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Primary Sources

Online library support for primary source research

The University has access to an extensive range of online primary source materials. These contain digitised copies of documents, letters, books, photographs and other primary sources.

We also have a wide range of physical primary source materials located on campus, both in the library and in the archives and special collections.

Use the left-hand menu to find online primary sources by country, time period and theme.

A general definition of a primary source is first-hand evidence of an event or experience. This evidence can be in the form of the written word, images, artefacts, film or sound recordings, and will have been created at some point during the lifetime of the person involved.

Primary sources will vary depending upon what is being studied. 

The majority of our primary source databases contain evidence in the form of text or image based materials. 

Examples of primary sources are:

  • Books and manuscripts
  • Ephemera (posters, invites, greetings cards, receipts, handbills etc.)
  • Film and video, images, photographs and original artwork
  • Interviews and speeches
  • Maps
  • Pamphlets, magazines and newsletters
  • Newspapers, news sheets and newsbooks
  • Parliamentary, legal and official documents (Government publications, census data, court cases, business records etc.)
  • Personal writings (memoirs, letters etc.)
  • Reports and grey literature

Secondary sources are usually created after an event by someone who was not a firsthand witness to something. The authors or creators of secondary material may use a number of primary sources to analyse, criticise, interpret or provide a summary of an event or topic. Textbooks are usually secondary sources.

Secondary sources may also be primary sources. For example, if a scholar from the 19th century studies the nature of contemporary literary criticism, then their critique from the 19th century becomes a primary resource.

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • books
  • journal articles
  • reviews of literature
  • biographies

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