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History 301 - Zaldivar

Course guide for HIST 301 Spring 2021.

What is a secondary source?

Secondary source material serves several purposes for the historian. These sources provide: 

  1. background overviews of a topic
  2. scholarly interpretations of primary source evidence
  3. citations to primary source materials
  4. bibliographies leading to other secondary sources

As with primary source material, ask yourself if what you have is biased in any way. How old is the publication? Has new evidence or historiographic methods appeared since the publication of the item at hand? 

This means you are going to 'deep dive' into books and scholarly journals. Expect to find differing viewpoints and interpretations and be sure to bring these into your own work. You do not necessarily agree with the arguments you find, but you need to acknowledge scholarly disagreements and provide evidence to support your interpretation. Entering into the scholarly discussion is expected part of being a historian.  

In the case of books, it might be helpful to look at book reviews written by history scholars (not the promotional blurbs so popular with publishers.) scholarly book reviews will point out strengths and weaknesses in the research methodology and resources. This can be very helpful as you become acquainted with key contributors, current arguments, and sources on your historical topic. 

Example of a primary source

Searches including the term 'primary' will usually return an unsatisfactory result set. This is because it is actually difficult to label an item as primary--what a primary document is varies with the need of the researcher and the situation in which the item was created.

An example: You are writing a paper on the role of women revolutionaries during the Mexican War of Independence. You are interested in illustrations showing how they present themselves. 

A photograph from 1911 of women soldiers in the Mexican Revolution is a primary source since the photograph was taken during the Revolution. 

A woodcut of Adelitas (women revolutionaries) created in 2010, while it may look old, is not primary and should not be used as such.

The only time the woodcut could be used as a primary source would be if you were writing a paper on the modern representation of women who fought during that war. This might be a paper on how memory alters or romanticizes the past and as that is not the point of this project in this example, you would not use it. 

Special Collections & History Librarian

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Judith Downie
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KEL 5010 (when we can meet F2F)
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