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Primary Text Collections

Meta-Search Tools for Primary Texts

What is a Primary Text?

In literary studies, primary texts take two forms:

1) creative literary works, or

2) documents and other artefacts that were created at the time an historical event occurred, or at/near the time a literary work was published.

Some examples of primary texts include:

  • novels, poems, plays
  • archival manuscripts
  • sermons and theological works
  • contemporaneous reviews of literary works, e.g. reviews of Byron's works published right after he wrote them.
  • photographs
  • diaries
  • letters
  • newspaper articles 

Secondary sources are sources that reflect back on and analyze these primary texts. Scholarly journal articles are secondary sources.


Tips for Finding Primary Sources

  • Be specific in your search terminology, e.g. if you want to find a medieval manuscript, say so with your search terms

  • Use terminology common to the historic period you are researching , rather than the modern terms. E.g “Great War” versus "World War I,"  “Dominion Day” versus “Canada Day,”  Indians versus "aboriginal people," or "Upper Canada" versus Ontario

  • When searching GOOGLE, include a term that might be used to describe an online primary source collection, such as: "primary sources," “virtual library,” sources, documents, digital, catalogue, collection, museum, etc.

  • Think of who might have collected the type of primary source you are looking for, then search that specific website

  • Assess carefully the sources you find. You should be able to easily determine who made the source available, and when and where the source was originally published or created. Look for sources being offered by credible organizations like libraries, museums and scholarly societies.

  • To find more credible sources, limit Google searches to educational websites by adding site:edu to your search terms