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Art History

What are primary sources?

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are characterized by their content, regardless of their format.

Primary sources can be found in various collections, including libraries, museums, and online. In Montreal, good sources include the McGill Library, Rare Books and Special Collections, the McGill Archives, the McCord Museum and the BANQ.

Primary sources

1) A Guide to Archival Resources at McGill University


*A good place to start* Published by the McGill University Archives, the three volume set brings together descriptions of documentary resources held by McGill University collecting repositories  including: McGill University Archives, Rare Books and Special Collections, Osler Library, Notman Photographic Archives, Montreal Neurological Institute, Blacker-Wood Library of Zoology and Ornithology, Blackader-Lauterman Library of Architecture and Art, and the McCord Museum. Access the guide online or find a copy in the library.


a) Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University and McGill University Archives
Location and Hours (no appointment needed)

To search all catalogued material in Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC), search the library catalogue. For those items that are not yet catalogued, please review our collection descriptions, then visit RBSC for more information regarding on-site finding aids. The following are selected RBSC collections related to Canadian History:

b) McCord Museum Archives and Documentation Centre
Location and Hours (By appointment)

The McCord Museum also provides access to selected collections through their online database.

2) Finding Primary Documents Online:

a) Look at Library and Museum websites around the world

As you look at books and journals on your topic, make note of where the authors did their research - a good reference will include information about the archive, library, or museum where they consulted the primary documents. With that information, have a look at the websites of those institutions to see what has been made available online.

b) Search the library's databases:

  • Confidential Print: North America, 1824-1960 A collection of papers generated by Britain's Foreign and Colonial Offices, in reference to the USA, Canada and the Caribbean. Includes references to the railway, trade, slavery, military and finance. [Adam Matthew Digital]
  • Early Canadiana Online []
  • Early Encounters in North America, 1534-1860 [Alexander Street Press]
  • Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)
  • Empire Online Includes archival material from 1492-2007: "Exploration journals and logs; Letter books and correspondence; Periodicals; Diaries; Official Government Papers; Missionary papers; Travel writing; Slave papers; Memoirs; Fiction; Children's Adventure Stories; Traditional; folk tales; Exhibition Catalogues and guides; Maps; Marketing Posters; Photographs; and Illustrations..." [Adam Matthew Digital]
  • HathiTrust Digital Library: This digital library provides access to selected full-text items. Login with your McGill email address and password for increased access to: US government documents; Material published in the US prior to 1923; Material published outside of the US prior to 1870
  • Index to Art in Canada / Index to National Gallery of Canada Exhibition Catalogues, 1880-1930
    Index by artist to works of art exhibited at the National Gallery and other Canadian galleries and recorded in contemporary exhibition and auction catalogues. Access online
  • Making of the Modern World [Gale]
  • North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories
    Includes 2,162 authors and approximately 100,000 pages of information, so providing a unique and personal view of what it meant to immigrate to America and Canada between 1800 and 1950. Composed of contemporaneous letters and diaries, oral histories, interviews, and other personal narratives.
  • North American Women's Letters and Diaries The collection includes some 150,000 pages of published letters and diaries from individuals writing from Colonial times to 1950, including more than 6,000 pages of previously unpublished materials. Drawn from more than 600 sources, including journal articles, pamphlets, newsletters, monographs, and conference proceedings.
  • Travel Writing, Spectacle and World History [Adam Matthew Digital]

3) Historical Journals and Newspapers

4) Image Resources


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David Greene
Humanities & Social Sciences Library

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