Sources for Historical Research
Historical research involves the investigation of the past through primary and secondary sources. A primary source is any material (text, artifact, etc.) from the past that the historian studies directly. Primary sources thus provide the direct evidence for historical investigation.
Secondary sources are writings by historians that summarize, analyze, or interpret information gathered from primary sources. Consulting secondary sources is essential because professional historians (past and present) have insights into primary source evidence that will guide our own thinking.
Primary sources provide a direct window on the past. Although the study of some primary sources requires specialized skill (knowledge of other languages and cultures, archeological technique, etc.), most primary sources can be studied profitably by non-experts. Because the direct evidence of primary sources is uninterpreted by secondary sources, primary sources “speak for themselves,” in a way that secondary sources do not. For this reason they are of primary importance to historical study and are the primary focus of church history research at Westminster.
Examples of Primary Sources
Primary source material may include published or unpublished writings, personal letters, photographs, artifacts, audio or video recordings, interviews, personal testimony, or other materials that come directly from the past. Examples include:
No study of primary sources is complete without a complementary familiarity with the pertinent secondary source material. Secondary sources are useful:
Examples of Secondary Sources
Secondary source material includes any scholarly writing that discusses, analyzes, or interprets the past. The distinguishing mark of secondary sources is that they are not part of the history they discuss.
Examples (corresponding to the primary sources listed above) include:
Other "Writing for Church History" topics: