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Reading for a History Course. Strategies and Techniques. How Is Read for a History Course Different?. Unlike subjects such as science and math, which deal in facts, history is composed of the opinions of a wide variety of individuals and groups.

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Reading for a history course

Reading for a History Course

Strategies and Techniques

How is read for a history course different
How Is Read for a History Course Different?

  • Unlike subjects such as science and math, which deal in facts, history is composed of the opinions of a wide variety of individuals and groups.

  • This makes the ability to read critically essential for successfully evaluating reading materials in history.

Types of sources
Types of Sources

  • There are two types of source materials in history: primary and secondary.

  • A primary source is an original document, such as the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, or a letter written by a soldier during the Civil War.

  • A secondary source is a book or article written by a historian.

Secondary sources
Secondary Sources

  • When reading a secondary source, identify the author’s thesis. This will be the overall argument of the selection.

  • Analyze the structure of the text and determine whether the structure supports the thesis.

  • The thesis in a historical text is an argument. The thesis may be directly stated or implied. As the reader, you must not only locate or uncover the thesis, but you must also analyze the effectiveness of this argument.

Secondary sources continued
Secondary Sources, continued

  • While reading, ask whether the author’s reasoning is valid, whether the evidence supports the conclusions, what assumptions the author makes in his or her argument, and whether the logic of the argument is sound.

  • You must also uncover the motives of the author. Ask yourself why the author wrote this selection and why the author took a particular position on this subject.

Secondary sources continued1
Secondary Sources, continued

  • In order to discover and evaluate the motives of the author, you must research the author’s background. This is an easy task when the author is a well-known individual about whom much has been written. A more obscure author will be more difficult to evaluate. However, if the author is to be at all trusted, he or she should be well known in this field of study, thereby making this task easier.

Secondary sources continued2
Secondary Sources, continued

  • There are three important questions to ask when reading a secondary source:

  • What does the author say? The author of a history text will usually explain what happened and why it happened.

  • Why does the author say this? What is the hidden agenda of this author? Who is this author challenging?

  • Where is the author’s argument weak? Good historians try to make a case that their interpretation of events is correct, but rarely is this case air-tight. As the reader, you must look for the holes in the argument (

Primary sources
Primary Sources

  • In order to read effectively, you must ask certain questions about the text. Even if you cannot find the answers to these questions, using your imagination to arrive at possible answers will enhance your comprehension.

  • Use the acronym PAPER to remember the following questions to guide your evaluation of a primary source:

  • Purpose of the author in preparing the document

  • Argument and strategy used to achieve these goals

  • Presuppositions and values in the text

Primary sources continued
Primary Sources, continued

4. Epistemology (evaluating the truth of the content)

5. Relate to other texts (compare and contrasts with other sources of information on the same topic) (

Primary sources continued1
Primary Sources, continued

  • When evaluating the purpose of a primary source, determine who the author is and what the author’s place was in society.

  • Determine the occasion for the creation of the document you are reading.

  • As you read, search for the author’s motivation for writing this text.

Primary sources continued2
Primary Sources, continued

  • When analyzing the author’s argument and strategy, ask yourself what the purpose of the text is, what strategy is being employed to accomplish this purpose, and how this strategy is carried out.

  • Evaluate whether the author is credible and reliable. To test your evaluation, find specific examples upon which you base this evaluation.

Primary sources continued3
Primary Sources, continued

  • Examine your own presuppositions as a reader. Think about ways in which the ideas and values expressed in the source differ from those of today.

  • Ask yourself what preconceptions you bring to the text.

  • Ask yourself how the difference between your values and those of the author influence your understanding of the text.

Primary sources continued4
Primary Sources, continued

  • To examine epistemology, separate claims the authors makes that are facts from claims that are opinions.


Primary sources continued5
Primary Sources, continued

  • In relating one source to another, determine what claims both have in common and what claims one source makes but the other doesn’t.

  • Use this comparison and contrast of source materials to determine which source is more reliable.

Analysis of author s logic
Analysis of Author’s Logic

  • There are a couple of approaches you can take to analyze whether an author’s logic is sound or faulty.

  • One method is the Aristotelian rhetorical analysis method:

  • Another method is to search for logical fallacies:


  • “Reading, Writing, and Researching for History:

    A Guide for College Students.” 22/9/11.

Appendix bloomfield college library database
Appendix: Bloomfield College Library Database

  • African History:


  • American History: