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Recording History: The Documents


How does a historian piece together the jigsaw of history?

The Cold War is a good example of a time where there remains much to discover and record. To find out about the Cold War, a historian works on official sources like government archives, photographic archives, or personal papers and memoirs in libraries.

Because the Cold War is still within living memory, it is important for historians to interview survivors of this period, because that enables them to gather information on day-to-day life that is not always possible to discover from official sources. The value of eye-witness traditions is as vital to understanding history as drawing on official documents.

There are a wealth of archives and museums to consult in Britain, the USA and Germany, and even some Soviet archives have been opened to the public in recent years. However, this is not the full picture.

As more documents are declassified over the coming years, historians can continue to piece together new information. In that sense, history is never finished. The exciting part of working as a historian is discovering new information that changes our understanding of the way history has shaped our world.