Sources of Historical Data or Evidences

Historical evidences may be classified into two categories:
(i)                Documents,
(ii)             Relics or remains according whether or not the source was intended to transmit the information, or whether it simply an artifact. Documents are usually written whereas relics, e.g., archeological remains such as tools and utensils, are not. But this is not the basic point of distinction.
(a) Various Documentary Sources are
1. Official Records - Minutes of meetings, committee reports and legal documents, court decisions, legislative act, charter, etc.
2. Institutional Records - Attendance rolls, university bulletins, university executive council proceedings and minutes.
3. Memoir, biographies, diaries, personal letters, books on the philosophy of a given scholar, etc.
4. Newspapers, periodicals, journals.
5. Literary material.
6. Catalogue, syllabus, prospectus etc.
(b) Relics or Remains
1. Building, furniture and equipment.
2. Library and their furniture.
3. Photographs and other records.
4. Forms of degree, diploma, certificate, records, registers.
5. Text-books, exercise-books, maps, drawings, etc.
6. Written material.
Obtaining the best data available to solve a problem is an initial and important task of a historian.
Historical sources are usually classified into two main categories - Primary and Secondary sources.
      1.     Primary Sources of Data
       Þ   The original document or remains which are the first witness of a fact are termed as Primary Sources. Primary sources are the only solid basis of Historical Research and they are highly prized by a historian.
       Þ   A primary source is the only repository of an historical datum, like an original record kept of an important occasion an eye witness description of an event, a photograph minutes of organization meeting and so on.
       Þ   Documents or records kept and written by actual participant in, or witness of an event. These sources are produced for the purpose of transmitting information to be used in the future. Documents classified as primary sources are constitutions, charters, laws, court decisions, diaries, deeds, genealogies, contracts, wills, autobiographies, letters, official minutes or records, permits, licenses, affidavits depositions, declarations’, proclamations certificates, lists, bills, handbills, receipts, newspapers and magazines, accounts, maps diagrams, books, pamphlets, catalogs, films, pictures, paintings, recordings, transcriptions and research reports.
       Þ   Remains or relics associated with a person, group, or period, fossils, skeletons, tools, weapons, food utensils, clothing, buildings, furnitures, pictures, paintings coins and art objects are examples of these relics and remains that were not deliberately intended for use in transmitting information or as records. However, these sources may provide clear evidence about the past. The content of an ancient burial place, for instance may reveal a great deal of informations about the way of life of people-their food, clothing, tools, weapons, art, religious beliefs, means of livelihood and customs.
        2.     Secondary Sources of Data
It is necessary in some historical research studies to begin with secondary data and to work well when primary source of data is not available, e.g., text-books, encyclopaedia, bibliographies.
         Þ   In the words of Kerlinger
“A secondary source is an account or record of an historical event or circumstance one or more steps removed from an original history.
        Þ   Secondary sources are the reports of a person who relates the testimony of actual witness of, or participant in an event. The writer of the secondary source was not on the scene of the event, but merely reports what the person who was there said or wrote. Secondary sources of data are usually of limited worth for research purposes be because of the error that may result when information is passed on from one person to another. Most history books and encyclopedia’s are examples of secondary sources.

       Þ  Some types of material may be secondary sources for some purposes and primary sources for other, e.g., a high school text-book in American History is ordinary of a secondary source. But if one was making a study of the changing emphasis on nationalism in high school American history textbooks, the book will be a primary document or source of data.