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Applied Humanities: Primary Sources

Our guide for Applied Humanities students - helping you make the most of the library

Introduction to primary sources

In Arts and Humanities study, we use the term 'primary source' to mean anything that you are analysing or interpreting as an object of study. Simple examples of this might be:

  • an artefact - such as a piece of jewellery from the Staffordshire Hoard, the Bayeux tapestry or a painting by Botticelli
  • a literary text - such as a novel or collection of poetry; or even a film
  • a historical document or religious text - such as a diary or a report written at the time of the events; or the Bible, Qu'ran, etc.

'Secondary sources' are sources that seek to comment on, explain, interpret or analyse primary sources. Your essays are secondary sources in this way, as are the academic books and articles that you use to support your arguments.

Yes, absolutely. As an Applied Humanities student, you will be looking at changes in the ways that humans have shaped and understood the world around them. This means that secondary sources can be interrogated as primary sources as well.

An example might be a book or a journal article about Colonialism in the 19th century, written in the 1950s, which you are analysing from today's perspectives.

What makes the difference is how you are using the source: if you're using the ideas it contains as a way of supporting your interpretation of another text or object, then you are usually using it as a secondary source. If you are using other texts to comment on, explain, interpret or analyse it as cultural or historical phenomenon, then you are using it as a primary source.

Primary sources online at Birmingham Newman

NEW! Drama Online

Birmingham Newman staff and students can now access three collections from the fantasitc Drama Online resource.

Nick Hern Books –
Modern Plays collection

Online access to over 600 playscripts from some of the best British and Irish theatre writing talent, including Pheobe Waller-Bridge, Mike Bartlett and debbie tucker green. Texts include new adapatations and translations of older texts as well as brand new writing exploring historical and contemporary issues.

Critical Studies and
Performance Practice collection

Over 400 academic and critical texts exploring literary as well as performance theory and practice from antiquity, through to Shakespeare studies and modern drama and stagecraft. This collection also contains the PATAZ – the Physical Actor Training A-Z – a series of videos to provide training and exploration of acting skills and stagecraft concepts.

Shakespeare Globe On Screen
Collection 1 (2008-2015)

Early Modern Drama brought to life by some of the best directors and actors in the business. This collection features 20 of Shakespeare's plays, as well as Doctor Faustus by Marlowe, filmed in London's two unique reconstructed early-modern theatres.

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