When it comes to telling the stories of history, analysis is a fancy way of saying it’s time to use your research to figure out the story you want to tell. So far you’ve decided on a topic, come up with your question, and found a whole lot of information that might just help you answer it. Well, now it’s time to sift through that information and begin to put together the puzzle pieces to answer that question for yourself and everyone else. That answer is going to become the backbone of your project and, eventually, your documentary.

So how do you actually go about analyzing your research and coming up with that story? The worksheets on this page will help you with the details, but the process can be broken down into 5 steps:

  • Read all your secondary sources and make note of the most important parts! What are historians saying about your topic? Do they all agree with each other? What are the various points of view about your topic? Don’t forget the importance of historical context–the cultural, economic, political, and social aspects of the time in which your topic takes place.
  • Then, do the same with your primary sources. This may seem obvious when it comes to some of your sources, but how can you read a photo or a film clip, or an interview? The key is trying to pull out as much information as you can from every one of your sources. Use the worksheet on analyzing films and images below to learn more about how you can read a photo, painting, or film.
  • Start pulling out your story’s characters, settings, and plot points. You might be more used to seeing these words in English class than in history, but remember, all history is a story! In order to find the best ways to tell your story, you need to identify who the people are, where the story takes place, and how it begins, develops, and ends. Look particularly to your primary sources to help identify these!
  • Now that you know some of the players, places, times, and plot points, it’s time to start building your historical argument or thesis. Your thesis doesn’t have to be just one sentence like you might be used to in an essay. Instead, your historical argument is the backbone of your story. If someone asked you what your project was about, this might be what you’d say! You can begin to build this argument by reading secondary sources and seeing what others have argued, but you have to make sure everything you decide to say is grounded in primary sources. Think of the historical argument as a declaration you are making and the primary sources as the evidence that what you are saying is true. For NHD, make sure you are relating your historical argument to the annual contest theme. As you pull your sources together, make sure you are the one telling the story instead of your sources. Use quotes vary sparingly and your own words much more. Also, consider the “so what” question. What is so significant about your topic in history? Why should anyone else want to learn about your topic?
  • Sometimes the final step in analysis is returning to research! While putting this puzzle together, you might find that you’re missing a piece or two. Don’t be afraid to go back to the research stage to see what you can find!