Speeches Paul Readman
  19. 11. Testimony Devin Pendas.
  20. Glossary

Author note

Miriam Dobsonis Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Sheffield. Her forthcoming monograph explores popular responses to the reforms of the Khrushchev era.

Benjamin Ziemannis Reader in Modern History at the University of Sheffield. His recent publications include: War Experiences in Rural Germany 1914-1923 (2007), and Peace Movements in Western Europe, Japan and the USA during the Cold War (2007).


'The chapters always have a clear structure; their great merit is that they all follow the agenda laid out by the editors in a 'basic checklist' in their introduction and thus have a similar, unified structure . All in all, this volume can convince. It introduces the problem of the literary qualities of primary source texts in a manner that can be found nowhere else.'- Stefan Jordan, H-Soz-u-Kult