On the Use of Primary Sources

Pojmann et al mused on multiple forms of media and artifacts as examples of primary sources through the potential interpretations and significance of each source within a historical context. Each form of primary source offered a different potential perspective on the history they were created within as well as different potentialities for use and interpretation on the part of the historian. In the interest of utilization of resources, I found the most interesting primary sources to be that of the documents and other media which recorded what are culturally regarded as “unbiased” statistics and data collections on part of census data or any other informational observation records.

Examples of this type of primary source would be government census data, data collected in scientific or medical surveys, public information regarding building structures, laws and legal system information at the time, etc. A comprehensive understanding of this type of data, in say the context of public operations of a specific town, could be synthesized by a historian to gain a multidimensional understanding of a topic.

For an unquestioning eye, however, interpretations assuming an unbiased nature to these measures and types of primary sources ultimately fail to completely ask historical questions. Public data is still data as recorded by a human being; and are not without some degree of bias in their creation. For example, public data as made by a census in early American/colonial era is likely to more heavily record the data of landowners or those in the majority party/demographic of the time. A nature of questioning the purpose and initiative behind the creation and utilization of public data and records enables a much broader and potentially more objective understanding of a specific era.

Source Referenced:

Pojmann et al. Doing History; an Introduction to the Historian’s Craft. Oxford, New York; Oxford University Press, 2016.

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