Primary Sources

Library guide defining Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources
Help Guides from other universities can also help -
              What are primary sources?  from Yale University

A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the period being studied. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event.  Also included are works created later by an eyewitness or a participant in an event, e.g. memoirs/autobiographies.

Types of primary sources:

    Original documents (including excerpts and translations): diaries, speeches, manuscrips, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records, ancient literature, magazine and newspaper articles.
    Creative works: poetry, drama, novels, printed music, sound recordings, art.
    Relics or artefacts: pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings.
    Statistics and raw data
    Reproductions, facsimiles or replicas of original documents, creative works or artefacts are also acceptable as primary sources.

 Examples of primary sources:

Finding primary sources in the library collection

  1.  Original documents can be found by consulting the Archives and Special Collections (ARC) website.
  2.  Reproductions can be found by checking Omni.

Use specific words to locate primary sourcees in the library's search tool, such as: correspondence, sources, diaries, letters, personal naratives. KEYWORD search examples:

  • [PERSON’S NAME] AND correspondence
  • [PERSON’S NAME] AND diaries
  • [PERSON’S NAME] AND letters
  • [KEYWORD] AND  sources

In the library's electronic and microform collections

  • Early English Books Online
  • Canadiana
  • Peel's Prairie Provinces
  • CIHM (Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions)    
         Microfiche reproductions from the time of the first European settlers to the 1920s. Items can be searched in Omni by entering relevant KEYWORDS or SUBJECTS and adding AND CIHM to the search

Historical Digital Newspapers

Government Information

For more assistance, go to the Government Information Webpages

Available on the Internet

Original documents are usually unique, so they are kept in a place of preservation such as archives and libraries Archives Canada, Library and Archives Canada, ARCHEION, and Archives of Ontario. Many of these institutions have undertaken digitization projects to make their holdings more accessible. This is only a select list of websites that have primary sources available free on the Web.

Various speeches by Canadian Prime Ministers

For American primary sources, see the Subject Guide: American History: Finding and Using Primary Sources, Newspapers and Archives.

Centre for Research Libraries

The Center for Research Libraries (CRL)
A great institution to check for historical documents, newspapers, journals, archives and other sources. "The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) is a consortium of North American universities, colleges, and independent research libraries. The consortium acquires and preserves newspapers, journals, documents, archives, and other traditional and digital resources for research and teaching and makes them available to member institutions through interlibrary loan and electronic delivery." Carleton University Library is a mermber of CRL.

Content last reviewed: January 26, 2021