This is a useful detailed
document that also provides examples of the value of different
types of sources.
Beyond primary and secondary
A more useful binary framework for assessing the
usefulness of sources is to consider sources as either broadly scientific or
artistic. Or as the great
Bronowski once argued history seeks to bring 'together the
experience of the arts and the explanations of science'. History is unusual as an academic subject, in so far as it is
considered to be both a human science like economics and an art like
literature. In order to make sense of the past we use the
methodology of both the artist and the scientist. For example, if our
concern is understanding human motivation, we might turn to the
sensibility of the novelist. For an appreciation of the personal and the
particular, or for understanding emotion and appreciating atmosphere,
what could be better than studying the music or painting from the time?
But if our concern is an objective, general comparative analysis of
change over time and place, then we require the statistician's facility
with numbers and logic.
This is part of what makes the study of history
difficult. If we are to be successful, we require an unusually wide
range of skills. In short, a history student may best be able to
explain the extent of poverty in the French Second Republic by
analyzing the economic statistics from the period. But if we want to
understand what it was like to be poor then we are best off reading
the novels of Emile Zola.
To understand the useful of sources in general,
therefore, it is not enough to enough to be aware that sources might be
primary or secondary, we need the extra dimension that may be provided
by the source matrix.
A source matrix