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 or witnessed the events or conditions being documented.
- They can be in many different formats, including letters, interviews, diaries, memoirs, oral histories, newspapers, government documents, institutional records, maps, films, photographs, data/statistics, and much more.
and Writing about HistoryFinding Primary Sources (UTSC) explains more about primary source research.
Primary source databases
- Find primary sources using Subjects A-Z and Research Guides
- Find primary source databases by topic or subject in LibrarySearch
- Search for your topic and select the “database” filter under formats.
Use LibrarySearch to find primary sources in books and other formats.
Tips for using LibrarySearch to find primary sources:
- LibrarySearch will not bring up all possible primary source materials
- Use the advanced search feature and select “catalogue” for your search
- Filter results by using the genre facet (e.g. correspondence, pamphlets, early work, etc..)
- Combine keywords for different kinds of primary sources with keywords for your topic. For example, "reformation sources," "world war 1914 correspondence," or "national socialism documents"
Welcome to the new catalogue
Find primary sources by type and format:
- Archival material
- Government Information
- University of Toronto publications
- Sheet Music
- Data: Numeric or geospatial data
- Rare Books (browse by special collections at individual libraries)
- Streaming video
- Audiovisual materials
Click on the links below to learn more about these collections
- Art Library
- Architecture Library
- Digital Collections (Visual resources (paintings, plates, armorial bindings, engravings), but also documents, pamphlets, broadsides, and manuscripts). This is a mixed bag of types and formats.
- Fisher Rare Book Library
- St. Michael’s College John M. Kelly Library
- Law Library Special Collections (Note: Browse the collections on the lefthand side of the page.)
- Massey College (Book Arts)
- Media Commons Archives
- Music Library Special Collections
- OISE Library (Education)
- Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies
- Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) Special Collections
- Trinity College Rare Books and Special Collections
- University of Toronto Archives & Records Management Services
- UTM Library Archives & Special Collections
- UTSC Library, Archives & Special Collections
- UTSC Digital Library Collections
- Victoria University Library Special Collections
Search by topic or geographical area collections
- Canada-Hong Kong Library collection
- East Asian Studies
- Slavic and East European Studies
- UTSC Tamil collections
- Start with what you already have—draw from course materials and secondary sources to identify citations to primary sources, key words, and historical figures.
- There isn’t going to be only one place to search for them.
- Each database and search tool will be unique and will take time and experimentation to use effectively.
- Consider language in your search for primary sources (i.e. historical or outdated language, place name changes, and untranslated sources).
- Not everyone’s primary sources were collected—the historical record is incomplete and leaves out many voices.
- Working with primary sources related to colonized or other marginalized peoples may be very upsetting, please take care.
- Ask for help! Primary sources can be very challenging to find, and U of T Librarians are here to help you in your search.