Page:American History Told by Contemporaries, v2.djvu/29

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American History told by Contemporaries

PART I

PRACTICAL INTRODUCTION
FOR TEACHERS, PUPILS, STUDENTS, AND LIBRARIES



CHAPTER I — THE SOURCES AND HOW TO FIND THEM

I. What are Sources?

I N the current discussions on the teaching and study of history, one of the most frequent expressions is "the sources," or "original material." What do these words mean? As history is an account of the past actions of men, every historical statement must go back to the memory of those who saw the events, or to some record made at the time. Tradition is the handing down of memories from one person to another ; indeed, one of the most famous of American sources, the Norse Sagas on the discovery of America, — was thus transmitted for three centuries before it was finally put into writing. Such transmissions are likely to get away from the first form as years go on, and may change into legends, such as have already formed around Washington s life. A more trustworthy form of transmitting earlier memories is by autobiography, or by reminiscence written out in later life ; but narratives set down long after the events are apt to become twisted by the lapse of the years between the event and the making of the record, and thus their chief value is to reproduce the spirit of the times. In preparing this volume such works have been sparingly used. Graydon's Memoirs

I