When thinking of evidence as a way of reconstructing the past, one ought to keep in mind that there are in fact different forms of historical truth that are being accessed through that evidence. This is by no means to say that there is no such thing as historical truth, much less its cognate opposite, that there is no such thing as historical falsehood. Both truth and falsehood most definitely exist but neither is homogenous or unitary. There are multiple forms of truth and of falsehood, even with regard to any single instance or event. Different forms of evidence are useful for accessing different forms of truth. Similarly, different modes of interpreting the same evidence will likewise generate different forms of truth.*
My students are discussing the chapter which this quote comes from in Reading Primary Sources next Monday. I’m curious to see how they respond to this paragraph.
The author, Devin O. Pendas, offers interesting parallel suggestions for interpreting oral testimony–hearing and listening. Hearing spots the factual/forensic claims, and listening marks things of experiential value.
*Devin O. Pendas, “Testimony” in Reading Primary Sources: The Interpretation of Texts from Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century History edited by Miriam Dobson and Benjamin Ziemann. (London: Routledge, 2009), 231.