Historians of cultural identities.

Essay by muelUniversity, Bachelor's May 2003

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Historians of cultural identities have to be particularly cautious in their use of historical sources. Explore this statement in relation to autobiographies.

In the study of history it is always extremely important to scrutinise a source with the utmost care. This is especially true when examining autobiographies. Autobiographies can give an extremely useful insight into a historical subject. For example Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' would be extremely useful for a historian of cultural identities studying Nazism to gain an insight into Hitler's beliefs. But it is now widely accepted that much of the information contained in Hitler's autobiography was inaccurate. This illustrates the need for such caution when using the genre, but also this reflects the presence of advantages and disadvantages to the use of autobiographies. Both should be taken into account.

So what advantages do autobiographies allow the cultural identities historian? Firstly, it enables the individuals to give themselves an identity.

It allows the author to develop their beliefs motivations and personality into writing in such a way perhaps only rivalled by letter writing in terms of personal expression. This is particularly useful for historians of cultural identity as figureheads of certain identities often write the most relevant autobiographies. For example Nelson Mandela's 'A Long walk to freedom' or Gandhi's 'My Experiments with Truth. These figureheads offer an excellent insight into the identity of their followers through that of their own. However even this statement should be treated with some caution, as this is not always the case.

With this use established it is then possible for the historian to make other observations about the individual. Explicitly it is possible to examine the childhood and adolescence of the author. It is widely accepted by psychologists such as Freud and historians alike that these periods are extremely important in...