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  • #2


    'History' as a discipline cannot exist without primary sources. History and literacy go hand in hand so without primary source material there is no 'history'.

    Generally we break the study of the past into 3 categories:

    1) Pre-History : The preserve of the archaeologists and folklorists - this refers to the study of a culture/people before they were literate i.e they produced no written records = no primary sources.
    2) Proto-History : When written references are made to a particular people by literate 'foreigners' -( in the case of Ireland these are usually Greek and Roman sources) - but there are no indigenous written records. These 'foreign' records are usually not the result of actual experience - so are more 'hearsay'.
    3) History : The arrival of literacy results in a society producing documents which relate to itself. In Ireland Proto - History and History overlap slightly. Irish History proper is generally deemed to begin with the arrival of Christianity, specifically two documents ascribed to St Patrick - Confessions and Letters as they were written in Ireland. However, Prospero of Tiro wrote of Palladius being despatched in 431 to minister to the Christians living in Ireland. This is prior to the arrival of Patrick so there may have been documents which failed to survive.

    Long winded reply - to summarise: History as a discipline can only exist where there are primary sources. Without Primary sources there can be no secondary sources as these are essentially interpretations of the evidence contained in the Primary sources.

  • #2

    There is a good description of primary and secondary sources for beginners here:
    Primary Sources

    People use original, first-hand accounts as building blocks to create stories from the past. These accounts are called primary sources, because they are the first evidence of something happening, or being thought or said.

    Primary sources are created at the time of an event, or very soon after something has happened. These sources are often rare or one-of-a-kind. However, some primary sources can also exist in many copies, if they were popular and widely available at the time that they were created.

    All of the following can be primary sources:

    Video and film
    Sound recordings
    Published first-hand accounts, or stories

    Secondary Sources

    Second-hand, published accounts are called secondary sources. They are called secondary sources because they are created after primary sources and they often use or talk about primary sources. Secondary sources can give additional opinions (sometimes called bias) on a past event or on a primary source. Secondary sources often have many copies, found in libraries, schools or homes.

    All of the following can be secondary sources, if they tell of an event that happened a while ago:

    History textbooks
    Published stories
    Movies of historical events
    Music recordings

  • #2

    ah Sources- they are tricky beasts.

    To try and simplify it a bit(!)

    - a primary source is both contemporary with the events it refers to AND relevant to what appears to have happened. Think of them as 'eye witness' statements and corroborating evidence of those statements.

    Take the downfall and execution of Mary I of Scotland - one of her loudest critics was John Knox so we would follow that thread to see what he had to say and try and work out why he said it. The all important Who/What/When/Where/Why I have referred to before.

    One of the first sources we'd look at is Knox's polemic The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women(1558) BUT that just tells us what he was ranting on about - not explain his motivation (apart from not believing women could rule!). So we would need to investigate Knox a bit more. This brings us to Geneva and Calvin. Lets have a look at what Calvin had to say so - it may shed light on Knox. Hmmm...still not quite satisfied with the background check on Knox - lets look at Luther and the break with Rome to see if that provides illumination as to what the hell was going on...

    Mary Stuart was raised in Catholic France with French ideas of the role of the monarch (so we'd have to look at those too!) and was a essentially a stranger to the Scottish lords and Scottish culture (need to find out about that too). Religion became one of the dividing lines within Scotland. So, Luther's (and Calvin's) writings have now become primary sources when investigating the execution of Mary Scots as they provide contextual detail.

    We can fairly safely assume when Luther wrote his 95 Thesis Scotland was the furthest thing from his mind BUT what he wrote sparked the formation of a new Christian religion - this opened the way for others to do likewise - cue Calvin. Knox studied in Geneva and developed a form of Calvinism known as Presbyterianism which he brought back to Scotland - So Calvin, Luther and Rome are now relevant to the investigation.

    As in any investigation, there are red herrings, tangents, dead ends as well as the possibility that someone 'saw' something but didn't realise the significance of it - Gotta find THAT document! (This explains the mumbling, distracted air of many historians - the eternal search for THAT document..also may explain why I can never remember where I parked my car).

    On an amusing note Knox's anti-female rulers polemic came to bite him in the ass - he was looking for a pension from Elizabeth I - she was a widely read, well educated, highly intelligent woman. Yup - she had him squirming like a spit on a griddle! ('Oooch Nooo, yer Majesty - I didna mean yoo. I meant wimmun named Mary who were nasty servants of the Anti-Christ in RRRRome de yen ken.' 'What's that you say oh Bountiful and Glorrrrious queen? - yer big sister was named Mary and a .... um..... Aye.'. )

    Secondary sources would be more akin to 'hearsay' - people commenting on things they did not witness themselves but 'heard' about. Sometimes there may be primary sources which corroborate the secondary, sometimes not.

    This brings us to the Annals of the Four Masters (available here and the Lebor Gabála Érenn (Macailister's trans here:

    The Four Masters is both a Secondary source and a Primary source - it is a primary source for the events which occurred during the life of the authors which they would have had personal knowledge - so the end of Tudor period, beginning of the Stuart, Counter-Reformation, Battle of Kinsale etc etc. So lets say 1560s onward.

    BUT The Masters is essentially a 17th century compilation of other older Annals (most of which no longer exist) making it also secondary source. It also had an 'editorial' policy which influenced what went in, what was left out and phraseology. But then so did all the other Annals - Loch Cé was written by the Mac Diarmuid's of Roscommon -it sings the praises of the Mac Diarmuids and their allies and slams their enemies.
    Indeed, I should point out that ALL sources have some form of editorial policy at play - not just the Annals!

    In some instances entries are verified by other extant Annals such as Loch Cé (here also:

    In other instances there is not another source to provide verification, or other Annals tell a completely different story so the Masters are contradicted , or the entry cannot possible be correct (for example The Masters states Risteard in Iarann á Búrc was Mac Uilliam Íochtair in the 1550s - it was in fact his father, Iron Dick did not become Mac Uilliam until 1580).

    Usually, however, the Masters provides additional information which when used in conjunction with other Gaelic sources AND the State Papers, private letters of Tudor/Stuart administrators etc helps give a more balanced and nuanced amount of evidence. A great deal of work is now being done on The Masters by Nollaig O Muraile in NUIG and Bernie Cunningham of the RIA. Sadly, the wonderful Annals of Loch Cé are still neglected while the Annals of Clonmacnoise are all but forgotten.

    The Lebor Gabála is the origin myth of the Gaelic people (NOT Celtic as is so often claimed). Like the Masters it is a compilation - this time from the 11th century. So it pre-dates the Norman invasion. It tends to be discounted as unsupported 'myth' - however it is a very valuable primary source for the immediate pre-invasion period as it tells us who the 'Irish' believed they were. This document displays an enormous sense of pride and is the result of a mini Gaelic renaissance which was happening at the time as different claimants to the High Kingship engaged in not just military tactics but a very serious game of cultural one upmanship - each wished to prove that their lineage was the most noble and ancient; their patronage of artists, poets, historians the most enlightened; their hospitality the most bountiful; their ruthlessness the most absolute; their military might the most powerful; their alliances the most steadfast and their education the most complete. They were, in short, attempting to portray themselves as what would later be called Renaissance Princes (think Henry VIII and François I in the Early Modern Period) but their cultural touchstone was not the ancient Classical world - but the Ancient Gaelic one. The Lebor Gabála was part of this whole process and any historian of the Irish Mediaeval period ignores it at their peril (tho many do just that...).

    So once again we have a document that is both a primary source and a secondary one - but unlike The Masters, Lebor Gabála is usually consigned to mythology. Yet, recent projects in DNA mapping have confirmed at least some of the information contained in LG - traditionally the Irish are classified as Celtic people following an invasion by Celts (defined as a nomadic, tribal people who populated large sections of Central Europe in the pre-Roman era) from either Gaul or Britain c 2500 BCE - Archaeologists have long argued against this hypothesis as it is just not supported by the evidence and insist instead that the artefacts point towards a notable influence on Gaelic Irish artefacts by an outside (probably Celtic) source. The alternate hypothesis now being put forward says that people arrived on the Island of Ireland c6 -4,000 BCE - around that latter date agriculture began so at they 'shipped' domestic animals over as none were available here. This demonstrates the existence of not inconsiderable sailing skills AND contact with either/and Britain and the Continent. We also know that copper from Kerry was highly valued and it has been found across Europe. So,while on bullock buying/copper exporting shipping duty, these people would see technological innovations in tools etc and bring that info back and try and work out how they did that... This process is evident in the axeheads etc of the period. For the invasion hypothesis to be correct - i.e the Island of Ireland was invaded by a technologically superior Celtic peoples who took over -the artefacts should show no evidence of 'trying to work it out' but rather a very abrupt jump from inferior to superior technology.

    So the LG states that the Gaelic people came to Ireland from what is now Spain - it is VERY clear on that - not Britain or Gaul. DNA mapping has confirmed this - anyone manage to stay awake as a certain celebratory gardener waffled through RTE's Blood of the Irish? - that was the point of the programme. The Irish share far more DNA markers with the Basques then with Central Europeans -who would have the 'Celtic' markers. The up shot of that long waffle (Sorry - I get carried away!! :o) is that information in the Lebor Gabála long dismissed as fantasy has now been verified by modern scientific techniques.

    As for why these sources are often ignored -the Great Ken Nicholls has often maintained this is due to an inverted racism within Irish historiography which perceives Anglo sources as more reliable and Gaelic ones containing nothing of worth. Over the course of the last few years of examining in detail the types of sources used in Irish historiography I have come to fully support Nicholl's position.

  • #2

    History Citiations.
    I’ve started a course to keep current in history (pun intended). So back to learning about Citations, which while academically needful, are something I’ve always have issues with. So sharing best practice in case others are in a similar situation:

    1 - Preferred option is to use the Harvard system.

    In essence it is Author/Date
    Nufnell, Olga. 1984. Studies on Scarab Seals II: Scarabs Seals and Their Contribution to History in the Early Second Millennium B.C. Warminster: Aris and Phillips Ltd.

    2 - For Ancient/Classical era books/woks

    Abbreviated Name of Author, Work, Book.Chapter.Section(s)
    Example: Xenophon, Hellenica book 1, chapter 3, section 2 would be: Xen. Hell. 1.3.2

    Abbreviated Name of Author, Work, Book.Poem.Line(s)
    Example: Virgil, Aeneid book 1, lines 1-3 would be: Virg. Aen. 1.1-3

    You can find the full list in the Oxford Classical Dictionary:

    Outside of academia, Citations are not as rigorously used but within lacking will get one docked marks.

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