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History, Canada

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:

Digital Collections Purchased or Leased by TMU that Include Primary Sources

A Sampling of Books Collecting Primary Sources

Further Explorations into Primary Sources

Primary Sources on the Web: Finding, Evaluating, Using -- a concise guide to finding and evaluating primary sources online created 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.

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