Cross-Referencing Historical Sources

Placing Sources in Context

While credit is sometimes awarded for your own knowledge, you are expected to be able to place the sources in context. You should aim to use what you know to briefly consider any relevant aspects of the attribution, such as the views of the authors, to test the strength of the inferences you make and to explain your comparison. However, keep this to a minimum, as no matter how impressive any detail you give about the issue in the question it will not be given credit and you risk drifting from the question.

It is worth remembering that sources may not always be written – a visual source could be a photograph or cartoon. It is important that you identify the overall meaning of the source as it relates to the question – what position does it take on the issue, does it appear to agree or disagree? This should be handled in the same way as a written source, considering what points the source emphasizes and the view it takes towards the issue that it covers.

Even when the sources are written, they may not always be conventional sources. You might also be set an extract from a piece of literature or other non-conventional writing. The key thing is to use the skills that you have developed to interrogate the source.

How do you Cross-Reference Effectively?

Cross-referencing means making direct connections between two or more sources by identifying and examining areas of agreement and disagreement between them, with reference to specific examples from the sources. As a part of this process, it is vital that you use brief quotations to support your examination of the agreement or disagreement between the sources.

Many students start their main points with a paragraph or more on how the sources broadly agree with each other over the question, and then follow this with separate paragraphs examining ways in which they disagree. If you take this approach, you should aim to examine the extent of agreement in each section. Paragraphs that simply list examples of agreement or disagreement can tend to look a little black and white and unlikely to achieve a high grade. It is also important that you try to see the agreement (or disagreement) in each paragraph as a starting point, going on to examine how far they agree through each point you make. Even in planning, you can try to emphasize this.

Alternatively, you could aim to structure your points more or an issue by issue manner, as in an essay. This can be very effective, although again, the golden rule should be focusing on the question and examining how far the sources do or do not agree.