Copyright © 2004-2013

Analysis of a Historical Document

Valentina Kuryliw


In analyzing a historical document, students develop “critical thinking skills”, adapted to various age groups. There are three suggested stages for analyzing a historical document and each is progressively more difficult and requires greater skill. It is important to approach a historical document in this order.

Stage 1 is suggested for grades 5, 6, 7.
Stages 1 & 2 are suggested for grades 8 & 9,
Stages 1, 2 & 3 are suggested for grades 10 & 11.

It is recommended that the teacher analyze a document with the entire class to model expectations. Only then should students attempt to analyze a document on their own. This type of modeling is crucial whenever a new skill is introduced.


Stage 1. Suggested for grades 5, 6, 7.

  1. Who is the author of the document?
  2. Is it a single individual or a group of people?
  3. What can we learn about the author’s position, social class, nationality, political views from the document?
  4. What is the date and location where the article was written?
  5. For whom was the document intended?
  6. What do we learn about the times from this document? (5 items)
  7. Do you believe in what was written? Is it credible? Why or why not?
  8. Is the language of the document easy to understand?
  9. Is it addressed to more than one individual? Explain.
  10. What main ideas are expressed in the document?


Stage 2. Suggested for grades 8 & 9.

  1. What is the purpose of this document? What is it?
  2. Is it a convincing document, logically outlining its position?
  3. Does it entertain?
  4. Is it emotionally charged? Select words that illustrate this.
  5. What is the genre of the document? (formal/official, letter, etc...)
  6. Is it correctly presented, with punctuation etc.
  7. What are your general impressions about the document?


Stage 3. Suggested for grades 11 & 12.

  1. A critical analysis of the document. Use your imagination – how important is this document? Be skeptical - is it telling the truth? What evidence is presented to support its claims? What other points of view might there be on the subject under discussion?
  2. What can you learn about the society from which it came? (5 things) What were their values/beliefs? What was important to them?
  3. What does this document mean to me? What have you learned / Be sure to examine it by looking at concepts like perpetrators, victims, bystanders, rescuers, henchmen,  



Organize the class into groups of 5-6 students each. Have students take on roles within the group. Have students analyze the document as outlined for their grade level. The presenter reports the findings to the class, which are recorded on the blackboard or on a paper chart.

Each group may receive the same document to work on, or different documents from the same time period.



Follow up assignment for individual students:

Write a one page essay using the information taken from this document, explaining what you learned about the Ukrainian Genocide in 1932-33 using the document studied. Use the terms perpetrator, victim, rescuer, bystander as is suitable.


Famine-Genocide Commemorative Committee
Ukrainian Canadian Congress
Toronto Branch
© November 2002



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