Patrice Brun And The Influence Of Context

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According to Robert Townsend, assistant director for research at the American Historical Association, historians are researchers who develop a sense of the standard opinions on a particular historical subject by reading other historians’ work on the subject, then use source materials, where they get their support and evidence from, to build new interpretations or follow new insights. Their findings are then put together in books, articles, websites, reports or museum scripts.
Throughout their careers, historians are likely to come to face many obstacles, especially when it comes to analysing certain works or events. Contemporary affairs, or even morals and prejudices might influence the interpretation of ancient work, hence explaining why
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Patrice Brun, a French historian said “L’historien est, ou devrait être, un homme de contexte ». Word for word that quote means “Historians are, or should be, men of context”. By saying this, Patrice Brun is insinuating that historians should or already consider context as a very important feature when it comes to their work and research. However, one could ask them self; what is context? And why is it important to historians?
Context refers to the social, religious, economic and political conditions that existed in a certain time, at a certain place. It is this « context » that allows us to interpret and analyse past events or papers. In analysing historical events, context helps understand the motivations behind behaviours observed in those eras. When it comes to interpreting behaviour and speech, context is extremely important, as without it they mean nothing. To illustrate this point, let us use the example of Hitler writing Mein Kampf while in
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That could be, as the previous example showed; not only to teach History but also when it comes to analysing it or interpreting it. Yet another example we could cite is Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. In his work, Twain uses racial slurs on many occasions. This can obviously be seen a problematic in today’s society’s views’ due to contemporary morals. Nonetheless, it helps us illustrate our point once more as once we are given context, we know that this work was released in the 1880s, explaining why using such terms wasn’t considered controversial. In 1863, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, hence explaining why; by the 1880s racist attitudes were slowly changing. However, it was in the 1870s that white supremacist groups began to rise and imposed Jim Crow Laws that meant African-Americans lost many rights, and put in place discriminatory policies leading to legal segregation. In fact, Leslie V. Tischauser confirms “The Supreme Court declared [legal segregation] constitutional in 1896” (2). Combining these facts means one can acknowledge the fact that racism was still current during the

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