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HSTR 440: Disease, medicine and society in the era of plagues

This guide supports HSTR 440 and MEDI 440 as taught in Spring 2022.

Find Primary Sources

Primary sources are sources which provide a first hand account of events, or are artifacts from those events.  They can be anything in any format - letters, diaries oral histories, newspaper articles, speeches, laws, treaties, artworks, and more.  Old things are not always primary sources, context and contents are important.   Understanding the provenance of a thing can help you decide if it's useful to your argument or not, and we must read primary sources with the same critical eye as we do anything else. 

A great source for primary sources is in your secondary sources -

  • in the citations and notes, as something the author has consulted; or,
  • in the historical narrative. A law was passed, a treaty signed, a speech delivered etc - we can find those documents that were part of events. 

Seeking primary sources involves understanding the key people, places, and events of your topic, and thinking through what kind of documentary evidence might exist. Then you can seek those things in a variety of places:

  • republished in books:  search for your topic + "sources"
  • Online, via a google search, using google images, or using a site which collects primary sources
  • via our subscriptions to collected archives, government documents, newspapers, and more. 

Online Sources

There are many excellent collections of primary sources onlne  - a google search (topic + primary sources) should reveal the biggest ones.  I also love this guide from the Unviersit of Washington, and don't forget about the huge sites like Europeana, which cover every possible topic in european History or  the British Library for UK History. 

In Books

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This work by The University of Victoria Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License unless otherwise indicated when material has been used from other sources.