Historical Research

Photograph of a frontier school Historical research answers the question, “How did things use to be?” When examining documents, historical researchers are faced with two key issues: primary versus secondary sources and external versus internal criticism.


A primary source was prepared by someone who was a participant or direct witness to an event. A secondary source was prepared by someone who obtained his or her information about an event from someone else.


External criticism refers to the authenticity of the document. Once a document has been determined to be genuine (external criticism), researchers need to determine if the content is accurate (internal criticism).


We conduct historical research for a number of reasons:

  • – to avoid the mistakes of the past
  • – to apply lessons from the past to current problems
  • – to use the past to make predictions about the present and future
  • – to understand present practices and policies in light of the past
  • – to examine trends across time

 Del Siegle, Ph.D.
University of Connecticut

updated 2/01/2024