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Primary Sources  

This guide will explain what primary sources are and provide various tools and techniques for finding primary sources (such as autobiographies, letters, photographs and audio-visual materials).
Last Updated: May 3, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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Primary sources are:

  • first-hand accounts of an historical event or a person's life or work
  • original documents, records, data created at the time of a particular historical event
  • documents created at a later time by a participant or eyewitness to an historical event (e.g. autobiographies or memoirs)
  • raw data

Letters, autobiographies, posters, diaries, archival materials, and photographs are examples of primary sources.

Primary sources can be in their original format or reproduced in a different format (e.g. book, microfilm or on the Internet).

Secondary sources are:

  • works written later about a subject
  • usually written by non-participants or eye-witnesses to the historical event
  • information that interpret, analyze and debate primary sources

How do I find primary sources?

This guide will discuss the various tools and techniques for finding primary sources at York University. Most primary sources can be found by searching the library catalogue. You can also search periodical indexes to find magazine, journal and newspaper articles written during the time period you are researching. Most subject research guides list subject-specific tools for finding primary sources. The Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections holds manuscripts, personal papers of significant people and other records. Online databases and repositories contain digitized copies of documents, letters, books, photographs and other primary sources.

The toolbar at the top of this page contains links to help find primary sources using the library catalogue, as well as techniques for specific kinds of primary sources.

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