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HIST 203 - Canada Since 1867

Finding Primary Sources: Historical Photographs

Photographs are useful background information to historical events and situations.  They are often revealing witnesses to the people and places involved. 

Photographs are usually not large and are almost never published separately.  This material is rarely indexed separately and is best found using secondary sources or logical inferences (i.e. where are photographs likely to occur?).

To use the Catalogue to find photographs of people in books, add "nt:ports” (i.e. ‘portraits’) to your search terms. In books from the time period covered by this course, this almost always means photographs.  


The same methodology can be used with nt:illus to find illustrations, but these may be drawings or photographs. In either case, it is always necessary to look at the physical book to determine whether you have actually found historical photographs.

The work need not actually have been published in the time of the event in order to contain appropriate historical photographs.  Modern secondary works, both books and articles, are often your best sources for historical photographs, and popular ones are usually better than scholarly ones.

The resources listed in the sections on finding contemporary newspaper and magazine articles will also locate photographs that accompanied contemporary articles. Government reports, in particular Sessional Papers, sometimes contain photographs.  Indexing of government documents has varied over the years.

Several online collections of historical photographs are available. 


Of course, you can also try one of the image search engines on the web, such as Google Images.

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