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DST99 - Library Hub

A guide for students in DST99 working on their major research project.

Primary source documents

Surviving Eugenics

Eugenics Archives reflects the collaboration of scholars, survivors, students, and community partners in challenging eugenics. 

Disability Archives Lab

The Disability Archives Lab investigates the ways that archives and the materials they hold document, shape, and impact disabled people. It hosts projects and research initiatives that center the politics of disability, how disabled people are affected by historic representation, and how to imagine archival futures that are centered around disabled desires.

Recounting Huronia Community Archive

This archive was created by a group of institutional survivors and allied researchers and artists who originally called themselves the Recounting Huronia Collective.

Disability History Museum

A collection of virtual artefacts designed to foster research and study about the historical experiences of people with disabilities and their communities.

Documenting Disability in the Historical Record / Society of American Archivists

A list of entities that have played an active role in documenting disability in history.

The following are some examples of legislative documents that may be of interest:

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

The Education Act

Medical Assistance in Dying

Mental Health Act

Criminal Code of Canada (Defence of mental disorder) 

  • A potential avenue of interest could be to examine court cases where this defence was used 

Defining Primary Sources

Defining primary sources:

Simply put, primary sources can be defined as: "original material, produced during the time being researched, by someone with first-hand knowledge of the event."1 Let's look more closely at that definition:


To be a primary source must be original to the time period and place being studied. For example, while a vintage sewing pattern would be a primary source, a new dress created with it would not be as it was made with modern materials and techniques not necessarily available at the time. 


We often think of research materials as being primarily published text-based: journal articles, books, theses, and so on. Information comes in a huge variety of forms, and primary sources, while they do include textual materials like letters, government documents, and diaries, valuable information is also contained in photographs, maps, objects, sound recordings, films and videos, artworks, and photographs. Some examples are Jim Wong-Chu's photographs of Vancouver's Chinatown in the 1970's, Marie Curie's journal (still radioactive), archival CBC news footage of the mass spraying of the "miraculous" pesticide DDT, in the Maritimes, and the alarming early dental tools from Harvard's Dental School.


Sources of the time may be published or created during the time of the event, like a newspaper article, photograph, or flyer. They can also be captured later, in oral histories, biographies, or interviews, based on experiences and memories from the time. For example, while the Diary of Ann Frank is a primary source, depicting the experience of a young Jewish girl during the Holocaust and written during that time, the memoirs of Viktor Frankl are also an excellent primary source of the Jewish experience during that time, though it was written after the fact.


In order to be a primary source, it must be a first-hand experience. For example, a newspaper article about the 1990 Kanesatake Resistance in Quebec, written by a journalist like Dan David, who was present during the event, would be considered a primary source for that event, even though it was published years later.  Interviews and Oral histories, like the ones created by the Canadian Museum of Immigration about new immigrants' first day in Canada are also good examples, as are autobiographies like the one published by Toronto restauranteur Jen Agg about growing up in Scarborough and experience in the business.

Grey areas

A document can sometimes be a secondary source for one research topic, but a primary source for another. For example, the 1996 Government of Canada report from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples provides primary evidence of the recommendation of the Commission, and the attitudes toward Indigenous, Aboriginal, First Nation, Inuit, and Metis relations in Canada, but would be a secondary source when it comes to details regarding residential schools. 

1 Shmoop University Inc. [Shmoop]. (2015, February 19). What is a primary source? [video]. Shmoop homework help and study guides for students.