History Begins with Questions | Answers Lie with the Sources


“In order to answer a historical question we need information. Depending on the question, and on the vagaries of time, finding that information can range from fairly straightforward to nearly impossible. Part of the ease or difficulty in finding information is related to the kind of information needed.”

“In order to find the right sources we must enter into a ‘dialogue’ with the sources by asking many questions of each source we encounter. How does it relate to our historical question? Does it duplicate or contradict other sources? Does it offer new information or perspectives? Do I have a sufficient number and range of sources to be able to answer my question – do my sources include representation of the relevant voices, interest, issues, and/or data?”

“The conversation moves into a different vein when we turn to evaluating historical sources. Evaluating historical sources [means we must ask] why, when, and by whom was the source created? How do these factors affect the importance and accuracy of the information or ideas contained in this source? Does it reinforce, challenge, or deviate from other sources, secondary or primary? In what ways does it help to answer the historical question? Does it raise additional questions that need to be investigated?”

Excerpted from: Mandell, Nikki, and Bobbie Malone. Thinking Like a Historian : Rethinking History Instruction : A Framework to Enhance and Improve Teaching and Learning. Madison, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2007. Print. (5)

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