Primary Sources

Primary sources are available selectively. Consider these factors before you search:

  • Geographical area
  • Time period
  • Language
  • Document type
  • Topic
  • Broad themes

Related Subject Guides

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This guide highlights collections available via the University of Alberta. More primary sources are openly available online, or available elsewhere. To find the best sources for your project, talk to a subject librarian!

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are original materials that provide first-hand information and description. They are often created during or around the time period under study. In contrast, secondary sources (e.g. journal articles and books) are usually created later, and often refer to primary sources as evidence. 

The definition of a primary source can vary, depending on the field of study.

Primary sources can include:

  • Personal narratives, diaries,  memoirs, correspondences
  • Speeches and letters
  • Government documents
  • Treaties, declarations and laws
  • Ethnographies (print, audio, video)
  • Music scores, works of art, photographs and maps
  • Films, television programs and video footage
  • Newspaper articles
  • Journal articles that present original research
  • Meeting minutes, press releases, policies, and records that document & share information about institutions

Primary sources can be found in published materials at the library, or digitized into databases and online collections. Original documents can be found in museums and archives. Primary sources can be individual items, collections brought together by theme, or archival fonds (records created by an individual or institution in the course of daily activities).

Library Catalogue

In the Subject search field, include keywords that describe both the document type and the subject matter. Document types may include:

  • diaries
  • letters, correspondence
  • personal narratives
  • speeches, addresses 

Example: personal narratives AND world war yields many types of personal narratives about both World Wars. Then, use the Limit Your Search (left side) to narrow your search by location, time period, language, etc.


For micro materials held at the University of Alberta Libraries, refer to this guide:

University of Alberta Special Collections & Archives

Peel's Prairie Provinces

Bibliography of books, pamphlets, images, and other materials related to the development of the Canadian Prairies, as well as a searchable full-text collection of many of these items.

Bruce Peel Special Collections & Archives

Rare and archival materials, many of which are related to the university, Alberta, and the Canadian Prairies. For inquiries, see contact information.

Search More Collections

In addition to primary sources held at the University of Alberta Libraries, the library also subscribes to databases and online exhibitions that feature primary sources.


Many primary sources are only available by searching through specific collections. â€‹Browse for collections by clicking on a geographical region:


Sometimes, it is possible to search multiple collections at once, covering a wide range materials. To search broadly across multiple collections, click on a search platform to see which collections are included:

Choose a Collection