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Modern World History

OPCVL Guide

A major part of being an historian is working with sources. In order to use sources effectively in research, an
historian must be able to perform a source analysis. In the IB program, source analysis is done in a format
called OPCVL. This guide is designed to introduce you to this format so you can start practicing document
analysis.

OPCVL stands for Origin, Purpose, Content, Value, and Limitations. Each of these categories addresses
different key aspects of the source.

Origin
Is this a primary or a secondary source?
Primary sources are produced at the time and offer first-hand knowledge of the subject in
question.
Secondary sources are produced after the fact and offer commentary or analysis of the
subject in question.
Sources may be primary or secondary based on how they are used.
What type of source is this?
Who wrote the source? What do we know about the author?
When and where was this source written and/or published?
Purpose
Why was this source created?
Who is the intended audience?
Content
What does the source actually say?
Value
What value does this source have to you as an historian?
The value of a source changes depending on what you would be doing with it. A document
written by a writer from the Enlightenment may have different value for a paper on history of
thought than a paper on the causes of the French Revolution.
What does the source tell us about the author?
What does the source tell us about the subject?
What perspectives does the source present?
Limitations
What limitations does this source have to you as an historian?
When does this source stop being useful?
What isnt included that would be helpful?
What perspectives are left out?

Notes:
The fact that a source is primary or secondary, or that it has bias, is not a strong value or limitation.
Try to look beyond these items when evaluating sources.
Value and limitations should be determined based on the origin, purpose, and content. This will ask
you to think critically about the origin, purpose, and content of your source.
You may break down the OPCVL by item in that order (as on the back of this handout), but the
strongest OPCVL work will be in paragraph form, focused on VL while referencing OPC.

Modern World History


OPCVL Practice
Note: Example is not set up in paragraph form. However, students are expected to write their OPCVL
analysis in paragraph form.

Origin: Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Howard University Press, 1982, pp. 240-241.
Walter Rodney was a historian and political activist from Guyana. Secondary source. Academic analysis.
Purpose: Inform the public (mostly academics and students) about the impact of colonialism on Africa (argue
that it was negative and left Africa underdeveloped).
Content: Rodney argues that the purpose of colonial education was not to improve the lives of Africans, but
to prepare them for work in European administration and businesses.
Value:
the author has first hand experience with a colonial education system (though not in Africa)
as a secondary source it is more comprehensive, provide analysis based on a variety of primary and
secondary sources
provides support for a critique of colonial education in the wider context of European
underdevelopment and exploitation of Africa, for example, Rodney describes the colonial education
system as ...
credibility of author as historian / academic source
Limitations:
excerpt does not include specific examples
does not necessarily include European point view
his experience of colonialism was in South America, not Africa
possible bias against European colonialism
secondary source may only provide one interpretation
does not discuss indigenous education