Skip to main content

Primary Sources : Home

What are Primary and Secondary Sources?

Primary sources are:

  • first hand accounts of an event
  • materials created by participants or witnesses of the event(s) under study
  • original records created at the time the historical events occurred
  • raw data for the historian

Secondary sources are:

  • works that discuss a subject, but which are written after the time that the event(s) occurred - [by someone other than an eyewitness]
  • works that contain explanations/judgements/discussions of past events
  • works that explain or interpret primary sources

Video Tutorial

What Are Some Examples of Primary Sources?

Official Records

Cabinet Papers
Ambassadors' Reports
Parliamentary Debates
Correspondence
Diplomatic Dispatches 

Published Sources

Newspapers
Autobiographies
Memoirs
Speeches
Pamphlets/Treatises

Private Sources

Letters
Diaries
Treaties
Parish Records
Laws

How Do I Find Primary Sources in the Classic Catalogue?

Use keywords that describe your topic together with any/some of the following words:

Autobiography/Autobiographies
Biography
Correspondence
Diary/Diaries
Interview/Interviews
Journal
Letter/Letters
Personal narratives
Public opinion
Sources
Speech/Speeches

Example: cold war and (letter$ or narrative$ or correspondence)
               and click on Search Everything

($ (dollar sign) is the wildcard/truncation symbol in the catalogue, and would retrieve "letter" or "letters", etc.)

  • Look at the publication dates of the book and the birth/death dates of the author:
    • The date of the original publication may give you an indication that you have a primary source. Look for the publication date or a note about the original publication.
      If the birth and death dates of the author are such that he/she lived during the time of your event you may have a primary source.

  • Look at notes in the record:
    • There may be notes in the record which describe the material and give clues as to whether or not it is a primary source. For instance, if there is a note indicating that the work is a facsimile or a reprint, then you may have a primary source

For help finding specific newspapers in the catalogue, take a look at our guide specific to those primary sources.

Ask us