Historical Fudgery: Bias in Primary Sources

One of the interesting thing I’ve learned about primary sources is that they often have a bias. Well, -everything- has a bias. We know that. But it’s nice to beleive things are giving us accurate information.

Currently I’m reading Portugal of the Portuguese, written in 1915 by Aubrey Bell. Yes, that’s an English name. And as with other English sources I’ve read, I have trouble deciding how accurate his portrayal of the Portuguese people is.

Let me give you an example:
“During some days of exceptional heat, in the summer of 1913, the correspondent of a Lisbon newspaper at Oporto wrote that the heat there had been so terrible that windows had to be kept open at night. And this in a climate which rarely gives excuse for closed windows.”

This statement doesn’t seem to make sense, I know….but at the heart of it is the English assumption that windows -should- be left open in the summer. Now I admit that I don’t know a)why the English leave their windows open, and b) why the Portuguese don’t, but the writer clearly sees this as madness…or ignorance. (This falls under his lecture on their illiteracy, general lack of sanitation, and lack of municipal control of day to day life issues like sanitation.) To him, this was proof of Portuguese lack of hygiene.*

He later goes on to talk about how the Portuguese could be great if only a great man would rise up to lead them (to be more like the English, I assume.)

So reading this resource has to be done while trying to hold aside the veil of English Perception. But it contains a great number of invaluable statistics that I can use to fashion my alternate Portugal more accurately. (Why am I still researching when I’m revising Book 2? That’s a post for a different day.)

Just a reminder. You can’t always take sources at face value.

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Duotrope Notice
If you haven’t heard, Duotrope will no longer be free after January 1. The new price will be 5$ a month or 50$ per year. If you keep your records there and do not plan to subscribe, you might want to copy them off to an Excel or other export file.

Actual announcement here: https://duotrope.com/notes_current.aspx

I went ahead and purchased a year of subscription, mostly because I feel I ‘owe’ it to them. But I rarely use Duotrope any longer. Just a reminder, you can see others’ response times over at the Black Hole of The Rejections and Acceptances Log on LJ.

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*This is likely related to the then-scientific idea that disease was spread by miasma.

One thought on “Historical Fudgery: Bias in Primary Sources

  1. Pingback: Historical Fudgery: Bias in Primary Sources « J. Kathleen Cheney | Teaching and Learning with Primary Sources | Scoop.it

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