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History of Ireland IRE185C: Primary Sourves

This guide has been created to aid students in the History of Ireland class

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

Primary sources are the "materials on a topic upon which subsequent interpretations or studies are based, anything from first-hand documents such as poems, letters, diaries, court records, and interviews to research results generated by experiments, surveys, ethnographies, etc. They are also sets of data, such as census statistics, which have been tabulated, but not interpreted."

Importance in Studying History

In researching historical material, primary sources are central. They expose students to first-hand historical information that has not been touched. This information has been preserved and passed down in its original form through the ages allowing historians to craft a nuanced and evidence-based argument.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources, on the other hand, offer an analysis or a restatement of primary sources. They often attempt to describe or explain primary sources. Some secondary sources not only analyze primary sources, but use them to argue a contention or to persuade the reader to hold a certain opinion.
Examples of secondary sources include:

  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Textbooks 
  • Books and articles that interpret or review research works.


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