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Gerstein Science Information Centre

HPS 318: History of Medicine from Antiquity to the Renaissance

This guide is a supplement for:

Welcome to the HPS318 Research & Resources Guide


Images retrieved from: The MacKinney Collection of Medieval Medical Illustrations and 

Questions about how to find primary sources? Searching the library catalogue? How to find secondary sources? The difference between primary and secondary sources? Legit collections of primary source documents? Find it all here. Use the tabs along the top of the page and the Table of Contents to the right to navigate the site. 

Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources


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.

Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later.

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

Examples of primary sources include, but are not limited to: 


A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. 

Examples of secondary sources include:

A Word About Context... 

If you're having trouble deciding whether something's a primary source or a secondary source, ask yourself this question: Why Am I Using It? 

For example, if I'm looking at a 1994 book on HIV/AIDS, it's a secondary source if I'm using it to inform my knowledge of HIV/AIDS etiology. But, if I'm interested in how doctors and scientists were researching and writing about HIV/AIDS in the early 1990s and what this book tells me about them, it's a primary source. 

For the purposes of HPS318, another example would be a book about the history of the black death written in 1885. If you're using the book to learn more about the black death, it's a secondary source. If you're more interested in the author of the book and how people in the 1800s wrote about the history of the black death, it's a primary source. 

Get it? If not, let's talk about it: erica.lenton[at]