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HST 430 Food History

For use with classes in Food History taught by Dr. Ian Mosby

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

Examples of keyword searches:

Digital Collections Purchased or Leased by TMU that Include Primary Sources

Some digital collections that will include recipes and information on cooking and cookery. You can search using keywords such as recipes OR cooking OR cookery. You may want to search for specific ingredients such as "cottage cheese", or specific types of dishes such as: soup AND recipes.


Archival Newspapers

There are numerous digitization initiatives for local newspapers around the world.  See for example:

United States:  Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

New Zealand: Papers Past

Australia: Trove: Digitised Newspapers and More

See also Carol Singer's guide at Bowling State Green University to Historical Worldwide Newspapers Online

Current and Recent Newspapers

Search for individual newspapers and journals by title from our list of journal titles

Further Explorations into Primary Sources

Using Primary Sources on the Web -- a concise guide to finding and evaluating primary sources online written in 2015 by a sub-committee of the Instructional and Research Services Committee of the Reference and User Services History Section in the American Library Association. In addition to the three sections of this guide: Finding Primary Sources, Evaluating Primary Sources, and, Using Primary Sources, this guide includes links to several additional websites that discuss primary sources for history research.

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. You may find items including manuscripts and rare print resources including printed ephemera such as branded recipe booklets.

Search specific institutions or try using a reliable search engine.

By Institution:

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library Manuscripts (University of Toronto)
On the first page of results, one item, "Arithmetic exercise and cookery recipe book" is described in the catalogue record as being the work of Elizabeth Binge, 1828-1838, created in Dersingham & Lynn Regis, England.
On the second page of results, there is a "Cookbook of British recipes," "Cookery and medical receipt book," "Culinary and medicinal recipe book," and, "Culinary recipe book."  There are additional medical and cooking recipes on following pages of results.

University of Toronto Scarborough 
Harley J. Spiller collection [of menus]
Brazilian Menu collection
Robert Bon Lee collection

The New York Public Library digital collections A simple search for recipes returns a fabulous collection of recipes on cigarette cards as well as manuscript items, pamphlets and even a photograph.

Toronto Public Library Digital Collection A simple search for recipes returns printed ephemera and photographs.

By Internet

You may want to try to focus your search by including key words such as archives, manuscripts, or "primary sources"

For example, using Google, and the terms canadian cooking archives you will find some interesting entries with information on archived exhibitions held by Library and Archives Canada, and information about the University of Guelph's large cookbook collection.

One item is as follows: 

Recipes | Wartime Canada › archive-categories › recipes

Wartime Canada is a window into the Canadian experience during the First and Second World Wars. Take a step back in time.

In this instance, you may want to find out more about the site, its creator's, purpose and authority. Use the ideas outlined in the resource listed in the box immediately above..


Restaurant and Food Menus available on the Internet Archive

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