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Historical Research & Historiography

Evaluating Sources

Not all sources are created the same! When you are interacting with a range of different resources, from different sources, produced for different purposes, and by different people, you will need to be able to critically engage with that information. You will often hear librarians at UNA talk about the CRAAP test:

  • Currency: the timeliness of the information
  • Relevancy: the importance of the information for your needs
  • Authority: the source of the information
  • Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content
  • Purpose: the reason the information exists

You should be asking yourself all of the above questions when working with information for your academic purposes as well as your everyday life.


Secondary Sources

When you're working with secondary sources, you should aim to incorporate primarily scholarly research into your coursework. Secondary sources, as we've covered, include scholarly articles, books and eBooks, monographs, and more. However, even though the work is scholarly in nature, you must make sure to approach the material with a critical and analytical mind. Scholars will make an argument, an intervention, or an analysis within their text, and it's important to remember that their perspective/opinion will be subjective. They must substantiate their claims through referencing other scholars and engaging with primary sources.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is the author and what are their affiliations? 
  • What is the publisher of this work? Is it a university press or a popular press?
  • Who is the audience for this work? How has that affected the way they write and what they wrote about?
  • When was the material published? Is it within the past ten years?
  • What is the article or book about? 
  • What is the author's argument or assertion? Do they acknowledge contradicting opinions?
  • Do they provide a reference list or bibliography?

Peer-Review is one method that the current scholarly community uses to help lend credibility and rigor to the publication process. Review the below video on Peer-Review for more.


Primary Sources

Analyzing primary sources is all about engaging with the creator, their perspective, and the contents of their source. This is one of the most engaging and exciting aspects of performing historical research: taking that raw evidence of the past and using them to build a picture for a modern audience. 

When you are working with primary sources, you should ask yourself these questions about a particular source:

  • What is the source made from? Was it produced on paper, on canvas, on papyrus? 
  • What do you know about the author of the source? Race, gender, class, occupation, religion, age, region, political beliefs? Do these factors matter? Why and how might they?
  • What is the purpose of the source? What is the content or message they are conveying? How are they conveying it? What style of writing do they use? Do they use statistics, images, anecdotes?
  • Who is the intended audience of the source? How does that affect the source, ex.  whether it was written for a close friend or for a public viewing?
  • What is the author saying, and can you tell what they are not saying? Is there a piece of their perspective they have left out, and why might they have done that? By necessity, ignorance, or design?

Once you have determined what the source is saying, you can make an assessment for its use as a piece of historical evidence. 

  • Whose perspective is being represented here, ex. the elite or the common people?
  • Is there an ideology/behavior being represented here?
  • What are the benefits of using this source as evidence for a historical question? Does this source support your argument or contradict it?
  • Does your analysis match or contradict with the analyses other historians have made of the same source? How and why?
  • What questions or answers does this source not address? What is being left out and why?