GEN-MEDIEVAL-L ArchivesArchiver > GEN-MEDIEVAL > 2000-08 > 0967220397
From: Stewart Baldwin< >
Subject: Re: Primary and secondary sources
Date: Fri, 25 Aug 2000 16:19:57 GMT
On 22 Aug 2000 09:50:26 -0700,
(Bernard Schulmann) wrote:
>> To give an example, I have seen some genealogists refer to published
>> parish register transcripts (even very high quality ones) as secondary
>> sources. On the other hand, if a historian cites a highly regarded
>> critical edition of a contemporary medieval chronicle whose manuscript
>> is unavailable for examination (which I think is an analogous
>> situation), I do not believe that that historian's colleagues would
>> accuse the historian of using secondary sources, simply because the
>> original manuscript was not consulted.
>Actually it would be considered a secondary
>source. Having worked with primary documents
>and published versions of the same, there are
>1) Errors occur in transcription, especially
>when done by people who are not 100% up on the
>background of the primary source.
>2) Published versions leave out all the extra bits.
>I have foudn some of my best
>information from hand written notes in the
>margins - these do not normally make it to
>published versions of documents.
>3) With the document in front of you instead of
>a copy or a transcription you are one
>interation closer to the information and
>inferences you make will be closer to the source.
>> Thus, I think it would be more appropriate to think of transcriptions,
>> abstracts, and translations of such sources as being primary,
>No it is not. As soon as you translate the
>information, you have dramatically changed it
>and can glean the same understanding as you do
>from the orginal document.
>A primary source is one that is either an original
>document (paper and microfilm copies are
>normally still considered primary) or an original
>conversation with someone (since everyone
>from the Gen-Med era is dead, the second is moot here)
>A seocndary source is anyone that works from the
>primary and offers the information in a
>different form. As an example, when I worked
>with the 1891 census records I inculded much
>of the information in my paper, but even where I
>included all of it still was a secondary
>source as I had transcribbed the information.
>The quality of secondary sources needs to be
>measured, some are good, very good, some are
>utter crap. Without beiong able to tell the
>difference one will always run into trouble.
>As to tertiary sources is term I never used.
I agree with the statement that transcribed copies and abstracts of
primary sources often contain errors. The point of my posting was
about terminology, and I have never suggested that the use of a
transcript or abstract is equivalent to referring to the original
manuscript. While it is true that using the original manuscript is
preferable to using a transcript (although not always possible), I
still think that referring to such transcripts and abstracts as
"secondary" sources is misleading, because such a transcript or
abstract is still much closer in form to the primary source on which
it based (sometimes even exact, word-for-word) than it is to those
sources that all of us would agree are secondary.
Finally, I should point out that once you put a qualifying adjective
in front as I have suggested (e.g., "transcribed primary source"),
then the terms I am advocating also have the merit of being completely
accurate, for what else would a "transcribed primary source" be than a
transcript of a primary source?
|Re: Primary and secondary sources by Stewart Baldwin< >|