What's the Difference Between Perspective and Bias?

Medieval knight at a joust
Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/knight-middle-ages-tournament-1506878/

One of the most common mistakes made by students when analysing sources is to confuse ‘perspective’ and ‘bias’. While the two analysis skills are related, they are very different.


This article will, hopefully, make the distinction between the two clear so that students will never again confuse the two.

The Short Answer

Perspective is the point of view that a person sees a historical event from, while bias is when a source is clearly one-sided in its description of the event.


Some things to keep in mind:

  1. Every source has a perspective, but not every source has clear bias. 
  2. You can determine a source's perspective by doing background research on the source creator.
  3. To determine a source's bias, you need to find specific words in the source that are either extremely positive or extremely negative.

Hopefully that makes it nice and simple. However, if you would like to understand the difference more clearly, here is a longer explanation to help:


The Long Answer

Perspective is the point of view from which someone sees an event. Everyone has a specific perspective on the events they describe.


As a result, two different sources can talk about different things, or describe the same things in different ways.


What is important to remember, is that just because two sources produce different versions of an event does not mean that one is necessarily more 'right' or 'wrong' than the other: they just saw things from a different point of view.

For example

A parent and a child could visit a museum together. After their visit, someone might ask them what kinds of things were in the museum.


The parent might describe the great paintings by famous artists, while the child might talk about the various toys in the museum souvenir shop.


Even though the two answers are different, neither of them is wrong. They simply experienced the same event differently because they had two different perspectives: one had the perspective of a parent and the other had the perspective of a child.


 Common kinds of perspectives in historical sources include:

            - nationality (e.g. American, Japanese, etc.)

            - profession (e.g. university professor, soldier, etc.)

            - political persuasion (e.g. conservative, Communist, etc.)

            - cultural background (Egyptian, European, etc.)

            - gender (male, female, etc.)

            - religious beliefs (Christian, Muslim, etc.)

            - educational background (e.g. what university they work for) 

Bias, in comparison, is an intentional use of language to present a clearly one-sided (and often unfair) description of the event or person.


This is most often seen in the kinds of adjectives or nouns a source uses to describe events.


When identifying bias, it is crucial that you are able to point to specific words from the source to prove that they are either strongly in favour of, or strongly against, the person or event they’re describing.


For example

In the description of an ancient battle between the Romans and the Greeks, a Roman author could describe the Greeks are “villains” or “pathetic cowards”.


The use of those negative word choices shows a deliberate attempt by the writer to present a clearly one-sided description of the events: the author is clearly demonstrating an anti-Greek bias.


Similarly, the same author could describe the Romans as “heroes” or “unfailingly brave”.


The use of positive descriptions shows a clearly pro-Roman bias. 

How are Perspective and Bias Related?

As you can now clearly see, perspective and bias are two different things: perspective is the point of view from which a source see things, but bias is an intentional use of language to present a one-sided description of something.


However, the two are somewhat related. Once you identify the perspective of a source, you may naturally expect that they demonstrate a particular kind of bias.


In the example about the battle between the Romans and Greeks above, once you know that the creator of a source has a Roman perspective, you can start to guess that he may show some bias about a battle involving his countrymen.


However, until you can identify specific biased word choices in the source that demonstrate bias, you cannot automatically jump to the conclusion that the source is biased.


What you will often find is that even though you have determined the perspective of a source, it doesn’t show any clear bias for you to find.


Additional Resources

I hope that you are now feeling comfortable about the difference between perspective and bias in historical sources.


If you’d like to explore each skill in more detail, check out the two videos below:


Write a comment

Comments: 22
  • #1

    Rhys (Thursday, 21 March 2019 19:36)


  • #2

    Robert (Monday, 17 June 2019 22:18)

    Very Nice

  • #3

    Jennifer Garry (Tuesday, 05 November 2019 03:02)

    Hi how does differing interpretations fit into perspective and bias

  • #4

    History Skills (Tuesday, 05 November 2019 19:51)

    Thanks for the question, Jennifer. Differing interpretations are considered an element of Contestability. Have a read of the following page and let me know if it is helpful: https://www.historyskills.com/source-criticism/evaluation/contestability/

  • #5

    John Blueberry (Thursday, 14 November 2019 08:57)

    Very helpful.

  • #6

    Stewart Pid (Friday, 15 November 2019 09:01)

    Great article, love the extensive detail.

  • #7

    Joesph mame (Monday, 18 November 2019 09:03)

    Great article

  • #8

    jo mama (Tuesday, 04 August 2020 00:17)

    its help ful

  • #9

    Anonymous (Tuesday, 25 August 2020 15:31)

    Its great. Thanks

  • #10

    Jeremiah Mccombs (Tuesday, 01 September 2020 11:07)

    very great

  • #11

    Sandra Lee (Friday, 04 September 2020 07:04)

    But how does perspective in bias effect the validity of primary and secondary sources

  • #12

    History Skills (Friday, 04 September 2020 14:40)

    Thanks for your question, Sandra. Perspective and bias can be used to effectively evaluate the usefulness and reliability of historical sources. I cover this more here, which may help: https://www.historyskills.com/source-criticism/evaluation/

  • #13

    Joshua.Brunt (Tuesday, 08 September 2020 12:51)

    this was very helpful i didnt learn any of this intill now thanks for the info

  • #14

    Troi Brendle (Wednesday, 16 September 2020 09:51)

    perspective is how a person see something or interpreter it. bias is a viewpoint that is negative or positive someones perspective.

  • #15

    Diamond (Thursday, 14 January 2021 22:51)

    The long answer examples are really helpful.

  • #16

    Marie (Sunday, 28 March 2021 12:52)

    Several typos, such as "Common kids (sic) of perspectives." Any chance those will be corrected? Otherwise, my teacher will not count this as a credible source.

  • #17

    History Skills (Sunday, 28 March 2021 15:13)

    Thanks for the feedback, Marie. I hope that all the typos have now been corrected. Good luck with your studies!

  • #18

    Marie (Friday, 02 April 2021 13:49)

    Wow, thank you!

  • #19

    The Chameleon (Thursday, 17 February 2022 02:48)

    Excellent! Thanks!

  • #20

    josh (Wednesday, 09 March 2022 20:03)

    great just a bit confusing

  • #21

    Rahella (Sunday, 22 May 2022 20:33)

    Thank you, Just a little too hard

  • #22

    Anonymous (Tuesday, 01 November 2022 12:21)

    this article is very much helpful. Thanketh thee