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Types of Sources Used in Academic History Research

Background Information: Tertiary Sources on the History of Medicine

Tertiary sources including encyclopeidas, historical dictionaries, handbooks and companions guides provide helpful overviews, including key facts, dates, people, place and issues associated with historical topics.They are often known as background or reference sources.

They gather and synthesize existing information to make it easy to find and understand, and are an excellent starting point in most research projects. 


⇒ Find More Tertiary Sources:

Search tips: Keep searches simple withinn tertiary sources, one or two words usually works best, e.g. malaria history

Secondary Sources

In the discipline of History, secondary sources interpret and analyze primary sources, and are removed in time from the events they discuss. They can be scholarly or non-scholarly/popular.

Find Secondary Sources in MRU LibrarySearch 

Try limiting searches by:

  • using the sidebar options (e.g. limit results to only relevant subjects, or to preferred resource type, e.g., books)
  • using the advanced search to search for important terms in the subject or title fields on the drop-down menus.
  • refining results to only peer-reviewed sources (searches only within scholarly journals and EXCLUDES books)
  • Sign in for enhanced results, to save "pinned" favourites lists and search queries.

⇒ Find Secondary Sources in a History Specific Database

Still looking for information or overwhelmed by LibrarySearch results? Try a history specific database:

⇒ Find Secondary Sources Via Google Scholar

  • Be sure to set up Library Links to Mount Royal University within the settings of Google Scholar.

Primary Sources

Historical Primary Sources: Documents or other artefacts created at the time in history under study, generally by a person or group that witnessed, participated in or contributed to the events of the day in some way. 

Primary sources take many forms, and the most appropriate or helpful type of primary source will depend on your topic. Some types of primary sources related to the history of health, medicine and disease include:

Official reports, government records, health policies:  

Research studies, medical and scientific commentary: 


Materia medica / pharmacological texts: 

 Where to find primary sources related to this course

Specialized collections:

Basic tools

  • On Google - add the terms primary sources or primary documents to your search query e.g., Greek medicine primary documents
  • In LibrarySearch :
    • add the word sources to your search query, or search for a specific source type e.g., speeches, correspondence, diaries, royal commission. E.g., medieval medicine sources 
      Try using the drop down menu to search for your terms only in the subject of the results.
    • Use the creation date filter and specify dates or years relevant to your topic
    • Use the resource type filter to limit only to books (reprinted primary sources usually take the form of a book).
  •  On the Primary Sources tab of this guide, browse for relevant primary source collections. Look for the Primary Sources by Geographical Area of Study heading.
Primary Source Search Tips
  • Use terminology from the time period you are studying - e.g., melancholy vs. lunacy vs. madness vs. mental illness

  • If the search tool offers the option to limit by date, use it. Be very specific to the time period you are studying.

  • Be methodical - if you know the time frame of an event, browse multiple editions or publications from that time range for potential mentions of the topic/event.


MRU has access to several image collections that may be helpful for your StoryMap. They include:

ArtStor - High quality images from JStor

Bridgeman Art Library Archive - Be sure to limit keyword searches to images.

Oxford Art Online - Art images; note that you can browse or limit searches by time period

Smithsonian Open Access - millions of images from their museum and archives collections.

Wellcome Collection - From your search results, limit by FORMAT to digital images.

Google Images - To find copyright friendly images, use the TOOLS option and limit by USAGE RIGHTS to Creative Commons.

Other - Primary source databases, including newspaper and magazine collections and many others, often include image searches in their advanced search function. 

Chicago Style Citation

MRU Chicago Style Citation Resources: Includes a guide for using Chicago style, examples, and instructions for inserting footnotes.


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Finding Books on the Shelf

Call number: The address for a physical library item, so you can find it on the shelf. In MRU's LibrarySearch, it is displayed below the title of the book. You can follow the locate icon for a map to the book on its shelf.