digplanet beta 1: Athena
Share digplanet:

Agriculture

Applied sciences

Arts

Belief

Business

Chronology

Culture

Education

Environment

Geography

Health

History

Humanities

Language

Law

Life

Mathematics

Nature

People

Politics

Science

Society

Technology

For Wikipedia's policy on the use of primary sources, see WP:PSTS.
This wall painting found in the Roman city of Pompeii is an example of a primary source about people in Pompeii in Roman times.

Primary sources are original materials that have not been altered or distorted in any way.[1] Information for which the writer has no personal knowledge is not primary, although it may be used by historians in the absence of a primary source. In the study of history as an academic discipline, a primary source (also called original source or evidence) is an artifact, a document, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time under study. It serves as an original source of information about the topic. Similar definitions are used in library science, and other areas of scholarship, although different fields have somewhat different definitions.[2] In journalism, a primary source can be a person with direct knowledge of a situation, or a document written by such a person.

Primary sources are distinguished from secondary sources, which cite, comment on, or build upon primary sources. Generally, accounts written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight are secondary.[3] A secondary source may also be a primary source depending on how it is used.[4] For instance the same memoir would be considered a primary source in research examining its author or his or her friends characterized within it but a secondary source if it were used to examine the culture in which its author lived.[5] "Primary" and "secondary" should be understood as relative terms, with sources categorized according to specific historical contexts and what is being studied.[6]:118–246[7]

The significance of source classification[edit]

History and historiography[edit]

From a letter of Philip II, King of Spain, 16th century

In scholarly writing, an important objective of classifying sources is to determine their independence and reliability.[7] In contexts such as historical writing, it is almost always advisable to use primary sources and that "if none are available, it is only with great caution that [the author] may proceed to make use of secondary sources."[8] Sreedharan believes that primary sources have the most direct connection to the past and that they "speak for themselves" in ways that cannot be captured through the filter of secondary sources.[9]

Other fields[edit]

In scholarly writing, the objective of classifying sources is to determine the independence and reliability of sources.[7] Though the terms primary source and secondary source originated in historiography[citation needed] as a way to trace the history of historical ideas, they have been applied to many other fields. For example, these ideas may be used to trace the history of scientific theories, literary elements and other information that is passed from one author to another.

In scientific literature, a primary source is the original publication of a scientist's new data, results and theories. In political history, primary sources are documents such as official reports, speeches, pamphlets, posters, or letters by participants, official election returns and eyewitness accounts. In the history of ideas or intellectual history, the main primary sources are books, essays and letters written by intellectuals; these intellectuals may include historians, whose books and essays are therefore considered primary sources for the intellectual historian, though they are secondary sources in their own topical fields. In religious history, the primary sources are religious texts and descriptions of religious ceremonies and rituals.[10]

A study of cultural history could include fictional sources such as novels or plays. In a broader sense primary sources also include artifacts like photographs, newsreels, coins, paintings or buildings created at the time. Historians may also take archaeological artifacts and oral reports and interviews into consideration. Written sources may be divided into three types.[11]

  • Narrative sources or literary sources tell a story or message. They are not limited to fictional sources (which can be sources of information for contemporary attitudes) but include diaries, films, biographies, leading philosophical works and scientific works.
  • Diplomatic sources include charters and other legal documents which usually follow a set format.
  • Social documents are records created by organizations, such as registers of births and tax records.

In historiography, when the study of history is subject to historical scrutiny, a secondary source becomes a primary source. For a biography of a historian, that historian's publications would be primary sources. Documentary films can be considered a secondary source or primary source, depending on how much the filmmaker modifies the original sources.[12]

The Lafayette College Library, provides a synopsis of primary sources in several areas of study:

"The definition of a primary source varies depending upon the academic discipline and the context in which it is used.

  • In the humanities, a primary source could be defined as something that was created either during the time period being studied or afterward by individuals reflecting on their involvement in the events of that time.
  • In the social sciences, the definition of a primary source would be expanded to include numerical data that has been gathered to analyze relationships between people, events, and their environment.
  • In the natural sciences, a primary source could be defined as a report of original findings or ideas. These sources often appear in the form of research articles with sections on methods and results."[13]

Finding primary sources[edit]

Although many documents that are primary sources remain in private hands, the usual location for them is an archive. These can be public or private. Documents relating to one area are usually spread over a large number of different archives. These can be distant from the original source of the document. For example, the Huntington Library in California houses a large number of documents from the United Kingdom.

In the US, digital copies of primary sources can be retrieved from a number of places. The Library of Congress maintains several online Digital Collections where they can be retrieved. Examples of these are American Memory and the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC). The National Archives and Records Administration also has such a tool, called Access to Archival Databases (AAD).

In the UK, The National Archives provides a consolidated search of its own catalogue and a wide variety of other archives listed on the Access to Archives index. Digital copies of various classes of documents at the National Archives (including wills) are available from DocumentsOnline. Most of the available documents relate to England and Wales. Some digital copies of primary sources are available from the National Archives of Scotland. Many County Record Offices collections are included in Access to Archives, while others have their own on-line catalogues. Many County Record Offices will supply digital copies of documents.

Using primary sources[edit]

History as an academic discipline is based on primary sources, as evaluated by the community of scholars, who report their findings in books, articles and papers. Arthur Marwick says "Primary sources are absolutely fundamental to history."[14] Ideally, a historian will use all available primary sources created by the people involved, at the time being studied. In practice some sources have been destroyed, while others are not available for research. Perhaps the only eyewitness reports of an event may be memoirs, autobiographies, or oral interviews taken years later. Sometimes the only evidence relating to an event or person in the distant past was written or copied decades or centuries later. Manuscripts that are sources for classical texts can be copies of documents, or fragments of copies of documents. This is a common problem in classical studies, where sometimes only a summary of a book or letter has survived. Potential difficulties with primary sources have the result that history is usually taught in schools using secondary sources.

Historians studying the modern period with the intention of publishing an academic article prefer to go back to available primary sources and to seek new (in other words, forgotten or lost) ones. Primary sources, whether accurate or not, offer new input into historical questions and most modern history revolves around heavy use of archives and special collections for the purpose of finding useful primary sources. A work on history is not likely to be taken seriously as scholarship if it only cites secondary sources, as it does not indicate that original research has been done.[6]

However, primary sources – particularly those from before the 20th century – may have hidden challenges. "Primary sources, in fact, are usually fragmentary, ambiguous and very difficult to analyse and interpret."[14] Obsolete meanings of familiar words and social context are among the traps that await the newcomer to historical studies. For this reason, the interpretation of primary texts is typically taught as part of an advanced college or postgraduate history course, although advanced self-study or informal training is also possible.

The following questions are asked about primary sources:

  • What is the tone?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the purpose of the publication?
  • What assumptions does the author make?
  • What are the bases of the author's conclusions?
  • Does the author agree or disagree with other authors of the subject?
  • Does the content agree with what you know or have learned about the issue?
  • Where was the source made? (questions of systemic bias)

Strengths and weaknesses of primary sources[edit]

In many fields and contexts, such as historical writing, it is almost always advisable to use primary sources if possible, and that "if none are available, it is only with great caution that [the author] may proceed to make use of secondary sources."[8] In addition, primary sources avoid the problem inherent in secondary sources, where each new author may distort and put their own spin on the findings of prior cited authors.[15] However, a primary source is not necessarily more of an authority or better than a secondary source. There can be bias and other tactic used to twist historical information.

"Original material may be ... prejudiced, or at least not exactly what it claims to be."

—David Iredale[16]

These errors may be corrected in secondary sources, which are often subjected to peer review, can be well documented, and are often written by historians working in institutions where methodological accuracy is important to the future of the author's career and reputation. Historians consider the accuracy and objectiveness of the primary sources they are using and historians subject both primary and secondary sources to a high level of scrutiny. A primary source such as a journal entry (or the online version, a blog), at best, may only reflect one individual's opinion on events, which may or may not be truthful, accurate, or complete.

Participants and eyewitnesses may misunderstand events or distort their reports (deliberately or unconsciously) to enhance their own image or importance. Such effects can increase over time, as people create a narrative that may not be accurate.[17] For any source, primary or secondary, it is important for the researcher to evaluate the amount and direction of bias.[18] As an example, a government report may be an accurate and unbiased description of events, but it can be censored or altered for propaganda or cover-up purposes. The facts can be distorted to present the opposing sides in a negative light. Barristers are taught that evidence in a court case may be truthful, but it may be distorted to support (or oppose) the position of one of the parties.

Classifying sources[edit]

Many sources can be considered either primary or secondary, depending on the context in which they are examined.[7] Moreover, the distinction between primary and secondary sources is subjective and contextual,[19] so that precise definitions are difficult to make.[20] Investigative journalism, for example, is a primary source of information.[21][not in citation given][22][not in citation given][23][not in citation given][24][page needed][not in citation given] A book review, when it contains the opinion of the reviewer about the book rather than a summary of the book, becomes a primary source.[25][26]

If a historical text discusses old documents to derive a new historical conclusion, it is considered to be a primary source for the new conclusion. Examples in which a source can be both primary and secondary include an obituary[27] or a survey of several volumes of a journal counting the frequency of articles on a certain topic.[27]

Whether a source is regarded as primary or secondary in a given context may change, depending upon the present state of knowledge within the field.[28] For example, if a document refers to the contents of a previous but undiscovered letter, that document may be considered "primary", since it is the closest known thing to an original source; but if the letter is later found, it may then be considered "secondary"[29]

In some instances, the reason for identifying a text as the "primary source" may devolve from the fact that no copy of the original source material exists, or that it is the oldest extant source for the information cited. Alternatively, when a printed version of a document is made from an electronic version, the electronic version may be termed the primary document.[30][31]

Forgeries[edit]

Historians must occasionally contend with forged documents, purporting to be primary sources. These forgeries have usually been constructed with a fraudulent purpose, such as promulgating legal rights, supporting false pedigrees, or promoting particular interpretations of historic events. The investigation of documents to determine their authenticity is diplomatics.

For centuries, Popes used the forged Donation of Constantine to bolster the secular power of the Papacy. Among the earliest forgeries are false Anglo-Saxon Charters, a number of 11th and 12th century forgeries produced by monasteries and abbeys to support a claim to land where the original document had been lost or never existed. One particularly unusual forgery of a primary source was perpetrated by Sir Edward Dering, who placed false monumental brasses in a parish church.[32] In 1986, Hugh Trevor-Roper "authenticated" the Hitler diaries, which were later proved to be forgeries. Recently, forged documents have been placed within the UK National Archives in the hope of establishing a false provenance.[33][34] However, historians dealing with recent centuries rarely encounter forgeries of any importance.[6]:22–25

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Primary sources". James Cook University.
  2. ^ "Primary vs Secondary". Old Dominion University Libraries. September 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  3. ^ "Primary, secondary and tertiary sources". University Libraries, University of Maryland. (accessed 16 Jul 2013)
  4. ^ "Primary and secondary sources". Ithaca College Library.
  5. ^ Lamb, David. "Finding and Using Sources: A Brief Guide". Academic Writing Tutor. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
  6. ^ a b c Oscar Handlin and Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Harvard Guide to American History (1954)
  7. ^ a b c d Kragh, Helge (1989). An Introduction to the Historiography of Science. Cambridge University Press. p. 121. ISBN 0-521-38921-6. "[T]he distinction is not a sharp one. Since a source is only a source in a specific historical context, the same source object can be both a primary or secondary source according to what it is used for." 
  8. ^ a b Cipolla, Carlo M. (1992). Between Two Cultures:An Introduction to Economic History. W. W. Norton & Co. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-393-30816-7 .
  9. ^ Sreedharan, E. (2004). A Textbook of Historiography, 500 B.C. to A.D. 2000. Orient Longman. p. 302. ISBN 81-250-2657-6. "it is through the primary sources that the past indisputably imposes its reality on the historian. That this imposition is basic in any understanding of the past is clear from the rules that documents should not be altered, or that any material damaging to a historian's argument or purpose should not be left out or suppressed. These rules mean that the sources or the texts of the past have an integrity and that they do indeed 'speak for themselves', and that they are necessary constraints through which past reality imposes itself on the historian." 
  10. ^ "Primary Sources - Religion". Research Guides at Tufts University. 26 August 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  11. ^ Howell, Martha C.; Prevenier, Walter. (2001). From reliable sources : an introduction to historical method. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. pp. 20–22. ISBN 0-8014-8560-6. 
  12. ^ Cripps, Thomas (1995). "Historical Truth: An Interview with Ken Burns". American Historical Review (The American Historical Review, Vol. 100, No. 3) 100 (3): 741–764. doi:10.2307/2168603. JSTOR 2168603. 
  13. ^ "Primary Sources: what are they?". Lafayette College Library.
  14. ^ a b Marwick, Arthur. "Primary Sources: Handle with Care". In Sources and Methods for Family and Community Historians: A Handbook edited by Michael Drake and Ruth Finnegan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-521-46580-X
  15. ^ Ross, Jeffrey Ian (2004). "Taking Stock of Research Methods and Analysis on Oppositional Political Terrorism". The American Sociologist 35 (2): 26–37. doi:10.1007/BF02692395. "The analysis of secondary source information is problematic. The further an investigator is from the primary source, the more distorted the information may be. Again, each new person may put his or her spin on the findings." 
  16. ^ Iredale, David (1973). Enjoying archives: what they are, where to find them, how to use them. Newton Abbot, David and Charles,. ISBN 0-7153-5669-0. 
  17. ^ Barbara W. Sommer and Mary Kay Quinlan, The Oral History Manual (2002)
  18. ^ Library of Congress, " Analysis of Primary Sources" online 2007
  19. ^ Dalton & Charnigo 2004, p. 419 n.18.[citation not found]
  20. ^ Delgadillo, Roberto; Lynch, Beverly (1999). "Future Historians: Their Quest for Information". College & Research Libraries: 245–259, at 253. "[T]he same document can be a primary or a secondary source depending on the particular analysis the historian is doing." 
  21. ^ "What are primary sources?". Yale Collections Collaborative Project. 2008 Yale University. Retrieved 27 August 2011.  "A wide range of primary sources are found in government documents: the hearings and debates of legislative bodies; the official text of laws, regulations and treaties; records of government expenditures and finances; statistical compilations such as census data; investigative reports; scientific data; and many other sources that touch virtually all aspects of society and human endeavor."
  22. ^ Seward; Outreach editor at The Wall Street Journal, Zachary M. "DocumentCloud adds impressive list of investigative-journalism outfits". Project news. Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab. Retrieved 27 August 2011.  "DocumentCloud, the souped-up repository of primary-source material that I’ve been raving about since it first emerged in November, has a big announcement today: They’ve signed up 20 more organizations — including The Washington Post, New Yorker, MSNBC, and ACLU — to contribute documents and test the first iteration of the consortium, which is expected to launch privately by the end of this year."
  23. ^ Aucoin, James. "The evolution of American investigative journalism". Academic work (Columbia, Mo. : University of Missouri Press, c2005). Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  24. ^ "Story-based inquiry; a manual for investigative journalists". Manual. UNESCO Publishing. Retrieved 27 August 2011.  (Archive)
  25. ^ Princeton (2011). "Book reviews". Scholarly definition document. Princeton. Retrieved 22 September 2011. 
  26. ^ Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (2011). "Book reviews". Scholarly definition document. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Retrieved 22 September 2011. 
  27. ^ a b Duffin, Jacalyn (1999). History of Medicine: A Scandalously Short Introduction. University of Toronto Press. p. 366. ISBN 0-8020-7912-1 .
  28. ^ Henige, David (1986). "Primary Source by Primary Source? On the Role of Epidemics in New World Depopulation". Ethnohistory (Ethnohistory, Vol. 33, No. 3) 33 (3): 292–312, at 292. doi:10.2307/481816. JSTOR 481816. "[T]he term 'primary' inevitably carries a relative meaning insofar as it defines those pieces of information that stand in closest relationship to an event or process in the present state of our knowledge. Indeed, in most instances the very nature of a primary source tells us that it is actually derivative.…[H]istorians have no choice but to regard certain of the available sources as 'primary' since they are as near to truly original sources as they can now secure" 
  29. ^ Henige 1986, p. 292.
  30. ^ Kofoed, Jens Bruun (2005). Text and history : historiography and the study of the biblical text. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns. p. 42. ISBN 1-57506-094-9. 
  31. ^ Ambraseys, Nicholas; Melville, Charles Peter; Adams, Robin Dartrey (1994). The Seismicity of Egypt, Arabia, and the Red Sea. Cambridge University Press. p. 7. ISBN 0-521-39120-2. "The same chronicle can be a primary source for the period contemporary with the author, a secondary source for earlier material derived from previous works, but also a primary source when these earlier works have not survived" 
  32. ^ Everyone has Roots: An Introduction to English Genealogy by Anthony J. Camp, published by Genealogical Pub. Co., 1978
  33. ^ "Update on document authenticity". The National Archives. 22 February 2006. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  34. ^ Leppard, David (4 May 2008). "Forgeries revealed in the National Archives – Times Online". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  • Benjamin, Jules R (2004). A Student's Guide to History. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's. ISBN 0-312-40356-9 
  • Craver, Kathleen W (1999). Using Internet Primary Sources to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in History. Westwood, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-30749-0 
  • Wood Gray (1991) [1964]. Historian's Handbook: A Key to the Study and Writing of History. 2nd ed. Waveland Press; 1991. ISBN 978-0-88133-626-9.
  • Marius, Richard; Page, Melvin Eugene (2005). A short guide to writing about history. New York: Pearson Longman. ISBN 978-0-321-22716-4. 
  • Sebastian Olden-Jørgensen (2005). Til kilderne!: introduktion til historisk kildekritik (in Danish). [To the sources: Introduction to historical source criticism]. København: Gads Forlag. ISBN 978-87-12-03778-1.

External links[edit]

Primary sources repositories
All sources repositories
Essays and descriptions of primary, secondary and other sources

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_source — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.
1000000 videos foundNext > 

What is a Primary Source

Geisel Productions Web Series Defines primary (versus secondary) sources of information. UCSD Social Sciences & Humanities Library http://sshl.ucsd.edu.

Mr. D's Class - Sources: Primary vs. Secondary

Instructional video on sources of information.

5 Awesome Primary Source Websites

NYPL's Digital Collection: http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/ National Archives: http://www.archives.gov/research/search/ National Archives' Digital Vault: ...

Examples of Primary and Secondary Sources of Information

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Learn the difference between primary and secondary sources. (Hartness Library CCV/Vermont Tech)

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Primary vs Secondary Sources-- Created using PowToon -- Free sign up at http://www.powtoon.com/ . Make your own animated videos and animated presentations fo...

BadgerBite: Primary Source

Learn about finding primary sources in Access NewspaperARCHIVE and History Reference Center! Get started at www.BadgerLink.net.

Special Collections and Primary Sources

This video explains what a primary source is, and shows a few items from the Albertsons Library Special Collections department at Boise State Library. Albert...

Newspapers - Primary Source?

Definition of primary and secondary sources for newspapers.

Primary Source - The Och

1993 Darkside tune from Reinforced Records.

1000000 videos foundNext > 

4082 news items

 
Healthcare Finance News
Wed, 30 Jul 2014 05:56:15 -0700

McKesson announced today the release of The Library, a single point of access for supply chain item information within McKesson Strategic Supply Sourcing™. The Library enhances Strategic Supply Sourcing, allowing organizations to load product data and ...

Pulse

Pulse
Wed, 30 Jul 2014 03:07:30 -0700

GPs have come in third as a source health advice for mothers with ill children, placing behind Google in second place and the family grandmother, according to a poll by a firm of solicitors. The Irwin Mitchell study of more than 2,000 mothers with ...

Today's Zaman

Today's Zaman
Wed, 30 Jul 2014 09:30:00 -0700

An overwhelming majority of the respondents, 90 percent, said that TV is their primary source of information, while 42 percent cited the Internet. As the age of respondents decreases, reliance on the Internet increases. A total of 71 percent of those ...

AARP News

AARP News
Thu, 31 Jul 2014 16:03:45 -0700

Some of the underserved reside in sparsely populated towns with no doctors at all; others, in cities where hospital emergency rooms are the primary source of care. Compounding the problem: fewer doctors overall. The Association of American Medical ...
 
Redmond Reporter
Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:41:15 -0700

According to the ARP website, “practitioners are the primary source of medical advice, assessment and diagnostics for (the Nepalese) communities. We treat with acupuncture, naturopathic and allopathic modalities as we deem effective and we refer to ...

KyForward.com

KyForward.com
Wed, 30 Jul 2014 10:26:15 -0700

For example, a draft of the Langston Hughes poem “Ballad of Booker T” would be a primary source for exploring Hughes' creative process but a secondary source for researching the life of Booker T. Washington. Also, an 1867 lithograph of the “The Wedding ...
 
Asbury Park Press
Wed, 30 Jul 2014 14:25:59 -0700

... 1790 when the federal government under President George Washington authorized construction of 10 armed revenue cutters tasked with intercepting smugglers and enforcing tariff on imported cargoes — the government's primary source of funding before ...
 
KTRE
Thu, 31 Jul 2014 16:15:00 -0700

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Perhaps it's a bit ironic that it rains the day a solar power array, an arrangement of solar panels, is fully installed at Stephen F. Austin State University. Native Inc., the Austin based company doing the work isn't worried.
Loading

Oops, we seem to be having trouble contacting Twitter

Talk About Primary source

You can talk about Primary source with people all over the world in our discussions.

Support Wikipedia

A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia. Please add your support for Wikipedia!