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Primary Sources

A primary source is a record or document produced during a particular event, experience or time period by those who participated in or witnessed the event.

Examples include speeches, interviews, letters, census records, diaries, newspaper articles, government documents, clothing, photographs, posters, paintings, maps, court records, poems, plays, television and radio broadcasts.

To locate primary source materials in the library catalogue, conduct a subject search and add sources, documents, diaries, or personal narratives or correspondence to other relevant search terms.

Many libraries and archives have digitized their primary document collections. You can find primary documents on the Web using a search engine like Google to find primary document collections. 

Use the term "primary documents" or "primary sources" with your search terms.For example, "primary documents" cold war.

Remember to critically evaluate all of your primary documents before you use them for your history paper.

Select Microfilm Collections at MacEwan Library

Hudson's Bay Company Archives - Records of the Hudson's Bay Company posts primarily in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Aberdeen Town Council Registers, 1541-1675

Slavery & Anti-Slavery Pamphlets - pamphlets, speeches and reports (1840s & 1850s)  - From abolitionist government officials Salmon P. Chase and John P. Hale

Decisions of the Court of Session of Scotland

Statutes, at Large Passed in the Parliaments in Ireland, 1310-1800


Evaluating Primary Sources

Questions to ask when evaluating primary sources:

  • Who created the primary document?
  • When was the document created?
  • Who was the intended audience?
  • If the primary source is online who created the website? 
  • If the primary source is digitized does it include a reference to the original source?
This work is subject to a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial 4.0 International license. For exceptions, see the Library Copyright Statement.