Archiver > GEN-MEDIEVAL > 2003-01 > 1043212101

From: Nathaniel Taylor <>
Subject: primary & secondary sources (was Re: Plantagenet Bastards)
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2003 05:08:21 GMT
References: <> <>

In article <>,
(Kay Allen AG) wrote:

> wrote:
>> How can I research in "original" documents when they are in Britain, France
>> or elsewhere and I am in the U.S. Unless I have misconstrued the phrase
>> "original documents". To me that means the actual document, such as the
>> Magna Charta, not a transcript nor a copy of any sort, and in the original
>> language. Is this incorrect?

>Some of the documents as the various rolls have been translated and abstracted
>for use by people such as you. Technically, these are secondary sources, but
>do suffice for the purpose.

I confess I wince at this use of 'primary' and 'secondary' source. The
apparent genealogists' use of 'primary' and 'secondary' to distinguish
any copy of a datum from its 'original' appearance is at odds with the
basic convention in historical usage. Historians use 'primary' and
'secondary', quite simply, to distinguish any evidentiary texts or
materials (which have their origin close to the time being studied) from
narratives or analyses by other historians (or journalists, or
whomever)--which can date from much later than the period in question.
'Primary' sources can be copied, edited, transcribed, published, even
translated, and would still be 'primary sources'. Historians can and
do take enormous pains to establish a critical or authentic text of some
medieval document, but each copy in a manuscript stemma, as well as each
modern edition, is still a 'primary source'. So the various Magna Carta
texts printed (and even translated) in the appendices to J. C. Holt's
_Magna Carta_ are *primary sources*, though, to be sure, the 1215
parchment that I once saw in a parking lot in New Bedford Massachusetts
is more 'original'.

Nat Taylor

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