The Major Problems of Historical Research

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  • Topic: History, Yoruba people, Philosophy of history
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The Major Problems of Historical Research

By

Adeyemi Balogun Sharapha

In the conduct of historical research, the research student faces many problems which include choice of topic, funding, language barriers, source problems to mention but a few.

The first problem which a historical researcher might face is that of choosing topic. It is a common phenomenon especially for a young researcher to jump at an attractive topic without knowing the rigors involved in researching the topic. For example, he may, not have identify the gap(s) to fill in terms of contribution to knowledge. Getting the needed materials to sustain the topic may become difficult; hence he may have to shift to entirely new area or rephrased the topic. While the researcher is battling with this, the problem of time constraint set in. a young researcher also has the tendency to choose a topic that is too contemporary. Some history schools or supervisor may reject such topic especially when they considered the topic to be too recent. Some schools will prefer a period of 30 to 50 years with the believe that many document would have been declassified.1Above all, a researcher needs to check for topic that will not exhaust him financially because funding which is discussed below is another major problem.

Funding affects research at every stage. A researcher needs to cover transportation cost to and from the venue(s) of research for data collection.2 often times, a researcher may have to travel even to another country in search of materials and this for him may amount to huge cost.

1. Lanre Davies, ‘The Problems of Historical Research,’in Issues in Historiography, ed. Olubomehin O. (Ibadan: College Press and Publisher Ltd.2001). pg. 86

2. Ibid 81

Money is needed for feeding, accommodation, photocopy of needed materials and documents, and typing out of drafts of essay written by him3. It should be noted that some informant to be interviewed may refuse to talk if they are not given gratification. If they are old men they may request for alcohol to drink or food to eat before they give out any information. It is equally possible that some of the archive workers may keep some vital documents which they would only release on account of gratification. Here the government or corporate bodies may come to the aid of the researcher4.

In the course of research, the problem of language barrier could pose a very big challenge for the researcher, especially when he has no working knowledge of the language of the people he is working on. Here the researcher may employ the work of an interpreter for translation purposes while attempting to solve this language problem, the research student would create another. Interpreter may not give the exact translation of the original information and consequently leading to distortion of facts. In the word of Ki-Zerbo ‘tradition does not stand up well to translation’5. When uprooted, it loses its vigour and authenticity,

and most errors ascribed to traditions are partly due to incompetent or unscrupulous interpreter(s) 6.

Perhaps the most fundamental problem in the conduct of historical research is the source(s) related problems. The problem is not much of availability of materials than it is that of selection and accessibility.

3. Ibid.,pg 81

4. Ibid.,pg 87

5. Ki-Zerbo J., ‘General Introduction’, Ki-Zerbo, J. (ed), General History of Africa I. Methodology and Africa Prehistory, Heinemann, 1981, p.9

6. Lanre Davies, ‘The Problems of Historical Research,’in Issues in Historiography, ed Olubomehin O. (Ibadan: College Press and Publisher Ltd.2001). pg. 82

Supposing a historian is dependent on oral or written evidence for historical reconstruction, in the case of the former, the informant may deliberately or due to memory loss live out some salient information. Also the taboos, customs tradition and culture of the people may hinder the field work...
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