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HIST 203 - Canada Since 1867

Finding Primary Sources: Literary Works

Contemporary literary materials (such as plays, poetry, fiction, movies, etc.) are useful sources for revealing popular reactions to historical events and situations.

While novels can usually be located much like other books, poems, short stories and plays are usually shorter works and they were rarely published separately.  Films are very difficult to identify. Appropriate material other than book-length fiction is rarely indexed anywhere and is best found using secondary sources such as biographies of the participants, histories of the event or secondary works on the social or cultural milieu in which the event unfolded. 

Separately published material (books, plays) can be found in the Catalogue with subject subheading “—fiction” (e.g., “Red River Rebellion, 1869-1870 — Fiction” or “Red River Rebellion, 1869-1870 — Poetry”).  Do a “browse” search by subject (e.g., “Red River Rebellion”) and scan down the headings.  Or take the results of a fairly large keyword search set (not a browse search), for example, ”search as phrase: red river rebellion as keyword in subject,” and limit the results by “keyword in subject: poetry.”  These limits can also be used on keyword searches on much broader subject headings can also be used, but be sure that the literary works found are really relevant. (For more information, see the section on chronological and subject subdivisions in the page on Finding Secondary Sources: Scholarly Books.)

The indexes listed in the sections on finding contemporary newspaper and magazine articles will also locate poems and short fiction about contemporary events.  Add “poetry” or “stories” to your search terms or look for subheadings.  Exact vocabulary will vary from one index to the next.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography, which currently covers people who died before 1930, is a useful source for literary material by and about individuals.

The Early Canadiana Online database entitled English Canadian Literature is a useful source for finding literary material in electronic format. Use the box in the upper left-hand corner to search the collection.

References in modern secondary works, particularly in articles or chapters of books dealing with contemporary reactions to events are also a useful source for finding literary works.

Check the catalogue to find out if the item is in the library.  Remember; if it is a smaller thing in a larger thing (e.g. a poem in a collection, or an story in a magazine), look for the larger thing (i.e. the collection or the magazine) in the Catalogue.

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