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Historical Sources: Definition, Nature and Types

History is reconstructed through scientific studies using reliable sources to obtain historical facts. Historical sources are records of past events that can be used as the basis for historical reconstruction. 

The first stage in the historical method is the heuristic, which is the process of gathering sources related to the historical events to be written about. While the second stage of the historical method is verification, sorting historical sources based on their type and credibility.

We can conclude that historical sources are an important part of historical writing. Whether historical works are good or not is based on how we look for and manage sources.

Historical Sources By Nature

Historical sources can be classified based on their nature into three parts, namely primary, secondary and tertiary. This property describes where the source was obtained and how credible the source is.

1. Primary Source

Primary sources are references or data obtained from historical witnesses who were directly present at the event. So that his testimony can be believed to be true in explaining the incident. Primary sources can be in the form of objects, written, oral, or audiovisual as long as they really come from people who can be categorized as historical witnesses. The duplication of the original source can still be said to be a primary source as long as no changes are made to the content.

Some examples of primary sources are, for example, Under the Flag of the Revolution (1959) by President Soekarno; Ciaruteun inscription in Bogor; or Report on Trade Activities of the Port of Banjarmasin during the reign of the Kingdom of Banjar compiled by the kingdom.

2. Secondary Source

Secondary sources are references obtained from people who know about a historical event, but are not direct witnesses or contemporaries. So that the testimony needs to be compared with primary sources whether they provide the same explanation or not.

Secondary sources at present are also in the form of research which includes incident reports (primary) as the main reference in their writing. Usually primary sources are attempts to analyze and find a synthesis between several primary sources related to certain events.

An example of a secondary source is a book by Dr. HJ de Graaf entitled The Killing of Captain Tack (1989) and the Disintegration of Mataram Under Amangkurat I (1987)

3. Tertiary Source

Tertiary sources are references that contain compilations from primary and secondary sources. This kind of reference is widely used for historical learning which is lighter and more popular compared to scientific sources.

However, it is also possible that tertiary sources will become a door for obtaining secondary and primary sources. Some forms of tertiary sources include archive or library catalogs, encyclopedias, textbooks, bibliographies, and directories.

Historical Sources by Type

Historical sources can also be distinguished by type. In this case, historical sources are divided into classifications according to their forms. Each of these forms of historical sources also has its classification as primary or secondary sources. At least the types of historical sources are divided into four types, namely:

1. Object Source

Source objects are cultural heritage objects made by humans in the past. Where from these objects we can get information related to events related to these objects.

Material sources can provide important information, for example as evidence of how civilizations developed or what activities humans usually carried out somewhere in the past. Examples of object sources include the Great Mosque of Demak, Avalokiteswara Statue, Prambanan Temple, and Square Axe.

2. Written Source

Written sources are references to find historical facts found in writing. This written source can be found even from ancient times such as the Talang Tuo Inscription or the Pararaton Book. The information contained in these sources is what we refer to as a historical reconstruction.

In addition to its contents, historians also need to look at the physical aspect (external criticism), for example the way of writing, language style, or other patterns that are appropriate to the time the writing was issued. In general, written sources include the following objects:
  • Newspapers, magazines and books by historical witnesses;
  • Archives, minutes of meetings and government documents;
  • Inscription;
  • books;
  • Autobiography;

3. Oral Source

Oral sources are references obtained from interviews or certain information given by historical witnesses. Information can also be obtained from contemporaries who are close to the events that occurred. 

Apart from being a source, this oral source can also enrich the writings produced by historians. The tendencies and emotions of the sources in telling stories can be a different color in these historical works.

4. Audiovisual Sources

Audiovisual sources are new media sources which are usually in the form of recordings of past events or primary information. Such sources are created with the aim of conserving resources that could be damaged, lost, or destroyed. Even though it is in the form of new media, this certainly does not eliminate the value of audiovisual sources as a primary source for research.

Audiovisual sources include sound recordings, photos and videos in physical form as well as digital multimedia. For example, the video recording of President Suharto's resignation speech on May 21, 1998 or the sound recording of the proclamation of independence of the Republic of Indonesia in 1945.