n Mousaion - Augmenting conventional sources with alternative sources in research : an analysis of historical dissertations and theses from universities in South Africa

Volume 32, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0027-2639



In most historical research works, conventional sources are used. In most cases these are primary sources (eg, professionally obtained archaeological material, rock art, archival records and oral evidence) and original documents (eg, newspapers, reports and diaries), as well as secondary sources (eg, books, journal articles, theses, etc). There is consensus among historical scholars that alternative sources, such as old objects, and artefacts (eg, machinery, wagons, epitaphs, etc), are not always used adequately in research as compared to conventional sources. Researchers point out that rich sources, including alternative sources, enhance the quality of the research outcome. This study investigated the use of alternative sources by master's and doctoral scholars in historical research at public universities in South Africa in order to compare the use thereof with the use of conventional sources. The study used a non-reactive research method, that is, content analysis of 93 selected master's and doctoral historical research works from public universities in South Africa, to investigate the extent to which conventional sources are used at the expense of alternative sources. The study findings revealed that historical researchers preferred using conventional sources to alternative sources, which were used in only four theses. The study concluded that the use of alternative sources can enrich historical research works as well as augmenting conventional sources. A further study to investigate why researchers do not use alternative sources is recommended. In addition to historical research, the study model can be extended to fields of study such as Sociology, Anthropology and Archaeology.

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