Thoughts on Primary Sources

Giles ResearchPrimary sources are the fruit in the fruitcake of history. They bring breath and voice to those long gone, and remind us that all this stuff actually happened to real people at some point back a ways. 

You’ll hear that primary sources bring history to life, and while that’s true, it’s deceptively incomplete. It’s perhaps more accurate to say that letters, diaries, ledgers, sketches, speeches, reports – even newspaper articles – bring life to history, and life is typically messy. Sometimes maddeningly so. 

Some voices contradict others, or even themselves. Language evolves over time, or means different things to people in different circumstances. We rarely have all of the information we’d like, unless we have so much we can’t possible synthesize all of it coherently. Documents are discovered which challenge our understanding of people or events, which is both exciting and inconvenient. 

And honestly, sometimes we’re not sure what they’re even saying. Or we do understand, but we wish they hadn’t said it, or said it that way. Sometimes they’re biased, sometimes they lie, and sometimes they’re just wrong about important things. 

You know, like people.  

The documents included here are reproduced as faithfully as possible from the originals or whatever form of the originals I was able to use. Not everything included is automatically true or fair. Sometimes I’ve modernized spelling or made notes about definitions, other times I’ve tried to maintain the original grammar, comfortable to the modern reader or not. I’ve not been particularly consistent on this point, but these documents have been added over a long period of time, and were sometimes created for different reasons. 

There are no doubt typos or other errors on my part which I correct as they’re discovered. Please email or message me if you think you’ve identified one – you won’t hurt my feelings, and I’d just as soon fix it if it’s my mistake and not some quirk of the original. 

My intention is to provide a useful collection for educators, or people who for whatever reason find this stuff as fascinating as I do. I’m not intentionally violating anybody’s copyrighted anything, and I’m certainly not trying to make money off of anything here. Neither should you, if you get it here.

Let me know if you have questions or comments, or if you find any of this useful.

Add new comment