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CRIM 203 (Historical Perspectives in Criminal Justice) Course Guide: Primary vs Secondary Sources Explained

This guide helps you find ebooks and online resources, including primary sources, as you get started with your research. For additional help finding sources, ask a librarian!

Finding Primary Sources in the Library Catalogue

Primary Sources          

  • Primary sources refer to first-hand accounts of a period or an event that the author directly experienced or observed. 
  • Examples of primary sources are letters, diaries, correspondence, newspaper articles (written at the time), editorial cartoons, interviews, government documents, autobiographies, memoirs, speeches, videos (produced at the time), photographs, maps and art. 
  • Many of the library books include reprinted primary sources.  To limit your search in the Library Catalogue to primary source materials, combine your topic with the words below using AND (hint spell the words exactly as you see them below).
  • sources
  • diaries
  • cases
  • correspondence
  • letters
  • personal narratives
  • interviews
  • memoir, memoirs
  • reminiscences

Sample searches:

  • Native people and sources
  • Racism and Canada and sources
  • Sentences (Criminal procedure) and (cases or sources)
  • Indigenous peoples and (memoirs or diaries or sources)
  • Immigrants and letters

Want to save time? Try to get a list of all the resources in the catalogue by using a Boolean search (this just means using the terms AND and OR to create better searches)


  • Criminals AND (Sources OR letters OR diaries)
  • (Native people or Indigenous or First Nations) and sources

Secondary Sources in the catalogue

Secondary Sources

  • Secondary sources (books, chapters in books and academic articles) interpret historical events.
  • Generally, they are based on primary source material and involve analysis of this material.
  • The Library catalogue and the Canadian Business and Current Affairs database will help supply you with your required secondary sources. 
Define and focus your topic/theme
  • Broad topics can be defined further in the catalogue by using specific people, events or more focused subject terms 
  • For example, Gender could be further defined/focused to find resources.  A search for gender would find too many resources in the library catalogue and they may not be related to Canada or history or your photograph. 

For better results use Boolean Searching.  Boolean searching uses AND, OR and NOT to help you find the best resources available on your topic.

Examples using AND

  • Women and prostitution and Canada
  • Native women and legal status
  • Immigrants and history and Canada
  • Racism and law and Canada
  • Youth justice and Canada

Examples using AND and OR

  • (Racism or prejeduice) and (legal or law) and Canad*

Truncation can help expand your search.  For example you can use *(shift 8) to truncate a word. 


  • Immigra*  (finds all the resources with the word immigrants or immigration)
  • Canad* (finds all the resources with the word Canadian or Canada)