Historical Secondary Sources: Advantages
When researching history or reading it just for enjoyment, secondary sources are beneficial in various ways. As they are written after the time of a particular event, they provide interpretation of primary sources, which are pieces of evidence from the time in question.
Interpreting Primary Sources
Primary history sources can be difficult to read and understand so a good secondary source can provide a more overall grasp on the subject to the reader. Often, they will take many or all of the relevant first hand accounts into consideration and when written by an expert can serve to interpret that evidence.
A good example of how secondary sources are advantageous is to consider if woman’s letters in a given time frame were a part of the research being undertaken. Reading just one primary source would only give information on the writer but to gain insight into the social norms of letter writing for women in a given period, many examples would need to be studied and analyzed.
The primary sources would also need to be put into context, for example letters written by middle class women might differ from those written by women of a lower or higher status from the same period. This of course takes time so unless the nature of the letters was the main point of the research, a good secondary source is advantageous, if written by someone who has already done that work.
Types of Secondary Sources
Secondary sources come in various forms, all with certain advantages. Books and articles are the most frequently used by historians and provide analysis and context for a particular or type of primary source. Textbooks are useful for students as they deal specifically with topics needed to be covered on a given course, though these can fall into the category of tertiary sources, that is, work based on secondary sources only.
For the enthusiast, the media can be an advantageous type of secondary source. Newspapers, magazines or historical documentaries are informative and entertaining ways to study the past and usually presented in a way that is easy to understand and at the same time entertaining.