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Research Guides

HIS109 : Introduction to Primary Sources

This guide is intended to assist students in finding primary sources as required by HIS 109. By Sara McDowell (Robarts Library) and Roma Kail (E. J. Pratt Library).

Primary sources in the library catalogue

Two types of primary sources in the library catalogue:

  • Items which are primary sources themselves:

Example: The Diary of Samuel Pepys (describing the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London)

Look them up by author or title in the library catalogue.

Reports by or about the government of the time:

Example: The Loyalists of America and Their Times: from 1620 to 1816

Example: Eighth Report of the Committee of the House of Assembly: ...which relates to the settlement of the crown lands

Use keywords (eg. government, report, committee) and subject time period in the library catalogue.

  • Collections of primary sources:

Example: Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700, a documentary history

Example: The Atlantic War Remembered : an oral history collection

Use keywords to look them up. See examples to the right.


Find primary sources in the library catalogue

Find books in the catalogue on the library home page.

You can use keywords for different kinds of primary sources to find them in the library catalogue.

Examples:

reformation sources

world war 1914 correspondence

nazi documents

national socialism documents

  • documents
  • sources
  • texts
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • interviews
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives

How to recognize and choose useful primary source collections in the catalogue

If you are having trouble recognizing whether a book in the catalogue is a good primary source collection, ask yourself the following:

  • do the title or subect headings include words like documents, sources, or other words indicating primary sources?
  • is the book a substantial length?
  • is the publisher scholarly and reliable, for example, a university press?
  • is the book reasonably current?
  • is the book in a language you can read?

Example:

library catalogue record for 'Witchcraft in Europe 400-1700 a documentary history'

  • Title: "documentary history"
  • Subject Headings: Witchcraft--Europe--History--Sources

  • Page Length: 451 pages

  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press

  • Publication Date: 2001
  • Language: English

Broad Topics

It can be difficult to track down pertinent primary source material for very broad topics, with very broad or general keywords.

You may need to focus your search by asking:

  • what argument am I going to make?
  • what kind of primary source would help me?

You can do this by scanning your course text or readings and their bibliographies, reading overviews on the topic in history encyclopedias, or examining the bibliographies of other secondary sources that you have found.