Sources Of History

Last time we introduced a new academic session – History and we talk about Introduction to history, we defined what history is, levels of history, central issue of history, scholars and philosophers that worked on history and also additional materials{ebook} that serves as an emblishement to the class session. Our today’s topic on history is sources of history and introduction to Nigerian history. I mean where are history actually gotten from?

Introduction To Nigerian History

last class we have already introduced history to ourselves, but if you are new, here is the class session: Introduction to history, therefore, there is no need for any introduction on history, so let go to sources of history generally including Nigerian history.

Sources Of History

Note: we will be discussing about sources of all countries history. That is, generally “Sources Of History.
The word “sources” in history refers to the records from which information about the process and the studies of past events (history) are obtained. Without these sources, the historian would not be able to get facts with which to write. Historian depends on sources in order to understand historical events. Sources of history are many and varied, hence they are often classified. Here, we shall examine the primary, secondary and tertiary sources.

Primary Souces

Primary sources contain materials or information which is the direct experience or original thought of the writer or the person giving the writer the information he is recording. Examples of primary sources include oral tradition, oral testimonies and rumors.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are materials or works based on primary source. Examples are written sources like books, journals, diaries, ledgers and newspapers.

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources are auxiliary souces that cover a wide range of relevant information from other disciplines like linguistics, Archaeology, Biology and anthropology.

Now let explain the examples of those souces.

Oral Tradition

Oral tradition constitute a major part of oral sources. It may be primary or secondary sources. This means orally preserved information. They are any piece of historical information transmitted by word of mouth or verbally and passed from generation to generation. These includes folklores, proverbs, songs, legends, oral narratives and king lists.

b} Oral testimonies are more recent accounts of the past transmitted by word of mouth.

c} Rumors are oral sources transmitted from person to person with special function of giving the latest information about the present events.

Importance Of Oral Souces

a} Oral tradition and oral sources are basic in the reconstruction of Nigerian history. They are the most abundant sources and they exist in every part of the country. In the absence of other sources, oral traditions are valuable as they become the only source of information for the history of that particular area.

b} Oral sources are important, in varying degree, for all aspects of the periods of Nigerian history{all countries per say} – political, economic and social.

c} They constitute the main body of Nigerian{all countries per say} historical data especially before the colonial period. Sometimes, some of the stories or legend may help an archaeologist to confirm a find or discovery and thus throw some light on the history of the area.

Shortcomings Or Limitations Of Oral Sources

a} One of the major limitations of oral sources is the problem of human memory and tendency to forget important facts. The more distant the occurrence of events in the past the more difficult they are to recall. Due to this, a narrator may forget details of an event with regard to the sequence, dates and other relevant facts relating to a particular event.

b} Oral traditions can be easily prone to exaggeration and distortions. The political, economic and cultural changes brought about by colonial rule and colonial situations have affected attitudes to and contents of traditions. Political consideration may lead a narrator to distort the fact of an event. Changing relationships between communities led to changes in tranditions. Similar changes within the community produced disputes over chieftaincies, title to land and status.

Written Sources

Written sources, like oral sources, may be primary or secondary. They are derived from all official and legal documents, diaries, letters, newspapers, industrial and commercial records.

Advantages Or Merits Of Written Sources

Written sources have a relatively high preservative value when compared with oral sources. They last for a long time without being destroyed especially if they are safety kept. Examples are the various accounts or records written by missionaries, Arab scribes, and explorers.
Written sources have the advantage of being able to communicate the same type and quality of information to readers at different periods or times without depreciation or distortion of the content as is usually the case with oral tradition. In other words, a collection of averagely intelligent men will most likely interpret a written text almost the same way many centuries after being written. Examples of these are the Quaran and the Holy Bible.

b} There is no problem of loss of memory in written sources unlike oral sources.

c} Written sources are not easily prone to distortion once they have been written and well kept.

d} Another advantages of written sources is that written materials are easily accessible unlike tertiary sources.

Disadvantages Or Demerits Or Limitations Of Written Sources

a} Written sources are not evenly distributed in time and space. For example, some of them are usually not relevant to Nigerian history before the coming of the Europeans. Thus the period before the early fifteenth century lacks clear and precise illumination because there were no written records.

b} Some of the written accounts of Nigerian history by Europeans are sometimes biased. Some were written to suit political or racial interest and this error may be taken up by later generations as authentic truth.

c} Written sources can sometimes be corrupted in the process of preservation, if proper care is not taken. It can also be lost through destruction by fire, rain or insects if not properly preserved.

d} Some people, like government officials, sometimes deliberately destroy documents.


Archaeology can be defined as the study of dug up materials. Applied to history, it is a method of studying the past through the relics dug up from the ground. This consists of materials remains of human beings in the past such as building, tools for domestic use, skeletal remains, fossils, bones of animals and the likes. These are all important sources for social economic and political history.

Advantages Or Merits Of Archaeology

a} Archaeology can extend our knowledge about Nigerian past deeper than written or oral sources. For example, object made of stone can survive over a long period of time.

b} Archaeology provides powerful concrete evidence of human achievement and activities dating back to thousands of years.

c} Also, buried artifacts are significant point of reference in measuring civilization especially where oral and written sources are not available.

d} It also has the ability to provide data out of which absolute dates may be calculated through analytical tools and techniques from other disciplines.

Disadvantages Or Demerits Or Limitations Of Archaeology

a} One of the major limitations of archaeology is that many materials do not survive. Only materials which cannot perish lend themselves to study and as a result there may be scarcity of materials to study. A lot of perishable decomposed materials elude the archaeologist.

b} The centre of civilization may shift from one place to another, thereby making the availability of archaeological materials a derivation of chance. That is, archaeological materials are not found everywhere. Some place are rich in them while others are remarkably poor.

c} Archaeology cannot furnish as much detailed information as written sources. For example, the chronology derived from archaeology is often imprecise.

d} Besides, archaeologists tend to study communities rather than individuals. Enrol For Big history Course – The course talk about everything about the history of earth, life and society.

That is all on sources of history, and introduction to Nigerian history. Visit Our Resources Page to see academic materials to lay hands on. For any questions use the comment box and don’t forget to suscribe to candidates mailing list [wd_hustle id=candidates-mailing-lists type=popup]you can click here to suscribe[/wd_hustle] Thank You.

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