Primary Sources at U of T Libraries

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. 

From: "Primary sources at Yale"

 Writing about History and Finding Primary Sources (UTSC) explains more about primary source research. 

 Did you know? In the sciences and some social sciences, primary sources can mean something else.  

Primary source databases


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"

Search for books, articles, media, and other formats using LibrarySearch, the University of Toronto Library's one-stop discovery system for all our library resources

Welcome to the new catalogue

Try searching for primary sources. Using this search will apply the genre filter "sources" to help get you started.


More Tools: 

Find primary sources by type and format:

 Things to Consider

  • 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  • Consider language in your search for primary sources (i.e. historical or outdated language, place name changes, and untranslated sources).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.