Aspects of Research: Bricks and Mortar
Article publication date: 1 February 1937
MATERIALS are frequently considered as divisible into two classes, primary sources and secondary sources. This view is useful, though not foolproof. In the first class are those sources which yield the very first information on any subject or event. They cannot be ignored. Secondary sources comprise the elaborations of primary sources, the theory and conjecture to which the original testimony gives rise. The value of original sources is obvious. Mr. Winston Churchill's account of Marlborough will, no doubt, be hailed in the future as “authoritative,” and, all things considered, justly so. But at best the author can only give his own interpretation of the Duke's letters and dispatches. That interpretation may be correct, or only very slightly in error; a fact which does not justify the conduct of the next student of Marlborough if he contents himself with accepting Mr. Churchill's conclusions on a few main events without bothering to look at such original testimony as may be extant. True, an examination of the primary sources may convince the student of the justness of Mr. Churchill's reading. On the other hand, a fresh mind may detect some small but significant point which has persistently escaped the other worker. Original sources may often be scrappy and unsatisfactory, apparently of small value, uninspiring even: but, in that they are unique, they cannot be disregarded. I can give no catalogue of what might be regarded as materials of this class, no list, at least, applicable for all topics to be investigated. If indeed that were possible we would be faced with the difficulty of deciding what were the primary sources of each separate investigation. For example, the Acts of Parliament would certainly be an original authority to the research worker who had the Revolution of 1688 as his subject. But would he regard in the same light the Diary of Narcissus Luttrel who lived through the stirring events of that time, and recorded them as they appeared to him?
WEIR, J.L. (1937), "Aspects of Research: Bricks and Mortar", Library Review, Vol. 6 No. 2, pp. 77-81. https://doi.org/10.1108/eb012028
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