In order to become a better writer of history, you must also become a better reader. Above all, you must become a critical reader.

Many undergraduate students are surprised when, having slogged their way through the week's assigned reading, they come to class only to be encouraged to critique, rather than merely summarize, that reading. Remembering high school, many beginning college students assume all the readings assigned for a class will provide reliably "true" information that is not to be questioned.

College-level history courses, however, assign much reading that is not necessarily reliable at all. Primary Sources are often aimed at a specific audience, for example, who are assumed to share the views promoted in the source. What, however, if that source is Hitler's Mein Kampf, a work whose arguments we engage briefly in our section on Bias/Prejudice? Nor should we assume that even a secondary sources by a respected historian is necessarily reliable. As we show in our section on Historiography, an Ivy League professor is no more inherently trustworthy than a bestselling popular historian: both may potentially have a personal agenda, and it is possible that the information provided by either one, or both, can be consciously (or unintentionally) "slanted." Furthermore, the student of history will frequently encounter sources offering fundamentally contradictory data and claims, meaning that one of those sources, at least, is not telling the full story.

In order to make sense of such issues, you need to read critically. Always bring a degree of skepticism to a text - even to a history textbook - and look for inherent contradictions, inconsistencies, and evidence of a possible bias or agenda. The links on this page will introduce you to some basic skills and mindsets that will help you master difficult texts. Please select from the following: