International School History - Skills - Sourcework -
The usefulness of historical sources

Official Sources
  This is quite a popular type of source in examination. Official sources might be an extract from a famous speech or an open diplomatic exchange between countries at a time of crisis.  The point is that these sources are public statements
Strengths   Limitations
The value is often in the provenance. The document is likely to have been produced by an important individual and might be an expression of an official policy position. This can provide a useful insight into how a government attempted to present or justify a policy at a particular time.

In examination, this type of document, (just like cartoons) allow the examiners to test your contextual understanding. To make sense of the source you need to know who the person was and what events were happening at the time it was produced.
  Weakness is also in the provenance. Public announcements are by definition designed to invoke a public response. It may not be what the author really thinks, but what he or she thinks the public should hear. It maybe part of a propaganda or election campaign and designed to produce an emotional response.

Communications between nations are carefully worded ‘diplomatic’ exchanges which may be very different from the private ‘back-channel’ discussions. During the Cuban Missile Crisis the hawkish public stance of the USA was very different from the secret discussions being conducted by the President’s brother Robert Kennedy.

Richard Nixon's 'I am not a crook' speech November 17, 1973. A famous public declaration that was a little economical with the actualite.  



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