There are two kinds of history writing: primary-source-based and secondary-source-based. Primary-source material is material that was directly involved in the events it describes. It can include letters, journals, and other personal documents. Secondary-source material is material that interprets or explains primary sources. For example, a book might be considered secondary source material because it requires interpretation to understand what it is saying.
Primary-source material is usually more informative than secondary-source material. This is because people tend to forget things that happened earlier in time. So by looking at what someone wrote down at the time of an event, we can learn more about what they probably also thought about later on in life. For example, Thomas Jefferson's letters are a valuable source of information about the founding of our country because he was there when these events were happening. His letters also show how he felt about them later on in life when writing about them himself.
Secondary-source material may not give you all the details of what happened but it can help you put things into context. For example, reading about some famous people from years ago may not give you much information about current events but it can help you understand why certain things happen now.
Primary sources are materials that are current with the event being studied, such as newspapers, letters, court documents, or historical reports based on interviews with real participants in the events. Secondary sources are materials that do not directly study the event being analyzed but provide information about it, such as books, articles, and databases.
The three main types of primary-source-based history writing are biography/autobiography, diary, and narrative. Biographies and autobiographies are written by one person who studies and analyzes the life of another person. Diaries are written by only one person, like Anne Frank's Diary. Narratives are stories told by an author or authors about real people or events. Historians often use narratives to explain what happened during a period of time.
Secondary sources are used instead when you need information about many people or events. Historians use histories written by other people to learn more about the past. Some examples of secondary sources include books, articles, and databases.
Finally, historians also use evidence from physical remains such as buildings, objects, and archeological sites to help them understand what happened in the past. This type of evidence is called documentary evidence.
Sources written Contemporary letters, eyewitness reports, official documents, political declarations and decrees, administrative texts, and histories and biographies produced during the era under study are all examples of primary textual sources. Secondary sources include works that rely on or refer to evidence found in primary sources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, and books about historical events or people.
In addition to first-hand accounts, other important types of historical evidence include: ruins and artifacts left by past civilizations; physical changes observed in the Earth's surface (for example, evidence of flooding or desertification); and anthropological remains (such as bones or teeth) that provide information about ancient people.
In modern times, historians use a variety of different methods to uncover information about the past. They may conduct oral interviews with witnesses of past events or with experts who can provide insight into how things were done back then, they may visit sites where important events took place, or they may simply analyze government records, archives materials, and other documents.
For example, a historian studying early modern France might look at official French documents registers (such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death notices) to learn about social hierarchy, religion, education, economics, science, medicine, art, and culture in this period.