The extent to which you use primary and secondary sources will vary depending on the essay question and the available sources. As you do more History units of study at university, you will probably find yourself spending more time analysing primary sources. Primary sources are, after all, the main focus of professional historians’ research.
Many history essays will require the use of both primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are unanalyzed, contemporary documents (that is, they were written in the time you are studying).
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A primary source is the original place in which the information can be found, or the first person to make that information available. A secondary source is a source that simply relates information.
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In the study of history as an academic discipline, a primary source (also called an original source) is an artifact, document, diary, manuscript, autobiography, recording, or any 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 can be used in library science, and other areas of scholarship.
This study aid should help introductory students write papers analyzing primary sources in Prof. Berkhofer’s courses. If you have never written a source analysis paper for a university History class before, it would be a good idea to first examine the Reading Primary Sources study aid in order to figure out how to read the sources you will use in your source analysis paper.
Essays may vary in the extent of their treatment of historiography depending on the approaches of individual options, but because many Themes and Sources options focus particularly on primary source material, students are expected, where possible, to pay special attention to evaluating sources, e.g. by discussing and comparing their reliability and explaining their value for the historian.