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HIST1703 Introduction to History: Primary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

"A primary source is any record contemporary to an event or time period. Primary sources may be written, oral, visual, or physical. Some of these sources were produced with the intent of being preserved for the future. Such intentional sources include government documents, church records, autobiographies, or memoirs. On the other hand, many primary sources were produced without any intent of future use. Such unintentional sources may include private correspondences not originally meant for posterity but which later are deposited in archives and libraries. Physical evidence such as buildings, clothing, tools, and landscapes may also be labeled as unintentional sources".  

Michael J. Galgano, J. Chris Arndt and Raymond M. Hyser, Doing History: Research and Writing in the Digital Age, 2nd ed. (Boston: Wadsworth, 2013), 59.


Conducting Research

A key to conducting major research is to visit local archival, historical and institutional repositories. This gives you the opportunity to view important literary and historical documents first hand. Listed below are links to local museums, libraries that store and preserve historical documents.

West Indies and Special Collections, Mona Library

National Library of Jamaica (NLJ)

African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica (ACIJ)

Jamaica Archives and Records Department 

Institutional repositories, eg. UWI Archives

Digital Libraries and Archives

Digital libraries and archives are great ways to view primary sources or full texts without having to travel anywhere. Listed below are digital collections…

Many libraries will at least post a collection’s finding aid online. To search for these, try typing the author’s name followed by “digital papers” or “collection finding aid”. Even if the papers themselves are not digitized the listing lets you see what is there and helps determine whether it may be worth the trip to see the material. 

Legacies of British Slave-ownership Project

Established in 2009 the LBS Project is designed to develop an online Encyclopaedia of British Slave-ownership containing information about every slave-owner in the British Caribbean, Mauritius or the Cape at the moment of abolition in 1833. Since 2012 a free access database recording details on British slave owners throughout the Empire during the 1830s using the records of the Slave Compensation Commission as the research document has been available.

SEARCH the Database