Correcting for the fallibility of memory is the critical task, and for this there is no substitute for preparation.
An entire workweek spent preparing for a single interview is none too lavish.
If the interviewer knows a good deal already, he may be able to jog or correct an otherwise recalcitrant memory or to know what is reliable and what is not.
Except for the tape or video recorder, techniques for verifying oral testimony have perhaps progressed little since Thucydides.
Oral epic poetry is still being performed today, in Nigeria, Serbia, and elsewhere, and studying it not only has revealed a great deal about classical epics such as the but also has shown how remarkable feats of memory could be performed by trained singers of tales, preserving the memory of historical events with much less distortion than was once suspected and recovering at least some of the early history of Africa and America.
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The historian confronting written documents can also draw on a long history of criticism.In search for truth and meaning, contemporary historians must always remember that historical events are like puzzle pieces; they rely on their edges to be formed.Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.Modern advances in deciphering codes (stimulated by World War II) enabled classicists to translate Linear B, yielding evidence about the Mycenaean language used on Crete in the 2nd millennium A much more usual problem calls for paleography—the study of ancient or medieval handwriting.Once the handwriting styles of past epochs become familiar, anything written by a professional scribe should be legible, but one can expect the wildest variations of spelling and handwriting in personal documents.A more formidable challenge is simply to read well.This sometimes starts with learning to read at all.As the previous section has demonstrated, there are many branches of history today, each with different kinds of evidence, particular canons of interpretation, and distinctive conventions of writing.This diversity has led some to wonder whether the term still designates an integral body of or approach to knowledge.Join Britannica's Publishing Partner Program and our community of experts to gain a global audience for your work!This concluding section surveys contemporary historical practice and theory.