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Evaluating Resources

It is important to analyze the credibility of your resources before you begin working with them too much.  It is very stressful to read an entire book and then realize find out that it was commissioned to be written as propaganda during the time period you are studying.  Since you will eventually have to evaluate your sources, I would advise that you do this first. 

Primary versus Secondary Sources:

   Primary sources--written at the time of the event (example:  diary entries, speeches, news articles, photographs, video clips, etc.)

    Secondary sources--written in retrospect (usually written by historians)

Key Questions to Ask yourself:

Origins:  When was this piece written and by whom?  How informed is the author? is he part of the Politburo or part of the masses?  Is it a primary source (written at the time) or a secondary source (written in retrospect)? 

Purpose:  Is this article written to educate or persuade?  What are the author's political viewpoints?  If it is a secondary source, what movement was going on at the time that the source was written (reactionary, etc.)

Value:  What is the value of the piece?  Primary sources can be valuable because they give the thoughts of people who lived at the time of the events. 

Limitations:  To what extent can we trust the author?  To what extent was the author informed?  To what extent does this piece show the whole picture of the time?  All of these questions can lead you to realize the limitations of your sources.

Evaluating Websites

Remember:  Anyone can make a website and post whatever they want.  On the web, there is no one to check and make sure that the facts are correct.  It is therefore imperative that you watch out for sites that whose information you cannot trust. 

Things to Look for:

Who is the author?  It is important to research the credentials of an author.  Is he a history professor or a fourth grader doing a project?  Does the website provide an email address so you can email the author if you have questions?  Is the author even listed?  If not, is the website put out by an organization that you trust?  (If the website is not posted by an organization and the credentials of the author are not stated, then the website is probably not reliable).

What is the writing style of the author?  Is it written in jargon or is it stilted like a text book?  Are there grammatical or spelling errors?

What is the layout of the page?  Does is look rudimentary or professional?  Does it look like a sensational magazine or like the Washington Post?

Good Databases

In order to find good databases, I suggest visiting Springbrook's website:

Online resources have been compiled by Springbrook's historians for you.  Check it out under "Media Center" there is a link called "Online Resources."  In order to get the passwords, go to the media center and they'll have a handout with passwords for you. 


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