Problems with Sources

We talked earlier about facing issues such as bias,prejudice and propaganda. I want to look further at the problems a historian has when studying sources. Each type of source has it’s advantages and disadvantages. We can learn how useful they are when we are aware of these advantages (A) and disadvantages (D).

Written Sources



These are books written by hand. Many of these were copied by monks are were usually written in Latin.

(A) They are very useful accounts of life and beliefs then,

(D) Historians must be able to know Latin 


autobio 1 autobio

An autobiography is the story of a person’s own life. They are primary sources because the person is telling their own experiences.

(A) They are very useful accounts of a person’s life 

(D) This person may exaggerate a story or perhaps leave info out


bio 1 bio

A biography is the story of a person told by an historian. Biographies can be similar to other history books. They are secondary sources

(A) They are very useful accounts of a person’s life 

(D) This person may not have access to everything about the person

Historical Novels

his nov

These are helpful in creating an atmosphere of the past, However, it is sometimes hard to tell fact from fiction.

(A) They are very useful in creating an image of life in the past

(D) May be difficult to identify what is true or false in the story

Diaries and Letters

anne frank

These are primary sources that provide information about people’s personal lives, thoughts and why they carried out certain actions.

(A) They are very useful in creating an image of life in the past and reasons for actions

(D) Some letters or diaries may be falsified

Government Records


These cover many aspects of Life – education, health laws etc. They give accurate information about all aspects of life. One particular government record is the Census of Population

(A) They are very useful as they give accurate figures of life

(D) Documents can be falsified  but not very likely in this case



They record events at the time of there occurrence. They cover all access of life and can give eye witness statements and provide photographs and advertisements. They are primary sources.

(A) They are very useful as they are primary sources and given many different accounts of life

(D) Newspapers can be biased – used as propaganda

Ballads and Songs

They are usually composed to promote 1 viewpoint so they are often one sided. They are useful in promoting a certain historical event through musical means.

(A) Great way to learn about cultural events through music

(D) Can be biased

Above is a video of Christy Moore singing Viva La Quinta Brigada – a song about the Spanish Civil War

Visual Sources

Pictorial sources show us the way things were – dress,houses, transport etc. In terms of leaders, pictures make the story more real when we can see the main heroes/villains of a story. We can also use pictures to compare life in the past or present.

Photographs, Paintings and Documentaries

Photographs, paintings  capture a moment in time. Documentaries add sound and action and give us a better understanding of what life was like.

(A) Great way to learn about events and people

(D) Can be biased and used as propaganda. Photos can also be altered

stalin photo

Above is the same photo of Stalin altered for his propaganda machine.

Cartoons and Drawings

Cartoons and drawings are made to express a particular point or opinion. They can be a funny way of telling a story but can also be used to target other emotions such as hate and anger.

(A) Great way to learn about events and people

(D) Can be biased and used as propaganda. 



map london

Maps are an important source of information for the historian. Maps show us buildings, land use, roads and bridges and can be used to compare periods in time.

(A) Great way to identify the layout of villages and towns.

(D) The disadvantage is that reality isn’t static. Features and places change. What is “accurate” today won’t be forever. 

Oral Sources

Oral history is based on interviews or tape recordings of people’s memories or recollections of events. They are often eye witness accounts of the events.

(A) Can give excellent insight into events through a person’s memory

(D) The person may be biased, information may be left out through the passing of time.

For more info on the “Work of the HIstorian” check it out in the topics section


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