Suppose we have some large, long event whose description is made up of thousands of documents, artifacts, testimonies, and photographs.

If some document is (or some are) found to be forged, if some artifacts are found to have misled, if some testimonies are found to have been dishonest, and some photographs are found to have been faked, how does this knowledge affect the overall reading of this history?

Reference to relevant articles are appreciated.

  • A good example would be Soviet history, particularly in the Stalinist era. Or something a little fresher like the Gulf Of Tonkin incident.
    – Schwern
    Feb 4, 2017 at 0:20
  • 3
    I would suggest that it's always a factor, all sources have the bias, even statistics, they way collected, categories etc, the raw stats without some idea of the context that created them is dubious. It's significant factor in researching understanding the past, getting different sources supporting a fact is ideal, but in the long past often multiple authors can all be drawing on the one source (the Bancroft/Petrov saga below) All testimonies have a limited viewpoint even if totally honest which is rare, people at some event will have different perspective. All history has to read carefully.
    – pugsville
    Feb 4, 2017 at 6:02

1 Answer 1


Those inconsistencies are exactly when historiography becomes crucial to historical understanding. Disagreement between sources raises questions about the quality of the sources and those who reported them. The risk of not addressing these issues is that erroneous information can become accepted, and must then be recast in light of the qualities of the sources.

For example, in the late 1800s when the historian H. H. Bancroft was working on his monumental Histories of California and Alaska, he employed a Russian-speaking researcher and translator named Ivan Petrov. This fellow discovered a number of archival documents about the Russian-American Company that Bancroft cited. Years passed and many other authors cited Bancroft. Much later, historians discovered that Petrov was the author of several fraudulent documents. Bancroft's credulity allowed his work to be tainted by clever fictions, and caused generations of confusion. Now, the only responsible means of using or understanding Bancroft's text is to incorporate the story of Petrov's deceit. Rather than ignoring or denying or emphasizing it, we simply regard it as a key aspect of the works it affected.

Sorry I have no citations, as I am not well-read in historiography.

  • 3
    The distinguished British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper lost considerable academic Brownie points when he authenticated the Hitler Diaries which were later proved to be a forgery. Caveat lector!
    – TheHonRose
    Mar 26, 2018 at 4:38

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