Perspective

A depiction of Columbus landing at the New World.
A depiction of Columbus landing at the New World. Source: picpicx.com

When analysing a source, it is helpful to know the perspective of the creator, as this helps you to accurately assess its reliability and relevance.

What is 'perspective'?


Perspective is the 'point of view' from which the creator of a source described historical events.

 

Every person sees and understands events differently depending on their age, gender, social position, belief and values. Even modern historians have their own perspectives which can influence how they interpret the past. 

 

For example:

Two groups of fans at a football match will see the same game differently. Fans of the winning side will have a positive view and will usually talk about how great their team's actions were. The fans of the losing side will be quite negative and may blame the result on referees or 'cheating' by the opposing team. How can two groups see the same event differently? The answer is 'perspective': they had a different point of view.

 

Perspective works the same in history. Two opposing in sides in war, or politics, or social struggles will see the same event differently. They will talk about it with different language.

 

Please be aware! 

Different perspectives doesn't necessarily mean that one side is 'honest' and the other is 'lying'. I simply means that there is different perspectives.

 

However, if the difference in perspective causes someone to lie or have an unfair view of events or people, that becomes bias, which is a different source analysis skill. You can learn more about bias here.  

How do I determine a source's perspective?


The first step in determining perspective is the know who the creator was. Once you have sufficient knowledge about who made the source, you can work out something about how they viewed the past. 

 

This can be as simple as identifying the creator’s:

            - 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)

Examples


Discussing perspective in your writing:

 

The Gallic Wars contains Julius Caesar’s personal perspective on the wars against the Gallic tribes, since it was created by the Roman general and politician himself, whilst he was on campaign in Gaul in the 50s BC. It was primarily written to convince the residents of Rome of the brilliance of his military and political genius.

 

Herodotus was a Greek from Halicarnassus, so he provides a Hellenistic perspective on the events.