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HIST 418 – Beyond Slavery and Freedom in the Atlantic World: Developing a Historiography: Evaluating Sources

What is historiography?

The history of histories. You can think of this as a narrative description of the web of scholars writing on the same or similar topics. A historiography traces how scholars' understanding of historical events has evolved and how scholars are in conversation with each other, both building on and disputing previous works. The process is similar to that used for creating literature reviews in other disciplines. 

Questions to Ask of Each Source

  1. Who produced the source? 
  2. What is the author's argument? 
  3. What evidence does the author provide to support their argument? 
  4. What bias created by the kinds of sources selected? (Whose voices are included, whose are excluded?)
  5. How is the source structured?
  6. What is the relationship of the source to other scholarship in the area? Does it build on previous work, dispute previous work, apply a previously developed method to a new topic, apply a new method to an old topic, etc.? 
  7. Classify the source using the BEAM method. What function does it play in relationship to your argument? 

BEAM Method for Analyzing Sources


Present facts, establish information

(e.g. The illegal slave ship the The Emilia sailed from the Bight of Benin in 1821 with 392 captives.)


Explicate, interpret, analyze - in history, most often a primary source

(e.g. Equiano’s Travels: His Autobiography; the Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African)


Affirm, dispute, refine, extend

(e.g. Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Atlantic World: Angola and Brazil during the Era of the Slave Trade, specifically its particular arguments about how the slave trade functioned)


Critical lens; key terms; theory; style; perspective; discourse

(e.g. Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Atlantic World: Angola and Brazil during the Era of the Slave Trade, specifically its use of the micro-history research method)