Primary sources: A Definition

Definitions:
1. "Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later."
 
2. "Primary source is a term used in a number of disciplines to describe source material that is closest to the person, information, period, or idea being studied.

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. In journalism, a primary source can be a person with direct knowledge of a situation, or a document created by such a person.

Primary sources are distinguished from secondary sources, which cite, comment on, or build upon primary sources, though the distinction is not a sharp one. A secondary source may also be a primary source depending on how it is used."Primary" and "secondary" are relative terms, with sources judged primary or secondary according to specific historical contexts and what is being studied. . . .

The delineation of sources as primary and secondary first arose in the field of historiography, as historians attempted to identify and classify the sources of historical writing.[ In scholarly writing, an important objective of classifying sources is to determine the independence and reliability of sources. In 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."  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.[7]

Many scholars have commented on the difficulty in producing secondary source narratives from the "raw data" which makes up the past. Historian/philosopher Hayden White has written extensively on the ways in which the rhetorical strategies by which historians construct narratives about the past, and what sorts of assumptions about time, history, and events are embedded in the very structure of the historical narrative. In any case, the question of the exact relation between "historical facts" and the content of "written history" has been a topic of discussion among historians since at least the 19th century, when much of the modern profession of history came into being.

As a general rule, modern historians prefer to go back to primary sources, if available, as well as seeking new ones, because primary sources, whether accurate or not, offer new input into historical questions, and most modern history revolves around heavy use of archives for the purpose of finding useful primary sources."

Source: Wikipedia "Primary Source" article

 

 
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