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 Research Collections (ARC) website.
2. Reproductions can be found by checking the library catalogue.
Use specific words to locate primary sourcees in the Library catalogue, such as: correspondence, sources, diaries, letters, personal naratives. KEYWORD search examples:
- [PERSON’S NAME] and s:correspondence
- [PERSON’S NAME] and s:diaries
- [PERSON’S NAME] and s:letters
- [KEYWORD] and s:sources
Historical Digital Collections:
Documents range from Columbus' letter to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1494 to President Bill Clinton's inaugural address in 1993. The list is strongest in 18th and 20th century documents, but the whole of U.S. history is covered.
A collection of electronic texts originally written in or about the Americas from 1492 to approximately 1820.
The site has a wealth of American heritage materials.
Includes Archive of Early American Images, Maps, and Political Cartoons
A digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology.
This collection includes accurate transcriptions of many important and representative primary texts from nineteenth century American history, with special emphasis on those sources that shed light on sectional conflict and transformations in regional identity.
An online archive of digitized, full-image journal articles offering access to international scholarly literature in the humanities and social sciences disciplines. An excellent source for Primary Source journal articles. Articles date back to 1802.
Art and Culture
FBI documents on the Freedom Riders
Government and Politics
This collection comprises the most detailed primary source from the 19th century to the present for Britain, its colonies and the wider world. These are working documents of the governments for all areas of social, political, economic and foreign policy.
Provides access to primary resource material relating to US 20th century foreign policy.
Database of texts from the volumes of all the reports, documents, and journals of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. A rich source of primary source material on all aspects of American history.
Medicine and Science
From the National Library of Medicine (U.S.), includes a wide variety of formats. The collection includes portraits, photographs, caricatures, genre scenes, posters, and graphic art illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine dated from the 15th to 21st century.
Military and War
Some free records available here.
Thousands of rare, historic recordings and special features available through this free site. It includes early jazz, dance music and opera.
Over 7,000 U.S. and Canadian advertisements covering five product categories - Beauty and Hygiene, Radio, Television, Transportation, and World War II propaganda - dated between 1911 and 1955.
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
The Centre for Research Libraries (CRL) holds an extensive collection of foreign newspapers in microform including those from African nations. Borrow from CRL through Interlibrary Loans.
One of the most significant and little studied newspapers documenting early anti-slavery and other reform movements.
Digitized collection of thousands of anti-slavery and abolitionist materials.
Over 100 pamphlets and books published between 1772-1889 dealing with the legal status of slavery
HEARTH is a core electronic collection of books and journals in Home Economics and related disciplines. Titles were published between 1850 and 1950. Excellent primary sources such as Good Housekeeping and Harper's Bazaar among many others.
CENTER 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.
- History Wired (National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution)
A virtual tour of selected objects from the vast collections of the National Museum of American History.
An online database that allows users to search for manuscript material located throughout the United States. A useful starting point for archival research.
Provides links to state archives and historical societies in the United States.