Historians Of Cultural Identities. Essay

996 words - 4 pages

Historians of cultural identities have to be particularly cautious in their use of historical sources. Explore this statement in relation to autobiographies.In the study of history it is always extremely important to scrutinise a source with the utmost care. This is especially true when examining autobiographies. Autobiographies can give an extremely useful insight into a historical subject. For example Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' would be extremely useful for a historian of cultural identities studying Nazism to gain an insight into Hitler's beliefs. But it is now widely accepted that much of the information contained in Hitler's autobiography was inaccurate. This illustrates the need for such caution when using the genre, but also this reflects the presence of advantages and disadvantages to the use of autobiographies. Both should be taken into account.So what advantages do autobiographies allow the cultural identities historian? Firstly, it enables the individuals to give themselves an identity. It allows the author to develop their beliefs motivations and personality into writing in such a way perhaps only rivalled by letter writing in terms of personal expression. This is particularly useful for historians of cultural identity as figureheads of certain identities often write the most relevant autobiographies. For example Nelson Mandela's 'A Long walk to freedom' or Gandhi's 'My Experiments with Truth. These figureheads offer an excellent insight into the identity of their followers through that of their own. However even this statement should be treated with some caution, as this is not always the case.With this use established it is then possible for the historian to make other observations about the individual. Explicitly it is possible to examine the childhood and adolescence of the author. It is widely accepted by psychologists such as Freud and historians alike that these periods are extremely important in the formation of an individual's identity and in this case the making of a cultural identity when the concept of the figurehead is taken into consideration. Returning to 'Mein Kampf' as a prime example. Hitler underwent an extremely unusual upbringing and even more so was his period of adolescence offering explanations for his formation of the Nazi identity in later life. However, many of hisdescriptions of this time have since been proven to be untrue and self-gratifying. Again, thisdemonstrates the need for caution.Another major advantage of an autobiography lies with their ability to cut out the middleman, if you will, namely the historian. Any book concerning events written by a historian is automatically subjected to the eyes of interpretation. Distancing the reader from eyewitness or first hand accounts. This is not the case with autobiographies. Instead they are presented as a first hand account themselves and can be used as such by a historian. This is certainly an advantage in many ways. Especially so when paired with the knowledge...

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