Skip to main content

English: Primary sources

A primary source is a document produced within a particular historical context. Examples include works of fiction, poetry, drama and art, plus letters, diaries, autobiographies, speeches and interviews. The document may have published close to the time it was written, at a later time, or it may not be published at all, as is the case for many items in archival and manuscript collections. See Finding Primary Sources - Library of Congress Subject Headings (from MIT Libraries) for subject keywords to use when searching the Primo Library Catalogue.

Online primary source collections

Start here for English literature

Early English Books Online (EEBO) 1475-1700
Facsimiles of more than 100,000 literary and historical texts as listed in the English Short Title Catalogue.
Eighteenth Century Journals 1650-1815
Rare, full-text journals on a wide range of topics.
Nineteenth Century Collections Online
Primary source collection focusing on the 19th century, gender, and class through a transnational perspective.
Literature Online (LION) 8th century to present
Full text of hundreds of thousands of works in British, American and Canadian English.
Defining Gender, 1450-1910
Full-text manuscripts and printed works, plus illustrations.
Early Canadiana Online
Digitized texts published between the first European settlement of Canada and the early twentieth century.

Also useful for English literature, A-Z

19th Century Masterfile 1106-1930
An index to a variety of primary sources from the 12th century up to 1930.
Asian American Drama late 19th century to present
Full-text plays, many not previously published, and related information.
Black Drama 1850 to present
Full-text plays and related information from around the world.
Center for Research Libraries
Materials available in digital format of for request through Interlibrary Loan.
First World War Personal Experiences
Documents, maps and visual resources.
Internet Archive
Digitized texts in the public domain.
Latino Literature late 19th century to present
Full-text poetry, prose and drama by writers in the U.S.
Modernist Journals Project early 20th century
Selection of full-text journals, books and essays along with visual art.
News Archives Online late 18th century to early 21st
Full-text newspapers from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.
North American Indian Thought and Culture 17th century to present
Full-text biographies, autobiographies, diaries, letters, personal narratives and speeches.
North American Theatre Online
Information about plays, actors, productions, etc.
North American Women's Drama colonial times to present
Full-text plays, chiefly American with some Canadian.
Proceedings of the Old Bailey 1674 to 1913
Details of thousands of criminal trials.
Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice
Includes manuscripts, books, pamphlets, maps and images.
South and Southeast Asian Literature 1827 to present
Fiction and poetry written in English by authors from South and Southeast Asia.
Twentieth Century North American Drama late 19th century to present
Full-text plays, chiefly American with some Canadian.

Letters and diaries

British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries 1500 to World War II
Search by author's name, age, marital status, etc., and also by historical event.
Manuscript Women's Letters and Diaries 1719 to 1991
Collection of personal writings by American women of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries
North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories late 18th century to present
Full-text personal narratives of immigrants to the United States and Canada.
North American Women's Letters and Diaries colonial times to 1950
Full-text material, primarily American, with some from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Original documents in the Laurier Archives

Clara Bernhardt (1928-1991) fonds
Cambridge, Ontario-area poet, novelist, composer, and columnist. The collection includes publications, manuscripts, scrapbooks, correspondence, diaries and other papers.
John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) collection
English lecturer and novelist, whose works included Wolf Solent and A Glastonbury Romance. The collection includes reproductions of publications, newspaper clippings, and correspondence.