of sources of information for the research of history of science
History of science researchers make use of several different types of documents,
that can be divided into primary, secondary and tertiary sources of information.
distinction is usually quite clear. If a historian is studying Robert Mayer's
contribution to the law of energy conservation, then Mayer's own works,
his correspondence and other writings produced by contemporary scientists
will be regarded as primary sources. Recent books and articles on Mayer
and the conservation of energy will be secondary sources. A bibliography
on the history of thermodynamics will be a tertiary source of information.
sources are the documents produced during the period studied by
the historian, by the persons whom he is studying. In the case of history
of science, this includes the original scientific works of the period,
correspondence, original scientific instruments, etc.
sources are the documents produced by historians (or other similar
people), generally grounded upon primary sources. Secondary sources provide
indirect information and analysis of a historical subject. In the case
of history of science, this includes books, articles and theses on history
of science – that is, historiography of science. Biographies are also secondary
sources, except in the case of autobiographies.
sources are the instrument that allow historians to find relevant
primary and secondary sources. They include bibliographies, databases,
library catalogues, etc.
Both primary, secondary and tertiary sources may be either published or
unpublished, although one rarely deals with unpublished secondary sources.
FOOTNOTES AND COMMENTS
Most historians of science are
familiar with the distinction between primary and secondary sources. "Tertiary
sources" is a new category, that is becoming more and more usual among
historians, librarians and information technicians. See, for instance:
DATABASES ON HISTORY OF SCIENCE SOURCES
for the Development of Databases
de Andrade Martins
Group of History, Theory of Science and Teaching
Document version 1, 21 April 2003