How to evaluate a historical source


How to evaluate a historical source

This resource is a flowchart that guides pupils through the various stages of assessing the usefulness or reliability of a historical source.

It can be applied to any kind of historical evidence. It is suitable for pupils in Upper Primary or Secondary Education.


How to evaluate a historical source

Historians at any level use sources. Judgements are made about the usefulness, reliability, objectivity or accuracy. These decisions are sometimes made quickly, such as when seeing memes. On other occasions the task of evaluating a historical source is more complex. This is true at most levels of historical study. It doesn’t matter whether the student is a relative beginner to historical study in a Primary School, or engaging with evidence at a much higher level such as University Studies.

The basic question asked of a source remains the same at any level: Can I use this evidence to answer questions about the past?

Usefulness and reliability of historical evidence

This resource provides pupils with an easy to use flow chart that reminds them of the key questions to address when deciding how a source can be used.

As students we are often asked to demonstrate our awareness of the types of sub question that hang on to that common theme. Is the source useful? Is the source bias? Is the source accurate? Is the source contemporary? And so on. In fact, there are so many ways of asking questions about the source itself that there are whole sections of examination specifications and papers, and programmes of study dedicated to it.

This makes it complex. Yet, in many ways, it is very simple indeed.

We evaluate information all the time. Every day we do it with all kinds of media. We see the news, read the papers, watch a programme, hear an opinion. We decide if those snippets of information are useful or not. We are evaluating sources each and every day.

This resource uses some of those thought processes to make the evaluation of historical sources a little easier to break down. It is presented as a flow chart that asks a series of simple questions. These can be applied to any kind of historical evidence. The answers may get more complex as your level of study gets more advanced but, in essence, the questions remain the same throughout.


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