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What do historians do?
What do historians do?

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3.5 Summary of Section 3

In this section you have seen how historiography develops as historians undertake careful research to establish a clearer picture of how the ‘Bloody Code’ operated (or did not) across different regions and nations. They have interrogated available records, particularly judicial statistics, examining language, regional differences and shifts over time to show how, although it was not impossible, people were unlikely to be hanged for property crimes, even when convicted.

As you have seen, this type of historical research can rely on multiple records, understanding legal documents and language and precise number-crunching, to correct misconceptions. Research into the prevalence of hangings also shows the significance of regional and national differences in understanding the past.

While the Whiggish view of history implied a growing rationality and a more humane approach to punishment, modern research and recent historiography have disagreed with this explanation. Both revisionist and post-revisionist historians have shown that past society was well aware of the complexity, difficulties and need for compassion when applying the law to offences and offenders. The picture that emerges around the Bloody Code is much more complex than a simple explanation might suggest. Here you have gained a good insight into the detailed work of writing history.