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Secondary source and secondary literature

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Is a film adaptation of a novel a secondary source for that novel? [Jul 2006]


Secondary sources is a term used in historical scholarship to refer to works of history written as synthetic accounts, based on primary sources and usually the consultation of other secondary sources. Most scholarly, historical monographs published today are secondary sources. Ideal secondary sources are usually characterized as both reporting events in the past as well as performing the function of generalization, analysis, synthesis, interpretation, and/or evaluation of the events.

An example of a secondary source would be the biography of a historical figure which constructed a coherent narrative out of a variety of primary source documents, such as letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, and official records. It would also likely utilize additional secondary sources (such as previously-written biographies) as well. Most, but not all, secondary sources utilize extensive citation.

The distinction between a primary and a secondary source can often be one of usage. For example, biographies are generally considered to be secondary sources, but if a historian were writing a scholarly account of the history of biographical writing itself during in a certain location or period of time, they would become the primary sources for the study—the biographies themselves would become the documents to be analyzed as products of their time. Many secondary sources use other secondary sources as primary sources, in part because all secondary sources are themselves written "in their time" and within a given scholarly and cultural context, a characteristic which is usually more obvious in primary sources. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_source

In praise of secondary sources

The sheer quantity of printed information has for some time prevented any individual from fully absorbing even a minuscule fraction of it. Such devices as tables of contents, summaries, and indexes of various types, which aid in identifying and locating relevant information in primary literature, have been in use since the 16th century and led to the development of what is termed secondary literature during the 19th century. The purpose of secondary literature is to “filter” the primary information sources, usually by subject area, and provide the indicators to this literature in the form of reviews, abstracts, and indexes. Over the past 100 years there has evolved a system of disciplinary, national, and international abstracting and indexing services that acts as a gateway to several attributes of primary literature: authors, subjects, publishers, dates (and languages) of publication, and citations. The professional activity associated with these access-facilitating tools is called documentation. --http://wwwa.britannica.com/ebc/article-61658 [May 2006]

About a year ago I started to ask myself: "What would I rather do tonight, watch a movie or read about movies?" And unless there was a really worthwhile movie to see, I always preferred to read about movies. The same goes for literature, most of the time I would rather read about novels than read the novels themselves. Reading books can be very time consuming. A good solution is to see the movie based on the novel (I have recently seen Claude Chabrol's rather literal interpretation of Madam Bovary featuring Isabelle Huppert). An even better solution is to read about the novels through secondary sources. I have the secondary literature of people such as Colin Wilson, John Carey, Richard Davenport and Mario Praz in mind.

Richard Davenport-Hines wrote Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin (1999), an excellent introduction to the gothic novel and the gothic sensibility in general.

Colin Wilson has written at least two great books on literature: The Outsider (1956) which tackles the issue of outsiderism in literature and The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders (1988), which tells the story of sexual outsiderism in literature and philosophy.

John Carey has written The Intellectuals and the Masses (1992), which I am currently reading and in my opinion, this is the best introduction to modernist literature around.

Mario Praz compiled an excellent introduction to Romantic literature with Romantic Agony (1930).

In literary theory, the primary source is the novel or poem itself; the secondary source is literature about novels or poems. Most of these secondary sources contain citations and quotes from the primary sources.

In film theory, the secondary source is literature about films. And although there are some excellent books around on films, one cannot (as is possible in secondary sources on literature) include excerpts of films in a book. Basically what we are waiting for are DVD-anthologies that include excerpts and scenes of films, combined with textbooks or voice-over comments.

Nevertheless, some very good examples are already on the market. One can think of A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995), although I haven't seen it. Other examples I have seen and were among the better viewing experiences of last year include Baadasssss Cinema - A Bold Look at 70's Blaxploitation Films (2002) about 1970s blaxploitation films, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (2003) about New Hollywood, Inside Deep Throat (2005) about the making of Deep Throat (1972) including extensive background information on the mores of the times.

So on my whish list for 2007 are more secondary source material in books and DVDs. [May 2006]

See also: source - documentary - filter

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