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A question that historians often ask themselves is how reliable a document is. Can I trust this source? If I can trust it, to what extent?
The answer is not always simple. Historians must keep in mind the question of reliability when using documents or sources.
The documents in the exercise below will help you:
Below are some questions that historians may ask to assess a document's reliability.
When examining the documents, make sure to answer the following questions:
1. Is this a Primary source document or Secondary source document?
2. Why did the person write the material or take the photograph?
3. Was the account written before or after the event being covered?
4. Who is responsible for the document? What biases or interests might the creator have?
5. Is it reliable for use in writing a history of an event?
6. Whose story or perspective is not being told in this document?
Examine each document carefully and use the line scale provided after each one to indicate how you rate the document's reliability. You can gauge your response using the numbers from 0 to 10. Be sure to provide reasons for your answers.
For more information on Primary and Secondary sources, visit:
Learning Centre. Toolkit: "Defining Primary and Secondary Sources" www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/education/008-3010-e.html