Wednesday, June 28, 2006
An attempt at explaining sources to someone on the Rialto
A primary source is the object itself- a kimono verified as being dated to X for example- you look yourself at where the seams are, how they are sewn, feel the silk material and determine the weight and weft of it. You make your own understanding of what is a kimono from X by directly interacting with it. This is of course the ideal.
A secondary source is someone else telling you about their interactions with a primary source. Someone who is a curator of a museum for instance that has a lot of kimonos, not only from X, but Y and Z, and is willing to tell you (either directly via book or web page) the differences, construction techniques, etc. But they may not know something about these kimonos that is vital to you personally- like how the knot is tied at the end of the seam and are the ends of the thread tucked away, or did they use a loop start and sew the threads back in on themselves. Many describers of garb don't get that detailed, but if you want to make something as accurate as possible, you may want that detail. However, secondary sources are great compilers of data that you may not otherwise realize or have access to, so it's important to see a lot of secondary sources.
Tertiary sources read a lot of secondary sources and compile their own set of data to share based on other people's thoughts about the subject. All research papers tend to be this way by necessity. If you read the same bibliography, you may come to different conclusions than another person reading the same data. I read a lot of plumbing research. Some of the secondary and tertiary sources would rather write for the punchline than for the actual facts, and this makes figuring out which is true and which is twisted to fit the joke very difficult. If you read the whole bibliography about kimonos, and then explore to find old kimonos in garage sales or other cheap sales (I've bought bulk kimonos in buying silk by the pound from a Japanese dealer), and find that there is a flaw in that website's research, that's not a perfect source for your kimono information. Rather, you should take that other person's research and build on your information on the subject and go from there. See what you can find of museums, books, magazines, and even more websites.
Translations also add one more step to the distance between you and the original, because it's hard to have a perfect translation.
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