Evidence, like clue or proof is a crucial word for the historian and for a long time since history’s conception as an academic discipline various discussions have spawned up based on the relationship between the historian and his evidence, and so this essay, would attempt to discuss the role of the interpreter of sources in adding value to the evidence used in the process of deconstructing history. But before that, I will try to define the key terms in the discussion.
Firstly, evidence in general means something which shows clearly the existence of another. So in our context evidence could be referred to as the raw materials in the “history industry’s” manufacturing process through which traces of the past are fused together to write efficient or effective history.
Historical Deconstruction, according to Alun Munslow is “reassessing history from its most basic level” and also the deconstructionist historians place emphasis on the importance of language in the writing of history and the impact it has on the objectivity of a historical piece, as Michel Foucault puts it; “language is an ideologically contaminated medium and what it can or cannot do is dependent upon the use to which it is put, and for what social and political purposes.”
The interpreter of sources would refer to the historian who makes a conscious effort to explain the past objectively by inferring the facts from the evidence after researching through interpretation.
Also value, refers to the worth, importance or usefulness of something. This definition will now serve as the stepping stone for us to advance into the main discussion.
First and foremost, according to Luigi Pirandello, “fact is like a sack- it would not stand if empty. To make it stand up, first you have to put in all the reasons and feelings that caused it in the first place.” In this sense, in other for the historian to reassess the past, he/she needs to dig deep for the evidence which in their “unadulterated” state can be equated to the gold ore with lots of impurities but after going through fire and other processes, becomes that precious mineral people adore. Such is the case of evidence, they become valuable through the meaning given to them by the historian, an example include, the story of the Taung Child which was discovered in 1924 by quarrymen in South Africa, this skull made no sense to these quarrymen and so it took an expert in the person of Raymond Dart to give meaning to this priceless piece of evidence, South Africa now enjoys the bragging right as being one of the birthplaces of the earliest man.
Again, the interpreter of sources is the one who gives value to the evidence because, facts do not and cannot speak for themselves but rather the historian gives them a voice through interpretation and language, for instance, the ruins of the Zimbabwean civilization may not be of immense value to a lay man but when the historian employs these evidences in his writings and tells the story behind them it is then its true value is realized.
More so, the accumulation of facts alone do make history but rather the presentation of these facts by the historian through his/her interpretation constitute effective history, as M.C Lemon puts it, “the very logic of history as a discipline revolves around the rational of its narrative structure.” As a result of that, People have criticized Akosua Perbi’s book on slavery because though she had all the facts right, her style of presentation and interpretation was not the best.
Also, the evidence used in historical deconstruction owes its value to the interpreter of sources in the sense that the point of view for assessing situations differ from historian to historian and so the value of the evidence would be based on the interpretation given by the historian. A typical example is the story behind the “SikaDwa Kofi” of the Asante, some modernist historians like F.K Buah write to suite the belief that this mystical stool was conjured by the priest OkomfoAnokye from the sky and contains the souls of all Asantes and so they have the clarion call to defend this stool with their lives because the day they lose it the Asante kingdom would collapse, but postmodernist historians who subject most things to the rigorous scrutiny of commonsense would employ social theory in explaining the phenomenon and by so doing they can come out with something that the stool and the stories which surround it exist so that the people would defend the kingdom come rain or shine, and so the golden stool in their writings would just be an ideology that the Asante subscribe to as T.C McCaskie puts it.
Moreover, evidence owe their value to the interpretation given by the historian because the past is obscure and the only way we can reconnect with this past is through its traces that is the evidence, but they are only useful through the meaning given them by the interpreter. An example is the claim by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concerning the visit by the Mufti of Palestine during the era of the holocaust to Adolf Hitler, according to him, in a speech before the World Zionist Congress; he stated that theMufti (Haj Amin al-Hussein) influenced Hitler’s decision to annihilate the Jews.
“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time; he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al- Husseini went to Hitler and said, “If you expel them, they’ll all come here (Palestine).” Hitler then asked, “What shall I then do with them?” and the mufti then replied; “Burn them.”
This claim could be accepted as the truth based on interpretation because indeed there was a visit but what went on behind closed doors is unknown, but historians and the German government have come out to debunk this claim because according to them the annihilation process took off before the visit.
Again, making reference from E.H Carr’s conception about history in his book “What is History”, history is a process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the past and the present. In short we can say that the historian makes his facts valuable as a result of the interactions he has with them.Example include, it is on record that, Ghana could have attained independence before 6thmarch but the independence process was delayed because some people claim that 6th march was chosen in relation to the time the bond of 1844 was signed to commemorate a century of British rule but this evidence is not valuable based on the kind of interpretation given to it, as historians have come out with more concrete facts that the independence of Ghana was delayed as a result of two political ideologies in the country at that time that is; the C.P.P who wanted a unitary system of government and the N.L.M who preferred a federal government and so the grounds was set for independence only after this issue was solved.
To conclude, the historian in his quest to reassess the past from its most basic level has to rely on evidence which forms the bits and pieces of the past, and these evidences would only be valuable in rewriting the past through the meaning the interpreter of sources gives it and also we must not lose sight of the fact that in as much as the interpreter of sources is the one who gives the evidence its value, without these evidences the work of the historian would be filled with only assumptions and imaginative guessing which would then affect his objectivity, And so historical deconstruction would always remain as an interaction between the interpreterand his evidences where the value of the evidence used would depend on the interpreter of sources.
Alun Munslow, Deconstructing History (London/ New York: Routledge, 1997), 1-11 M.C Lemon, Philosophy of History: A Guide for Students (Routledge, 2003) Martin Meredith, The State of Africa:
Carlo Ginzburg, Checking the Evidence: The Judge and the Historian, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 18, No. 1 (autumn, 1991), pp. 79-92
www.haaretz.com (Netanyahu: Hitler Didn’t Want to Exterminate the Jews) Oct 21, 2015 3:25 AM Michel Foucault, Language, Counter Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews edited with an introduction by Donald .F. Bouchard; translated from the French by Donald .F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Cornell University Press, 1977), “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,”.
T.C McCaskie, The Golden Stool At The End of The Nineteenth Century: Setting The Records Straight (University of Birmingham) Arthur Marwick, The New Nature of History Knowledge, Evidence, Language (London: Palgrave, 2001)
www.humanorigins.si.edu(African Origins) Nov 28, 2015 4:15 PM Luigi Pirandello.BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2015 www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/I/luigipiran137535.html, accessed Nov 28, 2015 4:19 PM
 See Carlo Ginzburg, Checking the Evidence; The Judge and the Historian, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Autumn, 1991), pp. 79-92
 See Alun Munslow, Deconstructing History (Routledge London/New York) 1997 pg
 See, M.C Lemon, Philosophy of History: A Guide for Students (Routledge, 2003)
 A Muslim who officially explains Islamic law.
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 National Liberation Movement
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