Demystifying Primary Sources for Historical Research

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Primary sources are the raw materials that historians use to interpret the past, but history students often find it challenging to locate and incorporate primary documents into assignments. In this two-hour workshop we will clarify the meaning of primary sources and survey the variety of primary source types available in the University of Toronto Libraries. Emphasis is placed on practical strategies for finding primary sources, both in print and electronically.

Through short lectures, interactive class discussions and hands-on exercises, you will learn:

  • To define and identify primary sources and to distinguish them from secondary and tertiary sources
  • How primary sources are defined differently in different disciplines
  • About the variety of primary source types, both published and unpublished
  • The value of primary sources in your own historical research
  • The difference between libraries and archives as repositories of primary source materials
  • Techniques for searching the library catalogue to find primary sources
  • To identify and search digital collections of primary sources at the University of Toronto Libraries and beyond
  • To cite primary source materials. 


Seminars usually take place in October during the fall semester and in February during the spring semester. Specific dates and times will be posted in the summer. 


E.J. Pratt Library, E-Classroom (room 306, third floor).


Please complete and submit the registration form in order to attend the seminar.

Research Guide 

Information on finding, evaluating and citing primary sources is available on the research guide accompanying the seminar. 


Agatha Barc and Colin Deinhardt are Reader Services & Instruction Librarians.

Last updated: February 9, 2018

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