Purpose: Why were historical sources made?

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When analysing a source, it is important to realise that every source was made for a particular reason. Usually, knowing the purpose for its creation will help you evaluate its relevance and reliability to your argument.

What is a source's 'purpose'?

The purpose of a source is the reason it was originally made.


The creator of the source put in the time and effort to create it, and it was usually so that it could be used for something.


This can be a simple as creating an ancient ceramic pot to store grain. Or it could be as complex as writing a 1960s pop song in order to criticise the government's role in the Vietnam War.

How do I discover a source's purpose?

Based upon what you know about the creator and the intended audience, you can usually identify why the source was originally made.


It can also be helpful to know what motivated the creator at a particular point in time. 

Depending upon the type of source, there are some common purposes for their creation.


For example:

Type of Source Common Purposes
Academic Journal To provide academic insight regarding a particular topic
Book To inform or persuade the audience about the topic
Magazine To inform or entertain its audience
Newspaper To inform or persuade the audience about an event
Photograph To record the details of an event, person or location
Speech To persuade the audience to agree with the speaker
Textbook To inform and educate its audience regarding a topic

For example

Discussing a source's purpose in your writing:


The Gallic Wars, created by Julius Caesar himself during his campaigns in Gaul in the 50s BC, was written to convince the residents of Rome of the supremacy of his military and political prowess.


The building was constructed as a way of showing off Charles' wealth to other European monarchs.


This academic journal was created by a university professor to show the results of their research about the impact of American media on Australian popular culture. 

Watch a video explanation on the History Skills YouTube channel:

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