Types of Sources
There are three main types of sources you can be given in an exam:
- written sources
- these can be first hand accounts, newspaper articles, extracts from a modern history book, etc.
- pictorial sources
- usually primary sources
- these can be photographs, paintings, cartoons, posters etc.
- statistical sources
- tables, graphs, or written sources containing statistics
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The Great Don'ts
- Do not say that a statistical source is reliable simply because it shows statistics. Remember that the figures may be false, or be represented in a way to show you something.
- In a two person race, you could say that the second car was the 'loser' or 'came second'. Both are true, but they give you different impressions.
- Do not say that at source written later is less reliable
- Do not say that a photograph is reliable. Remember, they can (and often were) posed, or faked.
- Do not say that a later source is unbiased. Modern historians can be just as biased as any other people!
- Do not say that all politicians are biased.
I think that covers everything! Basically, it all amounts to: don't say anything unless you can prove it.
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- always make use of the source the question asks you to
- that might sound obvious, but it is surprisingly easy to leave it out! If it's a written source, then quote, and if it's a picture then mention details and how they relate to the answer
- remember how much you're writing
- you'll never gain more than full marks for a question, even if you write a book about it. So don't waste your time in an exam writing 10 pages about a 6 mark question.
- you won't get marks for repeating yourself. It's better to leave an answer short than repeat yourself until you've filled 5 pages - you're wasting time
- always make it clear to the examiner which source you're using. Don't just say 'the source' if you've already mentioned two different ones.
- the final question will want you to reach a conclusion about a statement
- use the sources to argue BOTH sides of the argument, and use the source reliability in your answer
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How to use own knowledge
- use it to explain the meaning of the source
- to explain the purpose
- e.g. this source was published by the suffragettes because in 1912, they were fighting for the vote and they wanted people to support their campaign
- to decide if a source is reliable
- if the source is blatantly wrong, then you can say that it is unreliable and compare what you know about the events to what the source claims
- look at the writer of the source. What do you know about them? What does this knowledge tell you about the origins of the source, and why it was published?
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How to comment on reliability
- is the tone critical, ironic, unhappy, or pleased? Often this is the hardest one to comment on, because it requires you to use a bit of intuition and common sense. What can you infer that the writer is feeling?
- this is a key indicator in telling whether or not a source is reliable. If it is calling Lloyd George a 'pig-head' then it's probably biased, but if it's calling him a politician then it's probably not.
- beware - things can be biased and truthful. If someone says: 'The war was a horrific and terrible thing', then most people would agree that this was true. However, it is still biased.
- does the author have a particular reason to favour one side or another? If so, the source may be biased
- be very careful with this. An author may have a particular reason for favouring one side, but actually is neutral or favours the other. So READ the source before you judge on the author alone
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Good things to do
- use your own knowledge
- cross reference
- if the question asks 'how reliable is source A?' then you can claim that it may be unreliable because source B contradicts it
- don't overuse this, but it is a good weapon
- put in lots of detail
- support your answer with details from the source
- in a pictorial source, do not just describe the picture
- in a pictorial source, try dividing the picture into quarters or going round it in a clock formation (e.g. what is there at one o'clock, what is there at two, etc.) to make sure you don't miss anything out.
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