Archaeology Nigeria

Sources of Writing History Explained

Written by Tadese Faforiji

History as a Discipline

History is simply the study of the past to know the present and determine the future. It is an unending dialogue in human society. The essence of studying history is to be aware of the past events; how, when, where, and when did different events occur, and what lessons could be learned from the occurrence. And the origin of historical piece is the source of history. That is, history comes from different sources before it is sustained.

The sources of history are primary sources and secondary sources. The primary sources are the firsthand form of historical sources. They are the original contents that birth other sources. Examples of primary sources of writing history are oral traditions, folklore, myth, legends, and others. Oral traditions, for an instance, are the most cited type of primary source.

Historical Sources

Oral traditions are words that are passed from mouth to mouth for over a generation. The difference between oral traditions and oral history lies in the duration of their existence; oral history can fade within a few periods of time, while oral tradition is maintained for at least over a generation. In other words, oral history becomes oral tradition if it lasted for at least a century.

One of the basic sources of writing history is archaeological sources. Archaeology is the scientific study of the human past by using material culture.

That is, archaeologist interprets excavated materials to relate the past of people. For an instance, the excavated materials in Nigerian sites are interpreted by Thurstan Shaw to relate the prehistoric interpretation of Nigeria in the Groundwork of Nigerian History.

This source of writing history is the use of relics left by the early settlers to interpret history. These are artifacts of different kinds, including building remains, fossils, skeletons, paintings, sculptures, stones or rocks, desiccated vegetables, seeds of plants, and others.

The geographical source is also one of the significant sources of writing history. Geography simply is the study of the natural features, including waters, rivers, streams, mountains, topography, climate, weather, and others. It is the source that relates history based on the provisions of the environment at a particular period of time.

The absence of geographical barriers in the northwestern part of Nigeria has a lot to do with the history of the northerners, for an instance. The implication of the absence of any physiographic barriers was that, over time; there was uncontrollable influx of migrants into northern Nigeria. Climatological and topographical data could be used to provide historical information.

Geographical features of a place determined the cause of the history of such place by relating the patterns of human development over time in terms of the provisions their environment provided.

Significantly, linguistic evidence is also a source of history. Linguistics, which studies the meaning of words, could help in the cause of chronologically examining the relations of diverse societies at a particular period of time.

The linguistic evidence confirmed the inter-group relations between the Wangara traders from the Songhay Empire and the Hausa states in the 15th century, through some common vocabularies like Gwari, Goro, and others which were of Mande origin[1]. Linguistic evidence, therefore, sheds more light on issues like cultural divergence and the spread of population over a particular period of time.

The secondary source of history is the interpretation of the first-hand primary source. Examples are printed materials like books, journals, articles, newspapers, magazines, and other published works like projects and thesis.

“Secondary sources describe, summarize, or discuss information or details originally presented in another source; meaning the author, in most cases, did not participate in the event.” [2]

Archival materials are material information stored in archives. Archival source of history is the historical information that is derived and collected through archives. The National Archives of Nigeria is located at three sites: Ibadan, Enugu, and Kaduna.[3]

These places duly represent the former administrative division of Nigeria; Ibadan for the then Western Region, Enugu for the Eastern Region, and Kaduna for the Northern Region. Notably, the largest archives is that of Ibadan.

Citation: Tadese Faforiji. Sources of Writing History Explained. 11/09/2021. Tadexprof. https://tadexprof.com/2021/09/sources-of-writing-history-explained/


[1] Lovejoy, Paul E. “The Role of the Wangara in the Economic Transformation of the Central Sudan in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries.” The Journal of African History, vol. 19, no. 2, 1978, pp. 173–193. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/181597. Accessed 11 Sept. 2021.

[2] Northcentral University Library.  Primary and Secondary Sources. https://ncu.libguides.com/researchprocess/primaryandsecondary

[3] Simon Heap. Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 May 2014. The Nigerian National Archives, Ibadan: An Introduction for Users and a Summary of Holdings. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/history-in-africa/article/abs/nigerian-national-archives-ibadan-an-introduction-for-users-and-a-summary-of holdings1/13F34DA113046C44FF9F4887ECA32F66

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About the author

Tadese Faforiji

I am Tadese Faforiji, a history student of the prestigious Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State- 21st-century University, properly called. I am a blogger and an avid writer.

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