Working With Sources

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This micro-lesson is discussion based and is intended to introduce students to different sources in history.

1) Ask your students if they can define primary and secondary sources. Make note of their definitions on the board. Summarise their ideas into a working definition for the class.

A primary source was created or recorded very close to the time period under study.
A secondary source was created after the events under study and typically secondary source authors did not experience the events first hand.

2) If you working on the larger “Identity Assignment” ask your students what kind of source should the Record of Service database be considered? If you are not working on the larger “Identity Assignment” have your students review the Record of Service database to see what type of information is available.

There is no right answer. The Database is both a primary source and a secondary source. The original attestation papers can be consulted, but there is additional information on each person’s profile that may not have appeared on the original attestation paper.

3) Ask your students “how do we know we can trust this source?”

There is no real way to know we can trust it, but because it was produced by a reputable University and the website is co-authored by historians we can be reasonably assured the information is accurate. Reinforce that caution is always warranted when evaluating sources.

4) Lastly, ask your students what is the value of this source? If they stumble on this question ask them to think about it this way: If in a hundred years someone was doing a research project on teenagers in Victoria and this type of database existed with your information, what could those historians learn about you?

The answer should be very little, but useful preliminary evidence; a basis from which to look for more evidence. For example, knowing the dates someone was alive allows us to rule out people with the same name from other time periods. Knowing what unit someone served for leads us to the official history of that unit to look for more information.

Additional Materials:

    • The Historical Thinking Project’s Primary Source Evidence page has several worksheets and recommendations for approaching primary sources.