What is the Difference between Primary and Secondary Sources?

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The difference between primary and secondary sources is one of the common questions that students and other scholars get to ask themselves when tasked with distinguishing between these two very important resources.

But to exactly understand what the difference between primary and secondary sources is, we first need to know what their definitions are. A “primary source” is an original record of information on politics, economics, artistic, social, scientific and intellectual thoughts and achievements of a specific historical period.

These records are produced by people who actually participate or witnessed the creation of these historical events. Primary sources offer a variety of points of view and perspectives of events, people, issues and places. These records can be stored on individual basis or collectively and can be found in places like in a normal home library and a government archive.

The reason why most of primary sources are protected is because they contain first-hand information on how they were used or created by someone who actually had a firsthand experience of an event. They are sometimes considered to have historical significance.

 A secondary source on the other hand is considered to be a document that was created after a particular event has already happened and could be as a result of a research of the same. The person creating it did not actually experience the event being discussed. The secondary source always has no direct connection to the subject or the event being represented in it.

Types of primary and secondary sources

Definitions of primary and secondary sources may not be enough to clearly explain to a first time audience the difference between the two sources. This is the reason why we are using clear examples to fully understand what is the difference between primary and secondary sources.

A clear list of some of the documented primary sources includes; speeches and interviews, diaries and journals. Others are letters and memos, autobiographies and memoirs, data and original researchers, book and articles written during the period of a significant historical event, government documents, art from that period, census statistics, photographs, documentaries, organization records, maps from that period and some internet communication documented in emails.

Examples of secondary sources include encyclopedia, chronologies, biographies monographs, abstracts from articles dictionaries, test books, paraphrased quotations and most journal articles among others. The list of primary sources may look big however the list of secondary sources ids the biggest of them all and be represented in nearly everything we see around us on a daily basis.

Uses of primary and secondary sources

Another difference between primary and secondary sources lies in their functions which are more than just for historical significance. However when it comes to functions they go hand go hand in hand a have been for some time now. In simple terms they accommodate each other most primary since they greatly related in their functions.

Since Primary sources provide first-hand evidence about an event or phenomena secondary sources can be used to serve as an interpretation of the phenomena. Since secondary sources lack an element of immediacy in their interpretation that all primary sources have they can come in handy by showing what others have thought and interpreted an past event that can still be relevant in today day and age.

They can also be used to clearly illustrate major points in a disagreement among historians like when they wrongly interpreted some past events. This helps solve perceptions that will have for long remained misleading.

Learning institutions around the world use both primary and secondary sources as learning aids for their students especially in literature and history. However primary source have the most significance and learners can have clear understanding of an event or phenomena as it has first-hand documentation compared to secondary sources that may sometimes be distorted.

Location of primary sources and secondary sources

Another strong difference between primary and secondary sources lies in the location where they are found. Most primary sources can be found in museums around the world. The most valid reason for this is that some are crucial artifacts of significant historical value and need to be protects. This protection acts as form of preservation or future use by coming generations.

It however, understandable that some primary sources are in the hands of private owners and cannot be used. They may actuality own them considering they actually played a very important role in developing them in the first place. They are mostly preserved as very important treasures however they can still be access when need.

In the case of secondary sources they are actually available quite everywhere. Most can easily be found in your local bookshop among many other sources like the internet which most people around the globe have unlimited access to.

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