CHAPTER IV
TESTIMONIAL EVIDENCE

AFTER an historian has established the genuineness and authorship of a document, his next care is to discover the competence and bias of the man who made it; to go back, in short, to the testimonial evidence, the human assertions, on which the document is based. The following passage summarizes many of the queries suggested by Langlois and Seignobos1 in their discussion of the tests of an author's good faith and accuracy. Questions of legal competency aside, it will be seen that, with slight variations, these tests would apply to the competence and bias of any witness. They are most suggestive in the field of social work and deserve the case worker's careful consideration.

Good Faith. Were there any practical advantages to be gained by the witness who made the statement in its present form? Had he an interest in deceiving? What interest did he think he had? (We must look for the answer in his tastes and ideals, not in our own.) If there was no individual interest to serve, was there a collective interest, such as that of a family, a religious denomination, a political party, etc.? Was he so placed that he was compelled to tell an untruth? Was some rule or custom, some sympathy or antipathy, dominating him? Was personal or collective vanity involved? Did his ideas of etiquette, of what politeness demanded, run counter to making a perfectly truthful statement? [We do not know a man at all until we understand the conventions that form so large a part of the moral atmosphere which he breathes.] Or again, has he been betrayed into telling a good story, because it made an appeal to the artistic sense latent somewhere in all of us?

Accuracy. Was the statement an answer to a question or a series of questions? (It is necessary to apply a special criticism to every statement obtained by interrogation.) What was the question put, and what are the preoccupations to which it may have given rise in the mind of the person interrogated? Was the observer well situated for observing? Was he possessed of the special experience or general intelligence necessary for understanding the facts? How long before he recorded what he observed? Or did he record it, like some newspaper accounts of meetings, before it happened? Finally, was the fact stated of such a nature that it could not have been learned by observation alone?

____________________
1
Introduction to the Study of History, p. 165-176.

-64-

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