In a history paper, you are transforming facts into evidence and your evidence into an argument to prove something about history. However, in history, there are many perspectives of events, legislation, programs, and even people. It's unwise to just gather facts from one perspective and say, "This is how it is." Instead, it's a good idea to examine what multiple sides consider "the facts." By analyzing these perspectives, you'll be able to create a different, and hopefully better-rounded theory of how something may have actually happened. Here are some tips to help you as begin compiling that information into a paper:
Evaluate your sources.
It's important to make sure that your sources are valid. Are your sources from a reputable scholar or database? If you're working with a primary source (such as a written personal history like a diary or actually interviewing someone who was present during an event), what makes them credible? What possible biases might they have? Could anything have affected their memory of the event? What makes that author or group of authors qualified to discuss the topic? Do you have any concerns or reasons to believe the source might be biased or not credible? Is there any conflict of interest in the source's funding? The best historians are those who are wise investigators and who use reliable sources.
Comparing, also called cross-checking, sources to one another helps to test the validity of the sources. It helps you determine which types of sources you can continue to trust and which you might want to approach with some skepticism or even remove from your research entirely if they're not credible. Corroborating sources can also reveal important connections or discrepancies in how different people remember the same event. Since history is a conversation, comparing your sources to each other will help you better understand and participate in that conversation.
Be aware of your sources' biases.
Most writers have their own take on history, and because writers are human, their interpretation of history is going to be impacted by their biases. However, "biases" doesn't just mean political, religious, or racially or ethnically motivated beliefs. It also means the ways in which a person's origins (the time and place in which they were born, the type of family life they experienced, and their social and economic status) affects how they engaged with a particular event. For instance, two infantrymen might have different perspectives of WWII based on where they served or the fact that one was British and the other American. Both of them will have a different perspective than, say, a general or a general's wife, and all of them will have a very different perspective than a German citizen who wasn't in or married to someone in the military. Knowing who your sources are and where they come from will help you understand history from their point of view.
Pay attention to footnotes and endnotes.
The best place to find more information on your topic is footnotes and endnotes of you sources. You can tell a lot by the sources a writer uses. How balanced is he or she? Did he or she use one source too many times? Does the writer not have enough sources? Why?
Make sure you have an argument. As we mentioned earlier, history is a conversation, and you need to make your voice heard! Where do you stand on your current topic?
Don't ignore what doesn't fit with your argument. Instead, embrace it. Explain why this piece of information doesn't comply with your theory of history and why. Acknowledging and engaging with different perspectives will make your argument stronger.
Use the past tense. Because the events and interactions you're writing about already took place, you'll want to use past tense verbs. For instance, you'd say, "The soldier was hungry," not "The soldier is hungry."
Be aware of your own biases. You have biases just like your sources do. Your beliefs, life experiences, and time, place, and family of origin all affect how you interpret both your present surroundings and the history you're studying. You can actually use that to your advantage by noticing when your biases and background help you connect to someone else's perspective. You can also treat your biases like we mentioned in the "don't ignore what doesn't fit" section. By admitting and acknowledging your own biases to yourself, you take the first step in opening your mind and becoming willing to address others' perspectives.