Western Libraries

History 2812E - Plague, Pox and Flu: Disease in Global History

Primary Source Literacy

Primary sources are written documents, oral testimonies, visual objects, and digital materials produced by authors and artists from the historical period you are studying. Some examples include, but are not limited to, diaries, notebooks, letters, newspapers, interviews, paintings, photographs, maps, tools, instruments, drawings, and more recently tweets, blogs, websites, and social media platforms. For a more detailed look at primary sources, see Western Libraries’ research guide Primary Source Literacy.

Citations in Secondary Sources

The best place to start looking for primary sources is by surveying the references in your secondary sources. Look over the footnotes and bibliographies of the scholarly books and journal articles on your subject. After you have identified citations pertinent to your research, you can search for them in the Library Catalogue (OMNI).

Library Catalogue (OMNI)

You can search for primary sources – especially books – in the Library Catalogue (OMNI). Here are a few search strategies to guide you.

  • Author/creator search. Do an “author/creator” search using the Advanced Search option when you know the name of the author or the organization of the primary source.
  • Keyword search. Do a keyword search on your subject and then limit that search by using one of the following subject headings/keywords listed below. For example, you might search for “disease AND correspondence” or “Canada AND history AND sources.”
    • antiquities
    • correspondence
    • diaries
    • documents
    • interviews
    • pamphlets
    • personal narratives
    • sources
    • statistics
    • trials
  • Limit by date. Since primary sources come from the period you are studying, make sure you limit your search to a specific date range. Keep in mind, however, that newer editions of older works will not appear in these types of searches.