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Historical source

Historical sources encompass "every kind of evidence that human beings have left of their past activities — the written word and spoken word, the shape of the landscape and the material artefact, the fine arts as well as photography and film."[1]

While the range of potential historical sources has expanded to include many non-documentary sources, nevertheless "the study of history has nearly always been based squarely on what the historian can read in documents or hear from informants".[2]

Historical sources are usually divided into primary and secondary, though some historians also refer to tertiary sources.


Primary source

In the study of history as an academic discipline, a "primary source" (also called an "original source") is a first hand account of events by someone who lived through them. "Primary sources were made during the historical period that is being investigated."[3]

Secondary source

In scholarship, a secondary source[4][5] is a document or recording that relates or discusses information originally presented elsewhere.

A secondary source is one that gives information about a primary source. In a secondary source, the original information is selected, modified and arranged in a suitable format. Secondary sources involve generalization, analysis, interpretation, or evaluation of the original information.

Tertiary source

A tertiary source is an index or textual consolidation of already published primary and secondary sources[6] that does not provide additional interpretations or analysis of the sources.[7][8] Some tertiary sources can be used as an aid to find key (seminal) sources, key terms, general common knowledge[9] and established mainstream science on a topic. The exact definition of tertiary varies by academic field.

See also


  1. ^ Tosh, John. 1999. The Pursuit of History. 3rd Ed. Longman. p. 36
  2. ^ Tosh, John. 1999. The Pursuit of History. 3rd Ed. Longman. p. 37
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Primary, secondary and tertiary sources". University Libraries, University of Maryland.
  5. ^ "Secondary sources Archived 2014-11-06 at the Wayback Machine". James Cook University.
  6. ^ Primary, secondary and tertiary sources. Archived 2013-07-03 at the Wayback Machine". University Libraries, University of Maryland. Retrieve 07/26/2013
  7. ^ "Tertiary Information Sources". Old Dominion University -- ODU Libraries. September 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2013.
  8. ^ "Tertiary sources Archived 2014-11-06 at the Wayback Machine". James Cook University.
  9. ^ "Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Resources". University of New Haven.
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Historical source
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