It is a truth universally (I think) acknowledged among academically-trained historians that all documents must be “situated historically.” That is, we must interpret the words (and other aspects of an artifact) in light of the original audience, provenance, language of the time, potential knowledge of the creator, and so on. Of course, reasonable professionals may disagree about the type and degree of interpretation necessary for a given document, but I believe there is wide consensus on the idea that no document or artifact can speak entirely for itself. Students, however, do not always readily accept the necessity. In the interest of helping such students, I give three examples of artifacts that require historical interpretation.
1) Elder Robert D Hales’s notes from general conference. Yesterday he explained that in taking notes (paraphrase): “what is said is not as important as what I feel.” Any hypothetical future historian reviewing Elder Hales’s notes should remember that the notes are an impression of the talk, not a transcript.
2) This image of the Provo Templenacle from a Provo City Landmarks Commission Staff Report, 2012 Nov 14. (A similar image was distributed in southern Provo churches in 2013 June).
Compare this Google street-view image from (I think) approximately the same compass angle but from a lower elevation:
In the architectural rendering we can read the street signs, the cars are realistically dirty, the drivers show natural poses, etc, but the Nu Skin buildings are absent.
3) This post. My assertions about what thousands of historians do or do not believe must be understood in light of my personal non-acquaintance with, essentially, all historians. (The dozens with whom I have interacted are a tiny fraction of the total number.) My qualifier “academically-trained historians” could mean a great many things. The Mormon-ness and the timing of my examples all might tell potential readers something about me and why I write and how the message should be understood. Some of those readers might interpret the significance differently than I do. And so on.