Skip to Main Content


A guide to library research for Historical research at the University of Calgary.

What are Primary Sources?

Greek sources

Primary sources are original materials created in their own time, or at a later time by someone directly connected to the event. They are very important to the study of history because they have not been subject to anyone else's interpretation.

In the past, primary sources were duplicated and distributed in different formats such as microfilm, microfiche, or reproduced in books and other publications. 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 and journals;
  • Speeches, interviews, letters, and memos;
  • Memoirs and autobiographies;
  • Statistical data sets such as for the census;
  • Literature (fiction and non-fiction);
  • Official records of organizations and agencies of government, including memoranda, position papers, charters, and court cases;
  • Published materials written at the time of the event such as in newspapers and magazines; 
  • Photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures, video recordings documenting what happened at the time; and
  • Artifacts of all kinds such as coins, stamps, and maps.

Primary Source Databases

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 and complete digitized 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. To find a list of databases to start, use the History--Primary Sources list under databases.


Newspapers are a popular primary resource and Libraries and Cultural Resources has a large number in electronic format, the vast majority of which are searchable full-text. We also hold a large number of newspapers in microformats.  For more information on finding newspapers, please use the Newspapers and News Media Guide. 


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.  This collection is physically located at the HDL, and includes collections in microcard, microfilm, and microfiche. You can request these items to be brought to the TFDL where equipment is available to read and copy that material. For more information, please use the Microforms Guide.