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UWI Mona West Indies and Special Collections: Teaching with Special Collections

This guide provides an overview to the collections and services of the West Indies and Special Collections Section at The University of the West Indies, Mona Library, Mona Campus.


This guide offers an authoritative outlook on teaching with primary sources. Aimed at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona students and faculty, this guide will make clear the importance of primary resources, teaching with said resources and accessing these in the West Indies and Special Collections (WISC) of the Mona Library.


The WISC invites faculty in for physical or virtual class visits. Students are afforded the opportunity to appreciate the nuances of the different types of resources and how these relate to a variety of disciplines. 

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Above, students of the West Indian Literature, Special Author: Louise Bennett course - LITS 3501 (left) and Introduction to Caribbean Philosophy - PHIL2025 (right) spent sessions discussing the primary pieces within collections such as Jamaican cultural icon Louise Bennett-Coverley and veteran South African writer and broadcaster Peter Abrahams.

To schedule a visit, please email the WISC -

Browse this guide to:

  • Understand primary sources
  • Discover primary sources in the WISC, Mona Library
  • Efficiently use primary sources
  • Determine the value of primary vs secondary sources
  • Appreciate teaching with primary sources


Understanding Primary Sources

Primary sources provide first-hand accounts of an event, landscape or people from the experiences of those directly involved. In contrast, secondary sources often give a synthesized version of a primary resource, offering some a base for further discussion based on the critique.

Primary sources often provide opportunity to develop original research across disciplines from these first accounts.

Teaching with Primary sources

The 2015 publication of the ACRL framework cites information literacy as “…the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning”.

Traditionally, information literacy focused on offering instructions for library skills and specific courses, but within the realm of The WISC at Mona, the proper use of our primary resources is critical.

Primary Sources in the WISC, Mona Library

Primary sources within the WISC of The UWI Mona Library include rare books, photographs, diaries and  maps from the 17th to 21st century. 

Sir Hans Sloane’s Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados… and Jamaica, published two volumes, is an example of a primary source in the WISC. Published in 1715, Sloane gives a natural history journey of the voyage. His drawings of the flora and fauna of these islands can complement scientific research into the existence or extinction of some of these species.

Value of Primary vs Secondary Resources


Thomas Thistlewood’s diaries, copies of which are held in the WISC, is a representation of life in the mid to late 1700s plantation society of Jamaica. His daily activities are logged at length from his arrival in 1750 through to his death in 1786. The diaries have been repackaged with a selection of the entries published by West Indian historian, Douglas Gordon Hall In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica 1750 - 86. Douglas’ work also included commentary in analysis of the information conveyed in the diaries.

Trevor Burnard soon came with “Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World” as a secondary source interrogating the diaries. Burnard’s research of the diaries offer thrilling example of a secondary resource as the analysis not only featured Thistlewood but the insight it gave of a well established slave society with its expectations and prejudices.

Efficient use of Primary Sources

To effectively use primary sources, a researcher has to have a good understanding or background knowledge of the period, individual or event being researched.

  • Skills associated with the efficient use of primary sources include:
  • Incorporating other skills such as digital and information literacy
  • Using experiences from varying disciplines to enhance discovery of primary sources.
  • Adapting research functionality for online resources, databases or more traditional catalogue
  • Deciphering handwriting and having an understanding of language various based on time or geographic location
  • Identifying  primary sources regardless of format or location


  • Burnard, Trevor. (2004). Mastery, Tyranny and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World. London: U. of North Carolina Press.
  • Hall, Douglas. (1986). In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica, 1750 - 86. Kingston, U. West Indies Press.
  • ACRL Framework on Information Literacy.
  • ACRL RBMS SAA - Guidelines on Primary Source Literacy.