What makes a source reliable?


welcome to another history skills video

today we're looking at how to evaluate

the reliability of historical sources

this skill will allow you to confidently

choose quality sources for history

assessment tasks especially research

essays so what is reliability

reliability is a source evaluation skill

which asks you to draw a conclusion

about whether a particular source is

trustworthy it is important that the

sources you use in your assessment

pieces are reliable so that the quotes

you use from them can be trusted but be

careful it's hard to be completely sure

that any source is 100% reliable or

completely unreliable

therefore when we talk about reliability

of sources we talk in terms of degrees

of reliability for example you can

conclude that a source is extremely very

somewhat rarely or not very reliable so

how do you assess reliability your

decision about a sources reliability is

based primarily upon what you know about

the creator of the source therefore

during your analysis of the source

ensure that you discover who the creator

was and investigate their background

when they lived in what perspective they

had on the historical events you're

focusing upon once you know enough about

the creator of the source you can argue

that a source is reliable

based upon any of the following

information that the creator of the

source was personally present at the

event or that the creator of the source

has a highly-educated perspective on the

topic such as a university professor

alternatively that the source has been

fact checked and subsequently approved

by its audience such as an academic

journal but what if you find that a

source is unreliable when using

information from sources to prove your

argument you need to be able to use

sources that are reliable if you have

found a source which you think is

unreliable the best advice would be not

to use that source however if the source

is true relevant to your topic that you

cannot use another try and use a

different evaluation skill to argue for

why you are using it rather than simply

saying that the source is unreliable

but if you have to how do you establish

unreliability based on what you have

discovered in your analysis of the

source you can raise doubts about the

reliability of a source based upon any

of the following firstly that the

creator of the source was not present at

the time of the event for example though

writing hundreds of years after it

occurred or that the creator of the

source is not sufficiently educated

enough about the topic for example they

have no formal education in history

alternatively you have discovered so

much biased language in the source that

you believe it undermines its

credibility for example an online blog


finally it is clear that the purpose of

the source was to entertain rather than

simply give an opinion or focus on the

facts about the topic now that you know

how to evaluate a source for reliability

let's look at some examples to solidify

your learning our first example is about

one of the most famous and controversial

kings of England Richard the third who

lived between AD 1450 to and 1485 King

Richard was so famous that Shakespeare

himself wrote a play about his life and

death where the king is portrayed as an

extremely evil character but how

reliable is Shakespeare as a historical

source about Richard the third let's

look at what our analysis of Shakespeare

tells us firstly Shakespeare wrote the

play about Richard the third over a

hundred years after the King's death so

Shakespeare was not an eyewitness of the

events secondly and most importantly

Shakespeare wrote the play about Richard

primarily to entertain an audience

rather than to present historical fact

as a result Shakespeare clearly presents

a biased version of Richard's life in

order to make him a great villain in his

story rather than trying to be

historically accurate therefore we can

easily conclude that Shakespeare is a

very unreliable source about the life of

Richard the third our second example is

about a specific aspect of ancient

culture the Roman army if you are

researching Rome's ancient military

you'll quickly encounter books on the

topic by an author called Adrian


he has many titles dedicated to Roman

society military and significant

historical personalities from the era

including Julius Caesar and Augustus but

how reliable is Goldsworthy as a

historical source about the Roman army

let's look at what our analysis of goals

really tells us Goldsworthy studied both

ancient and modern history at Oxford

University and received a PhD in ancient

history his thesis was specifically on

the Roman army between 100 BC and AD 200

furthermore he is taught history at many

universities around the world as well as

writing many books as is clear from this

information Goldsworthy is a world

renowned academic about ancient Roman

military matters therefore we can easily

conclude that Goldsworthy is an

extremely reliable source about the

ancient Roman military now you have a

better understanding of reliability of

sources I hope that you feel more

confident in your studies if you need

further explanations examples and advice

head over to history skills comm and

I'll see you next time