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Instructional Guide for HTST 200

Primary Sources: Definition

Greek sources

Primary sources are original materials created in their own time, or at a later time by someone directly connected to the event.

The value of primary sources is that they've not been subject to anyone else's interpretation. They provide firsthand evidence of an event.

In the past, primary sources were duplicated and distributed in different formats such as microfilm, microfiche, or reproduced in books or in other media. Today, primary sources can be reproduced digitally and are made available through free or licensed databases.



Types of Primary Sources

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, memos, manuscripts and other papers in which individuals describe events in which they were participants or observers;
  • Memoirs and autobiographies;
  • Statistical data sets;
  • Records of organizations and agencies of government;
  • Published materials written at the time of the event;
  • Photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures, video recordings documenting what happened; and
  • Artifacts of all kinds.

Print Primary Sources

Published Collections

Published collections of primary sources can be identified by using the "advanced search" option in the library catalogue and including "sources" in the subject line.   You can also look up a secondary work on your topic and click on a subject heading to browse subjects.  Primary sources will be highlighted by having "sources" at the end of the subject heading.

Archival Collections

Archives consist of unpublished works of all types.  The documents and images are collected, described and preserved by archivists and made available for researchers.  You can search search multiple Alberta archives (including UofC) using the Archives Network of Alberta search.

Primary Resource Collections in Electronic Format

Libraries and Cultural Resources has a growing collection of primary resource sets in digital format.  These sets range from collections of personal correspondence to government documents to complete archives.  These collections are usually licensed by Libraries and Cultural Resources for use by students, faculty and staff at the University of Calgary and some are produced by Libraries and Cultural Resources.

Examples of digital primary resource sets follow:

Libraries and Cultural Resources has produced a number of electronic collections.  Some examples that might be of interest to history students follow:

  • Alberta Law Collection -- all of the Statutes up to 1990, Legislative Assembly Bills, Debates and Journals, the Alberta Gazette and the Ordinances of the Northwest Territories prior to the birth of Alberta.
  • Alberta's Legislative History -- historical legal documents from the Legislative Assembly of Alberta plus retrospective and current Bylaws from a selection of Alberta Municipalities.
  • Calgary Stampede History -- images, programs, catalogues, corporate records, booklets/pamphlets, and other printed ephemera.
  • Canadian Aboriginal Military History -- published and archival collections relating to the Canadian Aboriginal military experience.
  • Canadian Military Histories -- published and archival histories and photographs that are related to service in or for Canada.
  • Early Alberta Newspapers Collection
  • Panda Digital Image Bank -- The Panda Architectural Photography Collection documents nearly 50 years of Canadian architectural, cultural and social heritage.
  • Political Parties Digital Collection -- contains a selection of textual and photographic records from the University of Calgary Archives' holdings created by political parties and individuals involved in the political process.


Newspapers are a popular primary resource and Libraries and Cultural Resources has a large number in electronic format, the vast majority of which are full-text searchable.  We also hold a large number of newspapers in micro-formats.  If you are searching for a newspaper and do not find it in the electronic format list above, search the library catalogue by title of the newspaper to see if we hold it in our microforms collection.


Before the era of digital publication, primary resource sets were often created in microformats.  Included in these collections are government publications, newspapers and a variety of report series.  Located on the fifth floor of the TFDL, the Microforms Department houses collections in microcard, microfilm, and microfiche and the equipment with which to read and make prints of that material.  Lesser used microform collections are housed in the High Density Library and can be retrieved by making a request at this department. Use the Library Catalogue to locate items in the microforms collection.

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