Source skills allow historians to investigate and interpret the past. All students of history have to be able to analyse sources. Although the content of sources often seems straightforward, their value and utility is often determined by their provenance. The reliability and typicality of sources are two of the determinants that help give sources their value. Here we will look at some materials from the English Civil War and Nazi Germany to help us consider some of the issues that surround reliability and typicality and why they are so important.
Often historians have to rely on people’s memories or personal recollections of a period they are studying. These sources can be treasure troves for historians, providing insights into the actions of leading figures of the day and giving ‘colour’ to the historical narrative of a period. However, it is crucial to work out how reliable a source is before a historian can decide whether and how to use it.
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