- 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:
Winston and Clementine; the personal letters of the Churchills
The Gladstone diaries
Economic effects of the war upon women and children in Great Britain [microform]
The Constitution of Canada
Newspaper article from the time an event occurred
Jane Austen's novel "Pride and Prejudice"
Photographic reproduction of artist Frederic Leighton's "Greek Girls Picking up Pebbles by the Sea"
A journal article reporting new research or finding
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
Covers many subjects. Browse subjects
Contains primary and secondary sourcesof a diverse range of sources, such as:
Nineteenth-century Ordnance Survey maps
Journals of the House of Lords and House of Commons
The Victoria County History of the counties of England
The Survey of London from English Heritage
Calendars of state papers
Letters, diaries and more
A collection of 19th-century books, periodicals, official documents and newspapers.
EEBO contains digital facsimile page images of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1700.
Collections of Celtic manuscripts from several Oxford libraries (manuscripts digitised in this phase date from the 9th to the 19th centuries, and are of Irish, Welsh, Cornish and Breton origin), and a broader range (dating from the 9th to the 16th centuries and of various origins).
A clearinghouse for discovering and sharing links to eighteenth-century primary materials and aims to build a database of bibliographically accurate records that link to freely-available texts online. Covers periodicals as well.
A digital collection of significant English-language and foreign-language titles printed in during the eighteenth century. Includes works published in Great Britain during the 18th C, along with thousands of important works from the Americas. A variety of materials are represented: books and directories, Bibles, sheet music, sermons, advertisements, and more.
Rare journals printed between 1685-1815, illuminating all aspects of eighteenth-century social, political and literary life.
The English Heritage Archive (photographs dating from the 1850s to the present day, ranging from architectural details to archaeological landscapes, from country houses to coal mines, covers counties from Cornwall to Northumberland)
Constitutional History of Great Britain.
Evidence of English daily life. Includes records and files as well as surveys, topic collections, diaries, books, essays and photographs.
List of Collections available HERE.
Aviation history from 1909-2004.
Crime and Punishment, Law
Digitized collection of more than 500 English broadsides dating from 1707 to 1891. Includes accounts of executions for such crimes as arson, assault, counterfeiting, horse stealing, murder, rape, robbery, and treason.
More than 100,000 of the most important early English cases that laid the foundation for the laws of nations under the British Empire.
The Newgate Calendar was a hugely popular publication of the 18th and 19th centuries. It was originally a monthly bulletin of executions, produced by the keeper of Newgate prison in London. Reprinted version of cases also available.
A fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court.
Data and Statistics
Data of Scottish wages and prices from 1550-1780.
Historical population (statistics census) reports from Britain and Ireland from 1801 to 1937.
Census information from 1926-1991.
Empire, Exploration and Travel
Searchable collection of primary source material relevant to the 1801 Act of Union between Ireland and Great Britain. Includes pamphlets, parliamentary papers, newspaper articles and manuscripts.
Arctic Blue Books online is a searchable version of Andrew Taylor's unique index to the 19th Century British Parliamentary Papers concerned with the Canadian Arctic.
The exhibition is a series of taped interviews -- conducted by Professors Frank de Caro and Rosan Augusta Jordan of the LSU English Department -- with British people who lived and worked in India before Independence in 1947. Collectively they provide a sort of "self-portrait" of a colonial subculture and accounts of how Europeans experienced a great Asian society under the peculiar conditions of their time. Quotations from the interviews have been included for each section of the exhibition. These first-person "testimonies" allow the visitor to experience history through the immediacy of spoken recollections.
The study of 'Empire'. Sections include Cultural Contacts, Literature of Empire, the Visible Empire, Religion, Race, Class and Imperialism. Also contains images of unique source material including maps, manuscripts, pamphlets, paitings, drawings and rare books.
This is the largest collection of historical British travel writing on the web. Each author gives a different perspective on the towns and villages they visited.
Government and Politics
The Henry III Fine Rolls Project is a pioneering enterprise in publishing for the first time an English calendar of the fine rolls from 1216 down to 1248 in the form of an electronic edition including the digital facsimile images.
This collection comprises the most detailed primary source for the 19th century for Britain, its colonies and the wider world. These were working documents of the governments of the day for all areas of social, political, economic and foreign policy.
Available dates: 1509-1614, 1620-1649, 1660-1681, 1685-1793, 1830-1832
Digitized collection of 19th and 20th century pamphlets.
State Papers Online, 1509-1714 is a collection of English government documents originating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Provides an index to Stationery Office publications by date, title, and government department, as well as to official publications by category.
Online repository of works printed in English between 1477-1799
Database of digitised British street literature, published between 1790 and 1840.
Local and Regional History
Searchable collection of nearly 1,800 broadsides from Scotland between 1650 and 1910.
Medicine and Health
Science and Technology
Electronic index of the scientific content of sixteen general periodicals. Contains entries for over 14,000 articles and references to more than 6000 individuals and 2500 publications.
Searchable database of over 150,000 editorial, socio-political and pocket cartoons dating back to 1904.
Charles Booth Online Archive contains digitized versions of poverty maps, police notebooks and the Booth family magazine, The Colony.
The Fabian Society started publishing tracts in 1884, and included in this site are most tracts up to 1997.
The site also includes a collection Fabian Society "Minute Books."
Features the full contents of around 150 case files of children in the care of the The Waifs and Strays' Society from Victorian and Edwardian times.
Digital collection of local and trade directories for England and Wales from 1750-1919
The Lewis Walpole Library Digital Collection presents images from the Library's collections. The main focus of the collection is the Library's world-renowned collection of English caricatures and political satirical prints from the late-seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries.
Searchable collection of 1,300 digitized engravings and woodcuts dealing with the Jacobite rebellions maintained by the University of Aberdeen Historic Collections.
Digital collection of 1400 prints.
World War II (BBC - Radio 4 Collections)
Digital images of every page in the entire sequence of Queen Victoria's diaries. Provides full transcriptions and keyword searching of the journal entries covering the period from Queen Victoria's first diary entry in July 1832 to her marriage to Prince Albert in February 1840. At the time of launch (May 2012), only a portion of the transcribed text will be available. More transcriptions are being added regularly as the project progresses.
Times Digital Archive (1785-1985)
The Guardian (1821-2003)
The Observer (1791-2003)
Waterloo Directory of English Newspapers and Periodicals: 1800-1900
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.