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HST118 The City in History

This LibGuide has been developed for use with a new undergraduate History course, HST118.

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

For certain assignments you might be asked to use primary sources. Primary sources are works created at the time of an event, or by a person who directly experienced an event.

It is the content that matters and an on-line source can still be a primary source. For example, an online copy of a newspaper from May 8, 1945, is still a primary source even though the original article has been digitized.

Primary sources can include:

  • Interviews, diaries, letters, journals, speeches, autobiographies, and witness statements
  • Original hand-written manuscripts
  • Government documents and public records
  • Art, photographs, films, maps, fiction, and music
  • Newspaper and magazine clippings
  • Artifacts, buildings, furniture, and clothing

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are works that are written after the original event or experience; they provide criticism or interpretation of the event or experience.

Some examples of secondary sources are:

  • Textbooks
  • Biographies
  • Historical films, music, and art
  • Articles about people and events from the past

Primary vs Secondary Video

Check out University of Victoria’s Library video on Primary vs. Secondary sources. (Closed Captioned)

Finding Primary Sources

To find primary sources in the TMU Library catalogue

Use keywords for your topic or historic person along with one of the following words:

  • archives
  • charters
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • documents
  • interviews
  • letters
  • manuscripts
  • notebooks
  • oratory
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • pictorial works
  • sources [this term is often used for collections of primary sources]
  • speeches


Digital Collections Purchased or Leased by TMU that Include Primary Sources

A Sampling of Freely Accessible Primary Sources

Many governmental bodies, academic and public libraries, museums, and private organizations are creating digital collections. Often access is free of charge. Use a search engine to look for names of countries, provinces/states, cities, organizations, or individuals AND archives.


Library and Archives Canada

Archives of Ontario

City of Toronto Archives

Toronto Public Library's Digital Archive


American Memory (Library of Congress)

Digital Collections (Library of Congress)

AMDOCS: Documents for the Study of American History (University of Kansas)

National Archives (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

National Museum of American History (Smithsonian)

Primary Documents in American History (Library of Congress)

United States House of Representatives -- History, Art & Archives (includes oral history)

United States Senate -- Art & History (includes an oral history project)


Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy (from Yale Law School, includes international Treaties)

A Sampling of Books that Discuss the Use of Primary and Secondary Sources