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

You can request assistance from Moninder Lalli, Liaison Librarian for GSWS by phone 778.782.4264 or or Ask a librarian.

General notes

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 sources which are of interest to the discipline.

Finding Primary Sources at SFU

Search engine that searches both collections: Atom

SFU Library Catalogue

Use Keyword Search in the SFU Library Catalogue and combine your topic keywords with terms such as sources, documents, correspondence, trials, diaries, or personal narratives. Examples, below:

Use the Browse Search option in the SFU Library Catalogue.  Select "Subject" (drop-down menu), and enter terms.  Primary sources could be found by searching for the following "sub-headings" under a particular topic words.   E.g. African American Women -- Interviews

  • history -- sources
  • documents
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • personal narratives
  • pictorial works
  • description and travel
  • interviews
  • maps
  • manuscripts 

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Reading and interpreting an historical document requires a thoughtful and critical approach.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 primary source databases for GSWS

List of databases by content type of "primary sources"

  • 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.
  • ARTstor - 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 Britsh 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.

  • 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 OnlinePrimary documents. Over 400 digital collections about the history of women in the United States.

  • Empire Online - is 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

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

Primary sources on the internet

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.