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  • Primary and Secondary sources

    In history primary and secondary sources are defined in ways similar to this:

    2. Primary sources These are contemporary accounts of an event, written by someone who experienced or witnessed the event in question. These original documents (i.e., they are not about another document or account) are often diaries, letters, memoirs, journals, speeches, manuscripts, interviews and other such unpublished works. They may also include published pieces such as newspaper or magazine articles (as long as they are written soon after the fact and not as historical accounts), photographs, audio or video recordings, research reports in the natural or social sciences, or original literary or theatrical works.

    3. Secondary sources
    The function of these is to interpret primary sources, and so can be described as at least one step removed from the event or phenomenon under review. Secondary source materials, then, interpret, assign value to, conjecture upon, and draw conclusions about the events reported in primary sources. These are usually in the form of published works such as journal articles or books, but may include radio or television documentaries, or conference proceedings.
    http://guides.library.ucsc.edu/primarysecondary

    In the social sciences a great deal of emphasis is placed on primary sources, aquiring data and information by particular methods, such as data from surveys/questionnaires, or qualitative forms from interviews or participating investigations.

    However, I am little stuck as to whether theoretical work counts as primary or secondary.
    For example, Carl Von Clausewitz's On War is original theory, crafter, developed and put in that work, which would point to it being primary (i'd have thought),
    Yet it uses history alongside original theory; it draws upon Clausewitz's experiences in the Napoleonic Wars, which would presumably be primary. Conversely it also references secondary sources, historical accounts such as the campaigns of Peter the Great, as case studies for understanding and supporting the theory element.
    Yet my gut still tells me it's a primary source, would this be correct?
    ------
    'I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.' - Thomas Jefferson

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  • #2
    Originally posted by Selous View Post
    However, I am little stuck as to whether theoretical work counts as primary or secondary.
    For example, Carl Von Clausewitz's On War is original theory, crafter, developed and put in that work, which would point to it being primary (i'd have thought),
    Yet it uses history alongside original theory; it draws upon Clausewitz's experiences in the Napoleonic Wars, which would presumably be primary. Conversely it also references secondary sources, historical accounts such as the campaigns of Peter the Great, as case studies for understanding and supporting the theory element.
    Yet my gut still tells me it's a primary source, would this be correct?
    A lot depends on how you use it. If you were writing about the Napoleonic Wars it would probably be a secondary source (at best). If you were writing about the evolution of military/combat theory it would be more of a primary source. Theoretical texts are difficult to pin down in terms of how they fit in the historiography because of this ambiguity.
    Signing out.

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    • #3
      SO I'm not alone in this quandary? that's almost reassuring. I use these works as theory pieces, not as historical sources, for which I'll be trying to use other more obvious history texts, so I suppose for my purposes, theory texts really are primary?
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      • #4
        Originally posted by Selous View Post
        SO I'm not alone in this quandary? that's almost reassuring. I use these works as theory pieces, not as historical sources, for which I'll be trying to use other more obvious history texts, so I suppose for my purposes, theory texts really are primary?
        If you really have to split the difference then yes. Technically you're using the theoretical texts to frame your question and then going to primary and/or secondary sources to flesh out your answer. At least that's the impression I get so in some respects Clausewitz's writing isn't actually a source at all.
        Signing out.

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        • #5
          I think it'd have to be if I were using it for examining and developing theory on a specific issue, wouldn't it? (or have I jumped the gun on the use of the term 'source'?)
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          • #6
            Originally posted by Selous View Post
            I think it'd have to be if I were using it for examining and developing theory on a specific issue, wouldn't it? (or have I jumped the gun on the use of the term 'source'?)
            Depends on how you frame the question. If it was something like 'How does Clausewitz's theory of xxxxx relate to the yyyyy wars of the late 20th Century?' then it would be different to 'How has the politicization of national military establishments since the French Revolution affected the development of combat doctrine at a tactical and operational level?'. Imho it's not something to worry about too much. Cite the source appropriately in your footnotes or endnotes and worry about its categorisation in the bibliography if you have to. If need be have a section there of 'theoretical texts' alongside the lists of primary and secondary sources.
            Signing out.

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            • #7
              The reason I wonder is I'm writing a methodology, which requires some discussion of the material I'm using, which will be about 1/4 - 1/2 Theory texts, the rest being historical records, accounts, or doctrinal papers etc. (I don't like writing methodologies.)
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              • #8
                I run into this issue all the time with Hyperwar. My advice is always "Be prepared to defend your decision as to whether it's primary or secondary. The fact that you are asking this question means you will probably need that defense at the ready. And be prepared to change your call based on input from other people."
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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Selous View Post
                  The reason I wonder is I'm writing a methodology, which requires some discussion of the material I'm using, which will be about 1/4 - 1/2 Theory texts, the rest being historical records, accounts, or doctrinal papers etc. (I don't like writing methodologies.)
                  In which case you can embrace the ambiguity. Seriously, it's about context (as I hope I illustrated in some small way) and you can build that in to your writing.
                  Signing out.

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                  • #10
                    Okay, thanks for the advice gents I'll be trying it out, and I'll see how it goes. I'll also report back if I find out from my new temporary supervisor if the department has any preferences.
                    ------
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                    • #11
                      Hi

                      No work etc is ever completely one or the other, as there definition is dependent on how the user (in this case you) use a specific work.

                      I've seen the same documents and books defined as both primary & secondary.

                      As stated earlier it's all about context and being able to defend it!

                      Regards
                      "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." Churchill

                      "I'm no reactionary.Christ on the Mountain! I'm as idealistic as Hell" Eisenhower

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                      • #12
                        Shouldn't new research like battlefield archaeology digs also be considered 'origninal?'
                        Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

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                        • #13
                          If you did it, I think it does.
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                          • #14
                            So what do we classify these as? http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/congress/
                            Hyperwar: World War II on the World Wide Web
                            Hyperwar, Whats New
                            World War II Resources
                            The best place in the world to "work".

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                            • #15
                              I dunno, as they are Congress hearings transcripts I suppose they're primary sources on the hearings

                              (they take for****ingever to load on my machine btw)
                              ------
                              'I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.' - Thomas Jefferson

                              If you have questions about the forum please check the FAQ/Rules

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