Historical methods

Authored by: Barry S. Godfrey

The Routledge International Handbook of Violence Studies

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138283442
eBook ISBN: 9781315270265
Adobe ISBN:


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In Murder in America, Roger Lane, who has researched the history of violence for many years, had some words of advice for historians of violence:

A good historian, or detective, needs imagination, logic, and experience to make the case, but ultimately it must be based on evidence – whether interviews, fingerprints, official documents, private papers or physical remains … The historical evidence is not always tidy; it does not fit easily into any kind of box – such as those currently labelled ‘right’ or ‘left’ – and sometimes the attempt to solve the mystery of what happened in the past generates new mysteries of its own.

(1997, pp. 2–5) For years, researchers have been trying to understand the mysteries of violence: Why does it become more or less prevalent in society at different times? Who commits acts of violence, why, and who suffers (Gurr, 1981; Jackson, 2000; King, 1996, 2003; Sindall, 1990)? There are well-developed and convincing theories about the levels and causes of violence that are evidenced with historical data. However, the empirical historical data are only valuable if the methods by which they were collected and analyzed are transparent.

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