Less generic analysis and more case studies: teaching about sources in schools

Clio et cetera

I have written in this blog on a few occasions how I think source-based questions in schools need to change. Although we have come a long way from the horrors of 1990s ‘sourcework’, where pupils were given short extracts of text and asked to assess the ‘reliability’ or ‘utility’ of the source based on brief information provided in italics under the extract, our GCSE and A-Level exams still suffer from a rather distorted model of historical practice. Not that I would ever recommend this to a pupil, but the only historical answer to a standard exam question is “I cannot answer this without knowing a great deal more about the source”. Historians do not walk into an archive, get presented with three extracts from sources, and, after reading these for about five to ten minutes, write their latest book. To the contrary, historians will often spend a great deal of…

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