'How Useful Is a Source' Example -History

A is a memo written by the German general, Von Falkenhayn. It was during the year of the battle of Verdun, 1916, making it a primary source. Source A was written to highlight the purpose and aim of the German assault on Verdun, while Source B is written by General Haig to describe the defensive conditions of the battle of the Somme. The date is unknown which may detract from its reliability, however we can infer from the writing style that it is most likely an account or report of the battle of the Somme, thus making it a primary source written at approximately 1916 during or after the battle.

Whilst analysing a source, a historian must not disregard the perspective of the source and the influences that shape perspective. Source A is written by the male German, Von Falkenhayn. Falkenhayn was a German general who was in charge of many operations during WWI, and was thereby of high rank and power. Being of high rank, Falkenhayn expresses the German point of view of confidence in the plans for the battle of Verdun as he holds a positive outlook on the tactics used to break stalemate at Verdun.

This perspective will cause a historian studying German attempts to break stalemate to question the reliability of the source. The date matches the year of the battle of Verdun and it is written in a formal manner as expected by military officials at the time. Source A also corroborates other evidence by reflecting the intended aim of the battle which was to lead the French to the battlefield and destroy them during their defence of the area. The Germans did in fact attempt to fulfil this aim making Source A a fairly reliable source. On the contrary, Source B is written through the perspective of the British.

General Haig was a man of high power and rank as he was the commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) during WWI. This would influence his point of view about the battle of the Somme in reports such as Source B. The battle of the Somme was a British assault on the German lines that resided there. This assault proved to be a major failure, holding many casualties for the BEF. The composer of source B, General Haig, was essentially in charge of this operation. In source B he describes the German defences at the Somme and reflects his point of view, being that the battle’s loss was undamentally a result of their superior defence and not poor British tactics. A historian using source B should hence remain cautious and careful when attempting to study the attempts to break stalemate. Firstly, the date is unknown which can detract from its reliability. However, as a result of the past tense writing style we can infer that this is written after the end of the battle and written by General Haig making it a reliable primary source in this aspect. The source is also reliable to an extent in providing a description of German defences as it corroborates with other evidence.

However, there may be traces of exaggeration as General Haig writes from the perspective of the British and could thus use this description as an attempt to justify their loss in the battle by explaining the superiority of German defences. For this reason the source is fairly reliable but it should be treated with caution as there are aspects that could reflect unreliability. Source A is a highly reliable source that is in the same regard, highly useful. It clearly reveals through the perspective of the German military official, the intended aim of the German assault on Verdun.

This is useful in understanding the German attitude of confidence to the battle as the Germans intended to draw the French to Verdun and fight a war of attrition which was believed by the Germans to be in their favour. Despite this the source remains limited as it does not provide an account of what actually occurred at the battle of Verdun. As the battle of Verdun was an overall failure for the Germans, a historian must acknowledge that the German attitude provided in Source B was held only prior to the actual commencement of the battle as the Germans were eventually met with a comprehensive collapse of the plan.

Likewise, in Source B there are some issues with unreliability, however this doesn’t not lessen it’s usefulness. The source is relatively valuable as it does provide a description of German defences during the battle of the Somme. This is useful for a historian studying the attempts to break stalemate as it reveals that the British were met with superior German defences of deep trenches, bomb proof shelters and barbed wire, that led to the British demise in this particular battle. This source however is limited as it does not discuss the failure of British tactics in the battle of the Somme.

As the source fails to provide the use of ineffective and inefficient British tactics at the Somme, a historian must be aware that German defences was not the only reason for British failure in this battle. In conclusion, source’s A and B are highly useful to a historian studying the attempts to break stalemate. Despite issues with unreliability, the sources are reliable enough to provide a description of defensive conditions as well as British and German attitudes to two major attempts to break stalemate during WWI; the battle of Verdun and the battle of the Somme.

Both sources are limited however as they are written through specific perspectives of high commanders from a certain nationality and not simple infantrymen, thus lacking a detailed and personal expression of the battle conditions as well as an account of the opposition’s conditions or beliefs. Overall however, the amalgamation of both sources provides a German and a British perspective which would be lacking if studied individually. This establishes both source A and B as critical texts for a historian studying the German and British attempts to break stalemate at Verdun and the Somme.

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