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HIS 976 Senior Seminar VII winter 2021

History of Victorian and Edwardian London. Guide for use with Dr. Catherine Ellis's course.

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

For certain assignments you might be asked to use primary sources. Primary sources are works created at the time of an event, or by a person who directly experienced an event.

It is the content that matters and an on-line source can still be a primary source. For example, an online copy of a newspaper from May 8, 1945, is still a primary source even though the original article has been digitized.

Primary sources can include:

  • Interviews, diaries, letters, journals, speeches, autobiographies, and witness statements
  • Original hand-written manuscripts
  • Government documents and public records
  • Art, photographs, films, maps, fiction, and music
  • Newspaper and magazine clippings
  • Artifacts, buildings, furniture, and clothing

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are works that are written after the original event or experience; they provide criticism or interpretation of the event or experience.

Some examples of secondary sources are:

  • Textbooks
  • Biographies
  • Historical films, music, and art
  • Articles about people and events from the past

Primary vs Secondary Video

Check out University of Victoria’s Library video on Primary vs. Secondary sources. (Closed Captioned)

Finding Primary Sources

To find primary sources in the RU Library catalogue

Use keywords for your topic or historic person along with one of the following words:

  • archives
  • charters
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • documents
  • interviews
  • letters
  • manuscripts
  • notebooks
  • oratory
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • pictorial works
  • sources [this term is often used for collections of primary sources]
  • speeches


Digital Collections Purchased or Leased by Ryerson that Include Primary Sources

Some digital collections from Adam Matthew Digital  that may be useful for historical studies follow:

Some of the Alexander Street Press collections may also be useful:

Historical Newspapers are listed on the bottom of the page for Journals and Articles.

A Sampling of Freely Accessible Primary Sources

Many governmental bodies, academic and public libraries, museums, and private organizations are creating digital collections. Often access is free of charge. Use a search engine to look for names of countries, provinces/states, cities, organizations, or individuals AND archives.

Read the About section to determine who is the publisher, what is their purpose, is this a credible source ...


Charles Booth's London [website hosted by the London School of Economics; includes some primary sources]

London Metropolitan Archives [open at the collections page]

Museum of London [link is to the site's Collections tab]

British Library

National Archives

Victoria and Albert Museum, London (V&A), Online Collections

Wellcome Library, focuses upon Medical History, digital collections


Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy (from Yale Law School, includes international Treaties)

Historical Films, Radio and Other Media

A Sampling of Books that Discuss the Use of Primary and Secondary Sources