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How do I analyse a historical source?

Analysing historical sources can be daunting. But it need not be. 

Try asking yourself a series of questions every time you are presented with a source. Some of them might sound obvious, but it even obvious things can be important. Try questions like these, in categories that lead you into greater complexity and nuance as you go.

Type

What is the source? Is it primary or secondary? Is it a letter, a cartoon, a history book, a newspaper clipping?

Origin/Audience

Who made it? Who was it made for?

Content

What does the source say? What is the core message? 

Method

How does it give that message? Is it persuasive to you? Might it be persuasive to anyone?

Intention

Why was it made? What purpose does its message fulfil?

Assessment 

What can we learn from it? Is the message trustworthy? Do the answers to other questions above tell us anything?

There is no set way to analyse sources, but you should be taking into account all of these kinds of questions, and incorporating them into your written answer. 

Patrick E. A Level History tutor, GCSE English tutor, Uni Admissions ...

2 years ago

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