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CRTD43 - Curating Contemporary Art

A libguide outlining various sources that you might need for research and writing in the course - Curating Contemporary Art

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary sources are:

  • created at the time of an event
  • created by a person who witnessed an event
  • things like: paintings, drawings, letters, diaries, newspapers

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/analysis/judgements/discussions of past events
  • works that explain or interpret primary sources

How to tell the difference:

A primary source is a document that was created at the time of the event or subject you've chosen to study, or by people who were observers of, or participants in that event or topic.

The medium of the primary source can be anything, including written texts, objects, buildings, films, paintings, cartoons, etc. What makes the source a primary source is when it was made, not what it is.

Books written by historians about a topic are secondary sources. Historians' introductions to and editorial comments on collections of primary documents are also secondary sources because they're twice removed from the actual event or process you're going to be writing about. So while a historian's introduction to Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle (1906) is a secondary source, the novel itself, written in 1906, is a primary source.

Adapted from "Writing about History" by Elspeth Brown

Finding Primary Resources in the Library Catalogue

You can find Primary Sources using the University of Toronto Library Catalogue

Example: Find Primary Sources on conceptual art

In the search box, type: conceptual art.

Refine under Genre (Left Hand Side)

You will be taken to a list of search results. Scroll down to Genre. Select the the primary source type you are interested in. Look for any of the following terms:

  • Charters
  • Correspondence
  • Diaries
  • Documents
  • Early works
  • Interviews
  • Letters
  • Manuscripts
  • Oratory
  • Pamphlets
  • Personal Narratives
  • Sources
  • Speeches

Example: Interviews


Images in the Public Domain

In Canada, most works pass into the public domain after fifty years following the end of the calendar year in which the author died. However, while a work may be in the public domain, a specific edition or image of the work may be under copyright.