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.

What is History?

History shares a trait with its fellow humanity studies in the respect that it is highly subject to the trends and influential personalities of the time it was established. Though the same may be said for the construction of the other humanities, the recollection of History is interesting in the respect that its record is more commonly biased toward the powerful groups of the time, as they retain the capability and privilege of recording history to reflect their favor. Whether or not this is an advertent bias on part of the groups who write the history, there is at the very least some degree of other demographics and marginalized groups losing their narrative in a considerably more difficult and oppressive position. History in itself is a topic dynamic because of the enumerable facets of the world which it can account for, and thus creates a complicated reflection of history subject to the inherent and immeasurable dynamics of the voices who attempt to interpret and analyze the previous ones.
Following this proposed account of history, what we regard to be history is weightily affected by the dominant voices to then be further complicated by the later use of separate persons with their own respective biases, objectives, and theories of that which they are studying. Despite if this new voice with proposed new interpretations follows the pattern of relative inequality with a great deal of historical accounts or contributes to the constantly building narrative of marginalized groups, our interpretations of history are persistently subject to the motives of the user, both in utilization and interpretation. Though this may create some sense of confusion and potential hopelessness in the strive for an unbiased account of the human past, it emphasizes the importance of our evaluation and acceptance of the information which we are given regardless of context. With all of this in consideration, history is what we make it. But what we make of it demands a much greater attention to the detail of who “we” necessarily means.


My name is Katie Hudick (she/her pronouns). I am currently a junior at Ursinus, double majoring in Psych and History. This blog will follow my journey through Bears Make History, which is a joint History/English course at Ursinus College. I am excited to share and discuss the impact and history that Ursinus College has to offer.