Primary sources refer to first person accounts, original documents, physical artifacts, and face-to-face communication with persons who possess expert knowledge on a subject. These records represent our link to understanding history and the people who created it. Credible historians and researchers rely heavily on primary sources. The problem is not the sources, but in the interpretation of them. These unscientific interpretations are often replete with the author’s bias, racism, and lack of understanding.
Even though the sources are considered primary, one should still exercise caution. There are several key points to consider:
- the motives of the author
- the author’s frame of reference and knowledge of the subject matter
- the strategies the author uses to convey his/her message
- preconceived notions and values of the author
- the author’s ethnicity, cultural orientation and national affiliation
- degree of objectivity
Keep in mind that modern researchers are attempting to explain foreign cultures, religious beliefs, and historical events that occurred hundreds or thousands of years ago. For anyone, finding “proof” is difficult, at best, even for the early Greeks. Plutarch admits that:
Primary source information is now readily accessible through the Internet and other sources. When studying history, begin your pursuit with primary sources. Learn from those who were directly involved in making history, and much less from the so-called scholars who wrote about it countless years later.