How should I analyse a History source question?

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Answering History source questions can be very difficult! To successfully answer you have to combine several skill (your own knowledge, ability to notice and understand elements of the source and analysis of its background). Uff! But don’t worry, if you follow the simple steps below and the example you will know how to do it in no time!

You will learn even faster if you find the source below and analyse it as you go through the steps.

EXAMPLE (EG) - Cartoon Source from AQA exam in 2001 ‘Clemenceau the Vampire’


Write down details about the source (however small or obvious).


Write down details about the source

Sick young woman

An evil vampire is sucking the woman’s blood.

Weapons laid to one side

Two bats outside the window.

The curtains are blowing & the window is open.

A bed

Write down your own knowledge about events at the time

Germany had just been defeated in WWI.

Treaty of Versailles had been signed on 28 June 1919.

Treaty was written by the ‘Big Three’ and imposed on Germany.

Clemenceau wanted to ruin Germany


Make quick notes of what you think these details represent?


Sick young beautiful woman- Germany is a wonderful country, but due to her defeat is very weak

An evil vampire… - The Vampire stands for Clemenceau. He is a wicked, evil man who just wants to hurt Germany.

< >is sucking the woman’s blood. - …just like Clemenceau (by taking reparations/ land from Germany) is killing Germans by ‘sucking the life blood’ out of Germany.

Weapons laid to one side -The Treaty of Versailles made Germany reduce her defence (planes, submarines, and most of the army and navy)

Two bats outside the window – Represent Britain and America who are helping Clemenceau, and waiting to take their share.

The curtains are billowing & the window is open - Germany cannot defend herself. Vulnerable to other countries swooping in and taking what they want from defenceless Germany.

A bed – Perhaps suggests that Clemenceau is violating Germany when she cannot defend her honour. This sexual element makes what he is doing appear much more immoral and disgusting.


What are your first thoughts about how useful it is?

REMEMBER: Your answer must relate to the question and how useful it is

EG How useful is it?



REMEMBER: A source is never completely useful or useless?


EG: “A cartoon with the title ‘Clemenceau the Vampire’

From the German newspaper Kladderadatsch (July 1919)

The figure lying on the bed represents Germany.   Clemenceau was Prime Minister of France in 1919.   He is shown as a vampire sucking the blood out of Germany.”

THINK: Every word they include has been chosen for a purpose

It might tell you about the reliability of the source

Is it what it appears to be?

Who made it?

When…was the person present at these events and when was it made?

Why was it made?


WHO drew the cartoon, and where did he come from? A German newspaper cartoonist

WHY? (Motivations) He would probably have hated the Treaty like other Germans.

WHAT… are they trying to say? They would be biased against the Treaty, commenting that it is too harsh and that it is wicked and unfair?

Question: How does the caption effect the reliability of the photograph?

Is it..Reliable because it’s from the right period?

        Unreliable as it’s a cartoon?

        Reliable as it’s from a newspaper?


Date: Maybe right but doesn’t make it reliable, it just begins to make it useful.

Designed: Sources can be designed/set up to show things that never really happened. Even photographs can be altered post-printing.

Author: Will have had reasons/motivations which may make the source unreliable

REMEMBER: The question asks about usefulness, not reliability


Is it:

< > because it is unreliable? Authors biased information

< > because it tells us about the authors view? EG The propaganda the government was creating.

REMEMBER: Biased information is not an accurate record of events, but is useful evidence of an attitude at the time (EG Evidence of German propaganda).


They tell us what the government wanted people to think.

Link this to your knowledge and provide historical detail to make complete sense of the source

Think about the purpose of the propaganda

REMEMBER: You have to work through the unreliability of the source and use your own knowledge of the event to set the biased source in context and define its usefulness

Elena O. GCSE Spanish tutor, A Level Spanish tutor, GCSE History tuto...

About the author

is an online GCSE History tutor with MyTutor studying at Durham University

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