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Historical Sourcing Paxton Deuel & Taran Schwartz, University of Portland

What is historical sourcing?

Speech of the United Indian Nations at Their Confederate Council

Sourcing a historical document entails examining the background of the document. In other words, sourcing is the "vetting" process of document analysis. Who wrote the document? What is known about the author? When was it written? Why was it written?

The Stanford History Education Group outlines six questions for any student of history to ask when sourcing a document....

1. Who wrote this?

2. What is the author's perspective?

3. Why was it written?

4. When was it written?

5. Where was it written?

6. Is it reliable? Why? Why not?

Telegram from Senator Joseph McCarthy to President Harry Truman

Why is sourcing important?

Understanding where information comes from is essential to evaluating the credibility of said information. For example, imagine a time when one of your middle school students failed to turn in a homework assignment. Later you call up the student's parent/guardian and they claim the child insists she is never assigned homework. Who does the parent believe? Teacher or student?

Some sources are more credible than others. Many sources are biased and often have either a hidden or expressed motive. Learning to read historical documents in the context of its source is an important academic skill to introduce to young learners.

Let's look at an example...

Letter to President Eisenhower

The above example is a great primary source to use at the middle school level. The following worksheet may be accompanied with the document.

At this point, students will fill out the above questions pertaining to the historical document and review their findings with the class. The worksheet includes reading comprehension prompts, which make it especially useful in a middle school classroom where students are continuing to build on reading for understanding.

More info

Check out this site for more information. Also, another good introduction to sourcing here. And here are some worksheets for analyzing documents, all in the public domain.

Photo credits.

U.S. Constitution, Speech of United Indian Nations at Their Confederate Council, Telegram from Senator Joseph McCarthy to President Harry Truman, Letter to President Eisenhower.

Last updated: October 2017

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