Critical Use of Sources

Michelangelo. (c. 1540). 'The Last Judgement', Sistine Chapel, Rome.
"Last Judgement (Michelangelo)", Sistine Chapel. Public Domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Last_Judgement_(Michelangelo).jpg

One of the most important aspects of studying history is the need to engage with historical sources. Reading and understanding sources requires a specific set of critical thinking skills that will allow you to analyse and evaluate them. Each skill is vitally important to doing well in the subject.

 

In order to help you understand how each of these skills relate to each other, they are organised in a table below. To learn more about each of the skills, click on the hyperlinks in the tables to see more detailed explanations and examples.

Critical Thinking Skills

Historical Skills

Comprehension  Understanding and explaining:

-        The explicit (obvious) meaning of a historical source

 

Interpretation

Understanding and explain meanings that are implicit (hinted at) within a historical source. For example:

-      Ideas described in a political cartoon, photograph, propaganda poster, painting, carving or sculpture

-      The theme (overall message) of a speech or an article

-      The meanings of metaphors in written texts

-      Beliefs, values or motives that influenced individuals or group

 

Analysis

Identifying and explaining the historical aspects of sources. For example:

-      What kind of source it is (primary or secondary)

-      What type of source (artefact, written, painting, photo, etc.)

-      Who was the creator of the source

-      When it was created

-      Who the intended audience of the source was

-      What the purpose of the source was (why it was created)

-      What perspective (point of view) the source contains

-      Whether it contains any bias (for or against people or ideas)

-      If the source’s information can be corroborated (confirmed or supported) by other sources

-      If the source’s information is in contradiction with other sources

 Evaluation

Deciding how valuable a historical source is, according to what you discovered in your analysis. For example:

-      How relevant particular sources are to your investigation

-      How accurate the information in source is

-      How reliable a source, author or information is

-      Whether the source's interpretation is contested by other sources

-      Whether the source’s point of view represents the majority or a minority opinion of the time

 

Looking for revision material for source criticism?


Download a copy of the source criticism table for free in the Store.

Also, purchase a ready-to-use source criticism worksheet for use with any primary or secondary source.

The new structure


Analysis  Information

What is the explicit meaning of the source? (Comprehension)

What is the implicit meaning of the source? (Interpretation)

How does this source corroborate the information from another source?

How does this source contradict the information from another source?

 

Origin

 

Who created the source? 

What kind and type of source is it?

 

Perspective

 

From what point of view is the source created? 

 

Context

 

When was the source created?

What historical events happened at this time that are important to the creation of this source?

 

Audience

 

Who was the intended audience of the source?

 

Motive

 

For what purpose was this source made?

Evaluation

 

Usefulness

 

How relevant is this source to the topic you are studying?

 

Reliability

 

How trustworthy is the source?

Additional Resources


IOP CAM - A Handy Acronym for Source Analysis

Read More 2 Comments

Constructive (Source) Criticism

Read More 0 Comments