How to find out when a source was created

Lincoln cathedral
© History Skills

When analysing a source, you need to be aware of when it was made. This will not only help you to determine whether it is a primary or secondary source, but it will also help you in your source evaluation.

What is a 'time of creation'?

The 'time of creation' is the date when the source was originally made. For some sources, particularly secondary, you can find out the exact year it was published. For primary sources, particularly from the ancient or medieval time period, you may only be able to provide the decade or century when it was created.


Therefore, there are different ways you can state when a source was created. For example:


The exact year (e.g., AD 1792)

The decade: (e.g., 1960s)

The century (e.g., the 12th century)

The historical era (e.g., the Hellenistic era)


Please be aware, you require an understanding of chronology to accurately describe the time of creation.

How do I find out when a source was made?

Depending on the type of source, you will have to look in different places to discover when a source was made.


For example:

Type of Source Where to Look for Time of Creation
Academic Journal On the front page, where the publisher's details are.
Ancient or Medieval source You will need to look online for an approximate date. Wikipedia can help with this.
Book Inside the front cover, where the publisher's details are.
Painting or photo Look for the archive or museum where it is held. They will tell you the date of creation.
Website Usually at the bottom of the webpage. If it is not there, you simply state the year you accessed the site.

What if I cannot find the date of creation?

Establishing the time a source was created is important for you to complete an analysis and evaluation of your source.


Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you only use sources whose date of creation can be established with some certainty.


However, there are occasions where you will use a source that does not have a clear creation date. For such sources, you simply state that it was created at an Unknown Date.


Discussing the time of a source's creation in your writing:


The Gallic Wars was created by Julius Caesar himself during his campaigns in Gaul in the 50s BC.


This book survives from the time of the English Reformation.