What kind of source is it?

Mandate for Palestine

Different types of sources offer various kinds of information. Official documents rarely contain information about personal and private issues, but they do provide evidence related to larger, more structural issues. For example, legal codes often reflect a society’s ideal vision for itself, whereas court transcripts provide a glimpse into situations of individual behavior considered unacceptable by the society. Personal narratives, in contrast, might offer reflections on larger social issues, but they are usually focused on events as they affect the life of one individual or the lives of several known individuals, rather than a nameless collective.

Careful reading of many kinds of sources can help identify important clues such as the language used, the tone of the source, and motivation of the creator. With visual material, considering the physical form of the source is an important step in analysis.

While many visual or material culture sources do not contain words, scholars analyze them in similar ways. Is the image realistic or figurative? Does it have characteristics that mark it as the product of a particular time or place? Does it draw upon common cultural references or styles? Was it created for a museum or other public use rather than for personal enjoyment?

Similarly, objects of material culture require close reading that considers the form and function of the source. What materials are used to create the object? Was it for everyday use or was it used in religious or social rituals? Is the object decorated? If so, what messages does that decoration convey?

When you first look at a source, you can attempt to identify it by asking some of the questions listed above. If it is a written text, read it, look for information about the author, date, and location to help ascertain the original purpose of the document. If the source is an image, attempt to answer some of the same questions by discovering its location of origin, its material, and its meaning and use at various times. This kind of information will help you decide how to analyze the document in question.