Primary Sources for Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies (GSWS)

For library research assistance please email, Liaison Librarian for GSWS or Ask a librarian.

What is a primary source?

A primary source is a document or other sort of evidence written or created during the time under study, or by one of the persons or organizations directly involved in the event. Primary sources offer an inside view of a particular event.

Primary Sources for the Humanities guide provides an extensive list of sources which may also be useful for students of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies (GSWS).  This guide provides a selected number of these sources.  Selected sources are included in this guide.  In addition, see also SFU Special Collections guide:  LBGTQ2S+ materials.

Find primary sources using Catalogue Search

Examples of primary sources: documents, correspondence, diaries, personal narratives, pictorial works, description and travel, interviews, maps, and manuscripts 

Book covers by ISBNs: 9780802091345

Example searches

Use the Basic Catalogue Search or Advanced Search to find books that are "primary sources."

Evaluating primary sources

Reading and interpreting an historical document requires a thoughtful and critical approach. The following sites offer some guidelines for approach and evaluation: Reading a Primary Source , Dohistory, and Using Primary Resources.

Selected databases of primary sources for GSWS

List of databases by content type of "primary sources"

When searching SFU Library databases, select "Primary sources" under "Browse by Content type."


Multiple database search engines

AM explorer
Search for primary source material covering the social sciences and humanities from multiple Adam Matthew Digital databases. Includes monographs, manuscripts, newspapers, maps, photographs and archival documents covering history, literature, culture and politics.

Artemis Primary Sources -  Search across multiple Gale collections for monographs, manuscripts, newspapers, photographs, maps, and other primary sources.

Single primary source databases

Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony (ALOT) 
"the oral histories of people who presently or at one time identified as lesbian."

Archives of Sexuality & Gender
A collection of primary sources on social, political, health, and legal issues impacting LGBTQ communities around the world since 1940.  Rare and unique content from newsletters, organisational papers, government documents, manuscripts, pamphlets, and other types of primary sources sheds light on the gay rights movement, activism, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and more.

Use "Advanced" search for more flexibility in searching.  Use "topic finder" to search or topics.  E.g. film or cinema or "motion picture*"


Currently contains over one million images. The Collection documents artistic traditions across many times and cultures and embraces architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts, and design as well as many other forms of visual culture.

British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries 
The immediate experiences of British and Irish women, as revealed in diaries and letters. Use the "Browse" icon to search for "personal events" such as courtship, pregnancy, childbirth, and spouse's absence.

Community Health Online Digital Archive & Research Resource(CHODDAR)
"project is a permanent, catalogued and publicly accessible online digital archive of research materials related to health and social welfare, with an emphasis on housing, gender, aboriginal issues, HIV and mental health."

Defining Gender 1450-1910: Five Centuries of Advice Literature Online
Fulltext collection of "advice literature to women," 1450 to 1910.

Discovering American Women's History Online
Primary documents. Over 400 digital collections about the history of women in the United States.

Empire Online
A collection of over 70,000 images of original manuscripts and printed material, 1492-1969, taken from libraries and archives around the world, including Africa, the Americas, Australasia, Oceania, and South Asia.

Independent Voices: an Open Access Collection of an Alternative Press  
A set of digitized newspapers, journals, and magazines originally published by alternative presses during the 1960s, '70s and '80s. Independent Voices provides access to the powerful voices of feminists, dissident GIs, campus radicals, Native Americans, anti-war activists, Black Power advocates, Latinos, gays, lesbians and more.

From within the database, click on "Series" to find magazines by theme: Black American, Campus Underground, Feminist, GI Press, LGBT, Latino, Little Magazine, Native American, and Right Wing.

Italian Canadian Women Oral History Collection
Interviews collected in the 1970s and 1980s documenting the experiences of Italian women who immigrated to Canada throughout the first three quarters of the twentieth century.

Italian Canadian Women Photograph Collection 
A collection of archival images dating from 1950 to 1975 celebrating the contributions of Italian women immigrants to Canadian history and culture.

Liberty Magazine
Published from 1924 to 1950, Liberty Magazine was an American weekly which often focused on sensational and popular issues. Gain insight into life in the United States during the Depression era and World War II. The articles, stories and advertisements in Liberty Magazine offer a perspective on the everyday lives of working-class and middle-class America when illustrated magazines were a popular form of mass entertainment.

Maclean's Magazine Archive  - Full-text access to Maclean's Magazine from 1905 to 2015. Includes investigative reporting, opinion and analysis on politics, economy and business, science and technology, society, arts and culture, education and work.

Mass Observation Online: British Social History, 1937-1972
The papers of the Mass Observations organisation. It offers an unparalled insight into everyday British life in the 1930s and 1940s

North American Women's Letters and Diaries  
Full-text of letters and diaries written by North American women from Colonial times to 1950.

Oral History Online
More than 2,500 collections of Oral History in English from around the world.

Perdita Manuscripts: Women Writers, 1500-1700 
Collection of manuscripts written or compiled by women in the British Isles during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975  Colour images of manuscripts and rare printed materials, as well as photographs, ephemera and memorabilia covering popular culture in Britain, America, and Canada from 1950 to 1975.

QMUNITY's Stories of Older Queers open access
Video interviews chronicling the experiences of older lesbian-gay-bisexual-transfolk conducted as part of a project called "Stories of Older Queers: Videography and Archives of Queer Elder Experiences."

Scottish Women Poets of the Romantic Period 
An electronic collection of over sixty volumes of lyric poetry by Scottish women, written between 1789 and 1832

The Shirley Petten Collection open access 
Correspondence, newspaper clippings and other materials related to Shirley Petten's landmark ruling on same-sex survivor benefit rights from the BC Worker's Compensation Board in 1992.

Smithsonian Global Sound 
Searchable database of online music from around the world. Includes sound effects and spoken word recordings.

Victorian Popular Culture 
Search across four collections on popular entertainment in the 19th and early 20th centuries: Spiritualism, Sensation and Magic; Circuses, Sideshows and Freaks; Music Hall, Theatre and Popular Entertainment; Moving Pictures, Optical Entertainments and the Advent of Cinema.

Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 
Books, images, documents, scholarly essays, commentaries, and bibliographies that document the different facets of women's activism in public life.

Women's Magazine Archive  
Women’s interest consumer magazines from 1846 to 2005 including Better Homes and Gardens, Chatelaine, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Seventeen and others. Topics include family life, home economics, health, careers, fashion, culture and more.

Women, War and Society, 1914-1918 
Documents and interpretive essays on women's involvement in World War I, primarily in Britain.

Xinjiang Documentation Project

An authoritative website project "to provide a reading guide about the recent developments, experts’ explanations, as well as an understanding of what ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs are going through on a daily basis. It further aims to integrate research methods from social science, humanities, and other disciplines for the documentation and analysis of the on-the-ground situation." [from project website]

Primary sources at SFU Special Collections and University Archives

Search engine that searches both collections: Atom

Selected websites of primary sources

Many archival and library collections are now preserving, digitizing, and providing access to significant primary historical resources. The Internet also provides access to many other primary sources, such as advertisements, e-mail messages, speeches, manifestos, creative works, laws and court cases, historical documents, etc. It is always possible to search for specific items by using a web browser.


  • Canadian War Brides  - Provides information on the Canadian War Brides of WWII.

  • Herstory - A retrospective exhibition to capture the flavour of 20 years of work on a unique feminist project. It samples the pages of Herstory: The Canadian Women's Calendar from 1974 to 1995, and reflects on the process and the people that created them.
  • Rise Up! - a digital archive of feminist activism in Canada from the 1970s to the 1990s.

For a more complete list, see Primary Sources for the Humanities: Canada


  • Digital Transgender Archive
    The purpose of the Digital Transgender Archive (DTA) is to increase the accessibility of transgender history by providing an online hub for digitized historical materials, born-digital materials, and information on archival holdings throughout the world. Based in Boston, Massachusetts at Northeastern University, the DTA is an international collaboration among more than sixty colleges, universities, nonprofit organizations, public libraries, and private collections. [from the website]

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United States