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HIS242H5: Contemporary European History

A guide to assist students with research for assignments in HIS242 on the UTM campus.

Definitions of Primary and Secondary Sources

The definition of 'primary source' does differ in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural and Applied Sciences. The UBC Library offer clear definitions of primary and secondary sources.

The Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge offers a virtual classroom that includes, for example, Reading Primary Sources, How to use Historical Sources, and Where do Historical Sources come from?.

Finding Primary Sources in the Humanities

A primary source is a source that was created during the time period that we want to analyze or at a subsequent time by individuals who witnessed, participated in, and/or reflected on the events of that time.

Using primary sources, we analyze why the specific information was created and investigate how the information could uncover the event/history/culture and/or social norms. There are four common ways to find primary sources:

1) Check appendices, notes, and bibliographies

Secondary sources provide analysis, commentary, or criticism on primary sources. There is a rich list of primary sources under appendices, footnotes/endnotes, and bibliographies commonly in scholarly books. 

2) Find primary sources using the UTL catalogue

When you search, you might include keywords/subjects, such as letter, correspondence, diaries, interviews, and pamphlets.
Check How to Find Primary Sources in the UTL LibrarySearch below

3) Use databases that the University of Toronto Libraries offer

Visit Primary Sources (Digital Collections) on the left.

4) Use reliable online resources

For example,

5) Use images, maps, and songs, as primary sources

6) Visit the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, the University of Toronto.

How to Find Primary Sources in the UTL LibrarySearch

The UTL LibrarySearch does not have a way to produce lists of primary sources. However, using one of the following words (Subject) in your search will help you find the source material you seek:

  • sources
  • biography
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • personal narratives
  • interviews
  • pamphlets


☆ An Example of How to Search ☆

Go to LibrarySearch (Advanced Search) and tweak Search filters. Choose Subject and enter the most important concept/person/theme in a search box. Select Books under Format

LibrarySearch use Subject


☆ NOTE ☆

Take advantage of Bibliographies and Reference lists in books and journal articles. In addition, use Oxford Bibliographies Online, they may give you the title of a primary source you can start searching for.

Subject (Headings) for Primary Sources

Subjects (or Subject headings) are used to identify items on a specific topic and to collocate items on the same topic. The following Subjects can be used to find primary sources:

Subject Headings

What Does This Include?

Used with...



Collections or discussions of the person's autograph or handwriting (H 1110)

Names of people
Classes of persons

Francis, of Assisi, Saint, 1182-1226 -- Autogaphs


Biographical works focus on the personal aspects of the individual's life, critical works on the individual's professional, intellectual, or artistic achievements (H 1330)


Pakistan -- Biography

Crusades -- Biography


Official correspondence or correspondence involving corporate entities, including heads of state acting in their official capacity, is not covered (H 1480)

Names of people
Classes of persons
Ethnic groups

19th century -- Correspondence

Description and Travel

Names of both cities and larger places for descriptive works and accounts of travel, including the history of travel, in those places (H 1530)


Europe, Eastern -- Description and travel -- Early works to 1800


Registers or records of personal experiences, observations, thoughts, or feelings, kept daily or at frequent intervals (H 1538)

Names of persons
Classes of people

Scott, F. R (Francis Reginald), 1899-1985 -- Diaries

Gay men -- Sexual behavior -- United States -- 21st century -- Diaries

Early Works to 1800

Early printed works and manuscripts, editions, and post-1800 adaptations and reassembled works (H 1576)


Italy -- Early works to 1800


Collections of writings, such as legal documents, letters, diaries, family papers, etc., compiled for use by students, scholars, etc., in their research on the history of those topics, and for works discussing source materials of all types.
It is also used under names of persons for works discussing the individual’s sources of ideas or inspiration for his endeavors or creative works and for collections of those source materials. (H 2080).

Names of people
Classes of persons
Ethnic groups
Topical headings not inherently historical

Reformation -- Sources

Canada -- History -- Sources


Transcripts of what was said during the course of interviews or conversations with one or more persons on one or more occasions, and works about those interviews (H 1678)

Names of people
Classes of people

Artists -- Soviet Union -- Interviews

Authors-20th century-Interviews


Use for works discussing writings made by hand, typewriter, etc. by or about the person


Manuscripts, Medieval


Individual maps or collections of maps

Countries, etc.
Corporate bodies
Topical headings

Europe -- Maps

Maps -- 19th century

Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc

Collections or discussions of the person's notebooks or sketchbooks (H 1110)

Names of people

Leonardo, da Vinci, 1452-1519 -- Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc


Use under 16th, 17th, and 18th century period subdivisions of European and American history and under individual wars, for short, separately published, usually polemical, essays or treatises regarding controversial issues of contemporary interest, especially political or religious matters (H 1095)


20th century -- Pamphlets

Personal Narratives

Names of events and wars for collective or individual eyewitness reports and/or autobiographical accounts of these events and wars (H 1928)


Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Hungary -- Personal narratives

Algeria -- History -- Revolution, 1954-1962 -- Personal narratives, Algerian

Pictorial Works

Works consisting primarily of pictures (H 1935)


Ruined buildings -- Pictorial works