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Primary Sources

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are accounts of an event recorded in books, letters, diaries, photographs, film, or other media. Ideally, they are created by an eye witness to the events, but secondary accounts of the events recorded at the time are also usually acceptable, e.g., a December, 1917 newspaper account of the Halifax Explosion. Another type of primary document is the oldest existing account of a historical event.

See this page by the American Library Association (ALA) for more information

Finding Primary Sources

Searching the TWU Catalogue

We do have some books containing primary documents in the TWU library. The most reliable way to find them is to do a "Keywords" search using a keyword that describes your subject and adding search terms such as "sources," "documents," or "reader," etc. For example, a Keywords search for "greece history sources" gives 18 results. The record describing the first book "The Hellenistic Period : historical sources in translation" contains several subject headings with links to other books with primary sources on Greek history. Note that a search for "greek history sources" brings up results with more emphasis on the Greek language.

If this all sounds confusing, feel free to drop by our Research Help Desk and a librarian will be happy to help you with your search.

Note that the resources available from Early Canadiana Online are now linked to the library catalogue and may appear in your catalogue search results.

Internet Searches

Search engines are useful for finding a particular document. Search for the exact title of the document in quotation marks, if you have it. Otherwise, use terms unique to the document you are searching for combined with "primary documents."


Wikipedia is a good source of links to primary documents. Search for the subject you're researching, go to External Links at the bottom of the article and see if there are any links to sites with primary documents.

Google Books

Google Books may have the full text of works in the public domain. It's not the best place to start a search, but worth a try if other sources fail.

Evaluating Internet Resources

A certain degree of caution is necessary when using resources from the internet. For more information see the Assessing information on the Web tutorial. flash icon pdf icon html5

Further Resources

Online Collections of Primary Documents

The sites listed below are a good place to start. Most of them are maintained by educational institutions, so they are relatively reliable and stable. However, some of the sites to which they link may have disappeared.

Africa Christianity Latin America
Asia Classic / Ancient Near East Middle East
British Columbia Europe The United States
Canada Global  
British Columbia
The United States
Classic / Ancient Near East


Middle East
Latin America/Caribbean

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