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HIST 203: Canada Since 1867

Research guide for HIST 203 (Winter 2024)

Finding Primary Sources: Diaries, Memoirs and Correspondence

The records left by a participant in an event (or by a close observer) are obviously of great interest to a historian.  Sometimes these sources have been published (in which case it will be in the catalogue, like a book), otherwise it will unpublished in manuscript form. For this assignment, restrict your research to published sources.

Memoirs, diaries, etc. are rarely published in the time of the events they concern. (The most interesting ones probably couldn’t be published until well after the people they discuss have died.) Separately published memoirs, etc., are organized within in the catalogue under specific subject categories, known as Subject Headings that include the words “Diaries” or "Correspondence” (e.g., “Frye, Northrop Diaries”). To find diaries, memoirs, or correspond, try searching a person's name along with the words "diaries" or "correspondence" or "letters", etc.:

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography, which currently mainly covers people who died before 1930, is the most useful source to identify memoirs, diaries, and letters by individuals. Look for these in the bibliographies at the end of articles.

Modern secondary scholarly works, both books and articles, are often your best sources for published personal documents like these. If you do use modern secondary sources to identify this type of primary source, be sure that the sources you have identified are indeed published ones, not manuscript or archival records that may be inaccessible.

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