Historians use various perspectives to turn source material into evidence which must fit within the context of time and space in order to understand the causes and consequences of changes and/or continuity over time in order to understand how individuals and group interactions with each other and with their environment impact individuals, groups, and communities.
History, as an academic discipline, is the pursuit of the past – to try to understand why things happened the way they did and the significances of those things – through arguments build on evidence drawn from the unique perspective of the historian (the student of History who utilizes – always with critical source evaluation -- the diverse perspectives of previous historians (secondary sources that make up the historiography) and the diverse perspectives of the various individuals, groups, and communities (primary sources).
The past is made up of the events that occurred and the people that experienced those events and the impact of those events. Historical events may result from individual interactions, group interactions, and the interaction of individuals and groups with institutions and/or the environment.
The historian attempts to better understand and create an argument (a thesis) about the cause(s) and consequence(s) of those changes and/or continuity that emerged in the wake of those past events and interactions.
Any attempt to create an argument about the causes or consequences of change(s) and/or continuity(ies) must remain grounded in the context of time and space. But the historian must also remember that while these constructs may help one better understand the past, constructions of time and space are fluid and often are built by a historian. (E.g. Defining all those who lived in the period from 1400 to 1600 as “Renaissance” may help us understand some elements of change European History, but it also may cloud elements of continuity. Additionally “Renaissance” in the 15th to 17th century may not fit very well at all for other societies outside of Europe. Trying to place those societies in to the context of a “European Renaissance” may camouflage the past. Furthermore, the concept of “Europe” while generally accepted is a historical construct that may not always work well. Recently, historians such as Alan Fromherz have argued that the 12th century, for example, is better understood in the context of the Mediterranean world that includes southern Europe and North Africa than isolating one’s historical pursuits to the continent of Europe.)
The historian creates his/her argument through evidence. Evidence is drawn from other the arguments of previous historians (secondary sources) as well as from the sources produced at the time (primary sources). Secondary sources come from a diverse range of historians’ perspectives. Historians make choices (e.g. to focus on intellectual causes, economic causes, environmental causes, political causes). When building on secondary source evidence, one must actively evaluate and critically analyze the source material. Primary source material must also be evaluated critically, but it is important for the historian to recognize the value of different types of primary sources. When utilizing primary sources, it is important to recognize the value in utilizing diverse perspectives. Primary source material created by the elites of society as well as primary source material from marginalized and oppressed groups are both valuable. It is the historian who recognizes one’s own perspectives, and recognizes the values and limits of various perspectives to utilize evidence to defend one’s argument. It is this process that transitions source material into evidence.