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Research Guides

HPS319H1 - History of Medicine II: 17th-20th century (Fall 2019)

This guide is intended to assist students in the course as it is taught by Professor Lucia Dacome with TA Esther Atkinson.

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.

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: 


How to Analyze a Primary Source

 When you analyze a primary source, you are undertaking the most important job of the historian. There is no     better way to understand events in the past than by examining the sources--whether journals, newspaper articles, letters, court case records, novels, artworks, music or autobiographies--that people from that period left behind.

There are TWO major steps to take when examining a source. 

Step 1: Ask Questions About the Source (i.e. where was it created; what was the author's occupation; when and how was it created, why might it have been created, etc.?)

Step 2: Find Answers to Your Questions

The best place to find answers to basic questions about your source (the who, what, when, where, how) is in general background sources, like encyclopedias or textbooks. Wikipedia can often be a great place to start, but Wikipedia, like any other encyclopedia is NOT a scholarly source and should not be used a secondary source in your assignment. These are background resources to help find out the basic 'facts' on your source to get you started. 

Click HERE for a list of history of science background resources you can try searching for information on your source. 

If you have more complex questions about your source that can't be answered in a background resource, you might have a research question on your hands! Time to do some secondary source research

Databases for Primary Sources - A Selection

Databases for Primary Sources - Psychiatry & Psychology