As natural science finds its proper method when the scientist, in Bacon’s metaphor, puts Nature to the question, tortures her by experiment in order to wring from her answers to his own questions, so history finds its proper method when the historical puts his authorities in the witness-box, and by cross-questioning extorts from them information which in their original statements they have withheld, either because they did not wish to give it or because they did not possess it.
And as history does not depend on authority, so it does not depend upon memory. The historian can rediscover what has been completely forgotten. … He can even discover what, until he discovered it, no one ever knew to have happened at all.
All that the historian means, when he describes certain historical facts as his data, is that for the purposes of a particular piece of work there are certain historical problems relevant to that work which for the present he proposes to treat as settled; though, if they are settled, it is only because historical thinking has settled them in the past, and they remain settled only until he or some one else decides to reopen them.
Everything is evidence which the historian can use as evidence. [Emphasis added]
Everything is evidence which the historian can use as evidence. But what can he so use? I must be something here and now perceptible to him: this written page, this spoken utterance, this building, this finger-print. And of all the things perceptible to him there is not one which he might not conceivably use as evidence on some question, if he came to it with the right question in mind.
[E]very new generation must rewrite history in its own way; every new historian, not content with giving new answers to old questions, must revise the questions themselves….
Every present has a past of its own….