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| Lesson Overview
Section 2: Analysis of Primary Sources
Time and Place Rule | Bias Rule | Questions for Analyzing Primary Sources
Historians analyze historical sources in different ways. First, historians think about where, when and why a document was created. They consider whether a source was created close in location and time to an actual historical event. Historians also think about the purpose of a source. Was it a personal diary intended to be kept private? Was the document prepared for the public?
Some primary sources may be judged more reliable than others, but every source is biased in some way. As a result, historians read sources skeptically and critically. They also cross-check sources against other evidence and sources. Historians follow a few basic rules to help them analyze primary sources. Read these rules below. Then read the questions for analyzing primary sources. Use these rules and questions as you analyze primary source documents yourself.
Time and Place Rule
To judge the quality of a primary source, historians use the time and place rule. This rule says the closer in time and place a source and its creator were to an event in the past, the better the source will be. Based on the time and place rule, better primary sources (starting with the most reliable) might include:
The historians' second rule is the bias rule. It says that every source is biased in some way. Documents tell us only what the creator of the document thought happened, or perhaps only what the creator wants us to think happened. As a result, historians follow these bias rule guidelines when they review evidence from the past:
Questions for Analyzing Primary Sources
The following questions may help you judge the quality of primary sources:
When you have finished reading this section, print out Questions for Analyzing Primary Sources to use later in this lesson.
Then go ahead to Types of Primary Sources.
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|Last updated 09/26/2002|