Firsthand (First person) vs. Secondhand (Third person) Histories
The chart below summarizes some of the major advantages and disadvantages of the two categories of historical writing.
||Firsthand (first person)
||Secondhand (third person)
- The writer saw the events for himself. Eyewitnesses are used to establish fact in courts of law.
- The writer can record the emotions, as well as the facts, for he experiences them for himself.
- The writer can place an event in its historical context to judge its overall importance.
- The writer has the potential of being more objective because he is not personally involved.
- The writer can evaluate multiple sources with multiple viewpoints for a more complete picture.
- The writer's viewpoint is limited.
- The writer's perceptions can be wrong. Perception of fact and fact itself are two different things.
- The writer may be biased or prejudiced. He may try to look better than he is.
- The writer may not be able to see the "big picture."
- The writer must rely on the records and impressions of others, not his own; in other words, he must use firsthand or older secondhand sources.
- Records can "mutate" as they are passed from one writer to another to another etc. This is like playing "telephone" or "whisper."
- The writer may have a difficult time separating "fact" from "perception" in the records he uses.
- The writer may not want to accept certain facts; he may try to "slant" history; this is called "revisionist history."