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Thursday, January 21, 2021
Primary, Secondary, Early On Secondary (quora)
How do historians use primary sources to study the past?
none/ apprx Masters in Latin (language) & Greek (language), Lund University
A primary source for the past or for a past event is one which is from the past itself or from as close to the past event itself as to make it contemporaneous.
Other sources are secondary, but compilations of quotes from primary sources still count as primary, unless known to be inaccurate.
If all primary sources say a thing and secondary sources from your time would dispute that, and it is about historic fact, not theologic interpretation, I’d go with the primary sources. For instance, there are secondary sources about St. Francis of Assisi claiming there were no miracles, but all the primary sources like the lives by Thomas of Celano or Three Companions, as well as the early on secondary source Fioretti say he made miracles, I’d say he made miracles.
If however you want to limit primary sources for St. Patrick to his autobiography (in which for humility he mentions no miracles) and to his Letter to Coroticus and early on secondary sources say he did miracles, I’d say he did miracles despite the silence of the sources considered as primary. Here I differ from the current practise of historians.
As long as it is about miracles. But when it comes to lives of Roman Emperors after AD 30 and before Trajan or Hadrian, historians are very fine with using early on secondary sources, like Tacitus or Sueton, as equivalent for primary, which we lack for that period.