Tackling document questions at AS
An important component in the new A Level is the source work. In the AS Level it is worth 40 per cent of the total marks awarded for the exam.
You will be given up to five sources, varying between five and 15 lines each, although one may well be a cartoon or picture. The total mark for the whole paper is usually 30 and the marks for each question progress from three to 12.
How you can achieve a good grade
1. The first requirement is to know your subject. If you are studying the unification of Germany, for example, make sure that you have revised the syllabus thoroughly, as the documents set you in the exam will cover some key aspect of the course. Without having a good background knowledge, you will not be able to interpret the documents effectively.
2. Read through the documents in the exam paper carefully. They usually contain several different points. Note the mark allocation, as it indicates how much you should write. Each question also tells you which document(s) it is asking you to analyse. Only bring in information from the other documents if it is relevant, or tests the reliability of the document you are evaluating. If you are asked to use your own knowledge as well, you are expected to use relevant background information from your course.
What analytical skills are needed?
1. Accurate comprehension. This is the basis of all interpretative skills. You need to understand what the sources are saying. Are they a factual account, propaganda or satire?
2. Evaluation. This means making an assessment of the evidence in a document. Ask yourself what the particular document you are studying actually shows and how reliable is it as a source. For instance, where does it come from and what is its date? Use your background knowledge and, if relevant, the other documents, to check its reliability and utility - that is, what use is it to you in solving the question you are asked? A satirical cartoon may be helpful in shedding light on why a particular policy is unpopular. Similarly, a government propaganda document can indicate what a government wants to hide. In evaluating a cartoon or picture, ask yourself what is the overall message the artist wants to communicate.
Then go on to see what it tells you about the events and people portrayed.
A worked example
These documents are from the period 1925 to November 1938 and relate to the anti-Semitic policies of the Nazi regime. It is recommended that you spend one half of your time in answering part (d).
SOURCE A. Hitler outlines the mission of the German people:
SOURCE B. An extract from the new race laws which were announced at Nuremberg on 15 September 1935:
SOURCE C. An extract from a secret report by the Nazi Party on the events of the Reichskristallnacht, 9-10 November 1938.
SOURCE D. This decree (law) was issued on 12 November 1938 by Göring, who was in charge of the Four Year Plan.
SOURCE E. A photograph showing the ridiculing of Jewish students in the classroom.
Questions and comments
1. Study Source C. From this source and your own knowledge, explain the reference to the ‘anti-Jewish demonstrations’ (Line 5). (3 marks)
This question tests both your comprehension of the document and your background knowledge of Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. Much of the answer lies in the text, but to achieve the top level mark you need to explain that during the night of 9-10 November 1938 large- scale anti-Jewish demonstrations took place resulting in the estimated deaths of over 91 Jewish people and the arrest of 21,000 Jewish males.
2. Study Source E. Assess the value of this source as evidence for the nature of the Nazi anti-Semitic campaign during the period 1933-39 (4 marks)
The task here is to analyse one source, which is inevitably limited in what it reveals, and see how helpful it is as evidence of a much larger problem. This photograph shows some of the practical consequences of the Nazi campaign against the Jews. It indicates how Nazi teachers are putting into practice the racial ideology of Nazism. To achieve the top level with 3-4 marks you must explain briefly how it fits into the overall context of the anti-Semitic measures taken up to the period of November 1938. You could, for instance, mention that as early as April 1933 there were demands from the party for the removal of Jewish children from schools. This did not happen until November 1938, but those Jewish children, who did remain in schools up to that date were subjected to increasing racist and anti-Semitic campaigns. For instance, much biology teaching was devoted to the racial question.
3. To what extent does Source B support Hitler’s declared aim in Source A? (5 marks)
This question tests your skill to evaluate the light that two different documents shed on a key issue. Firstly, ask yourself what Hitler actually means in Source A when he refers to the ‘most noble elements of our nationality’. He is, of course, talking about preserving and strengthening the German race. Source B is certainly on one level an attempt to do this by banning mixed marriages. Indeed, lines 1-4 can be seen as echoing Source A. Linking this up effectively would gain 4-5 marks, but the candidate, who reaches the top level (5-6 marks) will also need to indicate that the Nuremberg Laws were also hastily drafted partly to keep the Nazi party activists quiet and also to give Hitler something to announce to the Reichstag, which had been specially convened in Nuremberg, when Foreign Office officials advised him to steer clear of commenting on current foreign policy developments. In other words, Source B is implementing Hitler’s policy as described in Source A, but perhaps by default rather than through considered and long-term planning.
4. Study Sources C and D
Assess the value of these sources to a historian studying the causes of the Reichskristallnacht of 9-10 November 1938 (6 marks)
The examiner is testing you here on the evaluation of the utility and reliability of two different sources. To gain a top level mark (5/6) you must give a balanced answer which looks at both documents and, of course, draws on your own information. Source C is an important document that sheds considerable light on why the events took place. You need, first of all, to put it into context. The events mentioned in it occurred two days after the assassination in Paris of a minor German diplomat by a young Polish Jew in Paris. Also, ever since the Anschluss of March 1938 the Nazi party had been pressing for further anti-Semitic measures. Within this context it shows the key role played by Goebbels, but again in order to interpret his role correctly you need to mention that he had also fallen into Hitler’s bad books because he was having an affair with a Czech actress, and that his advice to Hitler to allow the anti-Jewish riots to go ahead was an attempt to regain Hitler’s favour. Strictly speaking, Source D is more a consequence of the Kristallnacht. Although Göring felt that the destruction done to Jewish property in the night of 9-10 November might be counter-productive, he moved quickly to exploit the situation to confiscate Jewish funds and businesses to help with the rearmament programme. However, in general terms, it can be argued that the desire to expropriate the Jews was one of the driving forces behind German anti-Semitism.
5. Using these sources and your wider knowledge discuss the view that Hitler had not made up his mind how he would solve ‘the Jewish problem’ in the period 1933-39. (12 marks)
This answer is, in effect, an essay. Make sure that you have left sufficient time to answer it (about 35 minutes). You will need to think carefully how to plan your answer and what background knowledge you will use. To reach the highest mark level (10-12) you will need to develop a sustained and integrated argument based on analysis of the sources and your own knowledge in which you show that you understand that while Hitler was a fanatical anti-Semite (Source A), his policies up to 1938 were arguably restrained and uncertain. You will need to mention that both the boycott in April 1933 and even the Nuremberg race laws (Source B) were largely attempts to appease the Nazi party which wanted much more radical action (Source C). Even Hitler’s go-ahead for the events of the Kristallnacht were cautious and ambiguous (Source C). Only after these disturbances did Nazi race policy become more radical. Again, this was partly the result of Himmler, Heydrich and Göring (Source D). Yet, in conclusion, do not forget to point out that Hitler in 1939 specifically told the Reichstag that the outbreak of war would lead to the ‘annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe’. Finally, make sure that your essay is well organised, coherent and has an overall sense of direction with few spelling and grammatical mistakes!
Dr David Williamson is the author of Bismarck and Germany, Longman, 1997 and War and Peace. International Relations, 1914-45, Hodder & Stoughton, 1994.