Media Resource

Ask an NEH Expert: Validating Sources

Leslie Hayes, Director of Education at the New York Historical Society, discusses how to work with primary and secondary sources in historical research projects. She shares how to assess the reliability of a source, ways to toggle back and forth between primary and secondary sources, and what to do when two sources offer conflicting information or ideas.

This video is one in a three-part series about historical research and writing. See also: Building an Argument and Writing and Editing.

Questions for Analysis and Comprehension

These questions can be used before viewing the video to brainstorm ideas and review the concepts discussed in the interview, or after watching as a way to reflect on the interview. 

  1. Can you think of a source that could be either a primary or secondary source? In which contexts would it be primary, and in which secondary?
  2. What are some ways to corroborate or verify the information in a primary source?
  3. How could you turn conflicting sources into a research topic?
  4. What is meant by the words "objective," "subjective," and "biased"? How do these words relate to primary and secondary sources? How do they relate to your own research and writing?
Interview Questions with Timestamps
  1. How do you approach the research process? (2:30)
  2. What role do secondary sources play in the research process? How do you know that a source that you find is valid? (4:05)
  3. When do you shift to primary sources? (7:55)
  4. Can you explain the concept of bias in historical sources? As a researcher, how do you deal with this? (10:27)
  5. Sometimes when we do historical research, we find sources with conflicting information. What do you do when this happens? (13:28)
  6. What's the most interesting example you have found in your research, and how did you handle it? (15:30)