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The History Context

"Primary sources are historians’ windows on the past, enabling them to discover what people were doing, planning, or discussing at a particular time. By examining such sources in a larger context, such as an historical investigation into a particular event or societal trend, they can provide valuable clues.

Of course, while a private diary might reveal a hidden opinion or unknown event, an autobiography might also attempt to alter the historical record in the author’s interest. The researcher must be careful when approaching sources written by those figures who were close to the events they are describing. Their memories may be fuzzy, and they might even exaggerate or deemphasize particular details....Be aware of an author’s possible interests in discussing or avoiding certain subjects. Sometimes the authors of primary sources were professional historians, but more often they were not" (UBC Department of History. ''Primary Sources.'').

Primary and Secondary Sources

"Primary Sources" are the direct evidence or first hand accounts of events without secondary analysis or interpretation.  A primary source is a work that was written or created at a time that is contemporary or nearly contemporary with the period or subject being studied.

The definition of a primary source can change depending upon the academic discipline and the context in which it is used. Click the relevant tab in this guide for tips to finding primary sources for disciplines in the Humanities, Social Sciences and Sciences.

"Secondary Sources" analyze or interpret an historical event or artistic work. Secondary sources often base their theories and arguments on the direct evidence found in primary sources. A secondary work for a subject is one that discusses the subject but is written after the time contemporary with it.

Primary Source Digital Collections

The box below list provides information and links to some of the very best digital collections of primary sources in history, sorted geographically. It is not an exhaustive directory but does provide a wide-ranging selection of materials licensed by UBC Library or authoritative collections in the public domain from external institutions such as the US Library of Congress, Library & Archives Canada, Vancouver Archives, the University of Victoria, and through the The British Columbia Archival Information Network. Additional primary-source collections can be found under the Historical Newspapers, and Books and E-books tabs in this guide.

Research by Geography

Coming soon!

Research by Theme