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Research Guides

Primary Source Databases for Historical Research


This guide is no longer being updated. Please visit Subjects A-Z to find primary sources by topic or by title.

Primary Sources

What is a primary source?

  • Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation.

  • They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented.

(From: "Primary sources at Yale")

Writing about History  and Finding Primary Sources (UTSC) explain more about primary source research.

What can be a primary source?

Think about what kinds of primary sources might be related to your topic:

  • letters
  • interviews
  • diaries
  • memoirs
  • oral histories
  • newspapers
  • reports
  • government documents
  • institutional records
  • music
  • pamphlets
  • maps
  • film
  • photographs
  • websites/social media

Finding primary sources

1. Start with what you already have to uncover references to primary sources.

Consult your:

  • class notes
  • course readings
  • bibliographies of your textbook, journal articles, or other secondary sources
  • historical encyclopedias

They can also help you identify relevant historical figures, authors, or keywords for searching library databases

2. Use the library catalogue to find books and other materials.

To find primary sources on your subject, combine keywords for different kinds of primary sources with keywords for your topic.


reformation sources

world war 1914 correspondence

national socialism documents

3.  Use reliable online text collections

4.  Use one of the specialized libraries at U of T, such as the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, or one of our special collections.

Major Collections

Databases by theme

Gender and Sexuality

Humanities and Religion

Oral History

Politics, Law, and Science

The Holocaust

Transatlantic Slavery and Abolition

World History

Databases by region


North America


Latin America

General Europe

United Kingdom and Ireland





African Diaspora

Middle East




South Asia 

Australia and New Zealand