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The Emperor's Mirror
Understanding Cultures through Primary Sources
By Russell Barber
350 pp. / 6.12 in x 9.25 in / 1998
Paper (978-0-8165-1848-7) [s]
Related Interest
  - Anthropology

Russell J. Barber and Frances F. Berdan have created the ultimate guide for anyone doing cross-cultural and/or document-driven research. Presenting the essentials of primary-source methodology, The
A clearly written, methodological introduction to ethnohistory, aimed at the advanced undergraduate and beginning graduate student. It may well be the first such textbook on the market, a reflection of a growing interest in ethnohistorical research.

—Journal of Interdisciplinary History

A book that is vital to the enterprise of defining ethnohistory . . . The authors not only ably define a proposed field and method, they also make some vital points regarding the critical interpretation of written documents and other sources. . . . The instructor who plans to use this book will be pleased with the level of detail and the large number of case studies from a variety of contexts.


Emperor's Mirror includes nine chapters on paleography, calendrics, source and quantitative analysis, and the visual interpretation of artifacts such as pictographs, illustrations, and maps. As an introduction to ethnohistory, this book clearly defines terminology and provides practical and accessible examples, effectively integrating the concerns of historians and anthropologists as well as addressing the needs of anyone using primary sources for research in any academic field. A leading theme throughout the book is the importance of a researcher's awareness of the inherent biases of documents while doing research on another culture. Documents are the result of people interpreting reality through the filter of their own experience, personality, and culture. Barber and Berdan's reality mediation model shows students how to analyze documents to detect the implicit biases or subtexts inherent in primary-source materials. Students and scholars working with primary sources will particularly appreciate the case studies that Barber and Berdan use to illustrate the practical implications of using each methodology. These case studies not only apply method to actual research but also are fascinating in their own right: they range from a discussion of the debate over Tupinamba cannibalism to the illustration of Nahuatl, Spanish, and hybrid place names of Tlaxcala, Mexico.

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