Lincoln Discussion Symposium

Full Version: Primary source versus recycled information
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I'm hoping you all will help me with this one. I've started reading a book (not going to name it) and I'm only in it about 15 pages, but I'm starting to get annoyed and am wondering if I'm just a 'research snob' or if this is a legitimate complaint.

It appears the author only quotes other authors. Only books, no primary source material. Not even the date the original quote is attributed to Lincoln or someone else. For instance, on one page he said something to the effect that "during the dark days of the Civil War Lincoln said. . . " Well, excuse me, but most of the days of the Civil War were dark. I want to know which dark day he said that, what was the circumstance behind the quote, who did he say it to, why. Is that asking too much? I want to know where I can look up the original version of the story so I can see if the quoted author added his own opinion to the original quote.

I did a fair bit of original research into Aiken, and it really isn't that hard to find some primary source material; after all, if I had just quoted other authors exclusively, I'd have simply added alot of misinformation and passed if off as true.

Does this bug anybody but me?
Not being a writer, and having written nothing more significant than a term paper, I can understand why someone might feel it is adequate to use quotes from other "reliable" sources. Why re-invent the wheel? Why repeat what another competent researcher has already done?

Then you have books like "Dark Union" by Ray Neff. Vague footnotes quoting very questional sources (his original resources)
I'm reading Stanton's biography, written about 60+ years ago. A very good book. The authors have lots of footnotes referencing their sources. Many are letters in private collections. I would have no idea how to track those down

Your lucky after only 15 pages into your book you recognized it's shortcommings. I think it's reasonable to expect for most works of history, to acknowledge the primary source of the information in a footnote or chapter note.

(I wasn't much help was I?)
I always try and use primary source material when I can. Not only is it the grist of research, but it's the "skeleton" upon which the entire book is based and made. Primary source material should be utilized first. In Alias, as well in my upcoming Character Assassination, I make use of primary material first and as much as I can. Sure, I quote other references from books; i.e. Maxwell's When Lincoln Lay Dying for example, but then Maxwell's book is ALSO based on primary source material. I also resorted to the research work of others when it seems applicable; i.e. Steers, Kauffman, Lattimer, Oldroyd, Hall,Tidwell and Gaddy, etc., with proper credit of course. Trial transcripts are also primary source material, although they were in published format. Letters, documents in the National Archives, newspaper accounts (again, primary source material) are also utilized extensively. I also interviewed Powell's family for further documentation.

To me, the first thing I turn to in any historic work are the footnotes - I view them as a book within a book and many a time have found them useful for other sources as well!

Grand post, Christine!
It really depends on what the author is trying to do. If he/she presents the work as "new" or a challenge to previously held thought then it must be mainly primary material. However, if it is just a synthesis (like BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM) which is presented as such, the most relevant secondary material along with published primary material would suffice.
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