Skip to Main Content

History: Primary Sources

Library Research Plan for History

Tips for finding Primary Sources

A primary source is the source closest to the original event, research or experience (definition taken from the WriteSite, University of Sydney).

  • Find a good, scholarly secondary source on the topic in the catalogue. Any good author will have consulted the primary sources on that subject and will list them in the footnotes and bibliography. Check these references in the catalogue to see if they are held in the Library.
  • Use a good, scholarly reference book. These have articles providing a broad overview of a topic, which will refer to the major primary and secondary sources.
  • Search our full-text primary source collections: EEBO, ECCO, Defining Gender, Empire Online, Digital Evans, Making of Modern Law. These are all listed in the Primary Sources of this guide.
  • Include the word “sources” in a Library keyword search. Cataloguers add the word "sources" to the subject heading when they identify a work as a primary sources. The results will include “sources” in the title and in the subject headings, e.g., Witchcraft -- History -- Sources. Also try words like: diaries, personal narrative, interview, letters, correspondence, etc.
  • Use the Advanced search mode in Library Search to search by a date range or material type. This will identify some works published during that time period or by type.
  • Rare Books and Special Collections hold many examples of primary sources. Learn how to find materials from our Rare Books collection.
  • Browse the shelves at the relevant call number, especially in Fisher. Be aware that a lot of material is in Storage and can only be located and requested via the online catalogue, so use the catalogue to do a 'virtual browse'.

Off-campus access

All currently enrolled students and staff are entitled to off-campus access to the Library's licensed electronic resources.  Your student or staff unikey will allow you to use these resources when you are not on a USYD campus.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that this website may contain images, voices and names of people who have died.

The University of Sydney Library acknowledges that its facilities sit on the ancestral lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have for thousands of generations exchanged knowledge for the benefit of all. Learn more