What are primary sources?

Primary sources are original sources of information about a topic. They are records or items from the past that were created at or near a certain time in history. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies, photographs, audio recordings, videos, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. 


United States History

Advertising/Marketing

Ad*Access
A collection of images from over 7,000 advertisements printed in U.S. and Canadian newspapers and magazines. Subject areas include: radio, television, transportation, beauty and hygiene and World War II.

War on the Walls: Posters From the George F. Tyler WWI Collection 
This exhibition presents selections from a collection of over 1,500 World War I posters currently housed in Temple University Libraries' Special Collections. The posters provide a graphic portrayal of Allied propaganda used to educate the public and enlist support for the war effort. In addition, they serve as examples of the art, design, and printing techniques of the period. The selections are accompanied by primary source material and commentary."

Civil War

American Civil War Collections 
Civil War letters and diary entries.  Each collection is annotated, showing if the letters are from spouses, sweethearts, relatives, or others. 

The American Civil War Homepage 
A general site on the American Civil War that includes links to images and photographs from the Civil War as well as links to important Civil War documents.

Civil War Women: Primary Sources on the Internet
Diaries, letters, documents, photographs and other materials that reflect women's lives and experiences during this time period.

Reconstruction: The Second Civil War 
Companion site to a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) American Experience program that "tracks the extraordinary stories of ordinary Americans — Southern and Northern, white and black — as they struggle to shape new lives for themselves in a world turned upside down" following the Civil War. Features primary source materials, maps, a timeline, video clips, a teacher's guide, a bibliography, related links, and a program transcript.

The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War 
A project that interweaves the histories of two communities on either side of the Mason-Dixon line during the era of the American Civil War. It incorporates a narrative and electronic archive of the sources on which the narrative is based.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies 
An online version of one of the primary sources of the U.S. Civil War (70 volumes, published in 1880-1901 by the War Records Office). Searchable.

Civil Rights

Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive 
This site is a "fully searchable database of digitized versions of rare and unique library and archival resources on race relations in Mississippi." The "Manuscripts and Photographs" section provides browsable access to selected primary source material. Also includes a short historical essay and timeline back to 1900, oral history transcripts, and links to related sites. 

Crafting Freedom: African Americans  
This site's goal is to serve as a guide on how to research lesser-known black Americans, both slave and free, "to get a broader understanding of African American living and working environment between 1800 and 1870." Includes materials and links to sources on topics such as historical analysis, bibliography, photographs, and primary sources (such as vital records and insurance maps).

Duluth Lynchings Online Resource: Historical Documents Relating to the Tragic Events of June 15, 1920 
Primary source materials relating to the 1920 lynching of three young black men--Isaac McGhie, Elias Clayton, and Elmer Jackson--in Duluth, Minnesota." It includes background information on the event, newspaper accounts, legal documents, photographs, oral histories, a timeline, and recommended additional online and print resources.

General American History

AMDOCS: Documents for the Study of American History 
A directory of primary documents available on the Web. Includes inaugural addresses, diary extracts, treaties, letters, speeches, and more.

The American Colonist's Library: A Treasury of Primary Documents 
A "collection of historical works which contributed to the formation of American politics, culture, and ideals." Arranged chronologically.

American Memory
A gateway to primary source material from the Library of Congress.  Collections include documents, oral histories, images, maps, etc.  Click on the “More browse options” link at the bottom of the page to browse by time period, type of resource, or geographic area.

The American Presidency Project
69,147 documents related to the study of the Presidency, such as the Public Papers of the Presidents, State of the Union Addresses, Inaugural Addresses, and more. Searchable.

American Radicalism 
An online collection of digital texts and images from the American Radicalism collection at Michigan State University. Among the many subject areas included are the Hollywood Ten, Black Panthers, Birth Control, I.W.W., Wounded Knee and Students for a Democratic Society.

America's Story from America's Library
Provides access to a broad array of primary sources on people and events in American history, the nation's states and capital, and American sports, hobbies, pastimes, movies, and music.

Archiving Early America
An archive of documents from the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, Louisiana Purchase Treaty, Whiskey Rebellion, and more. Firsts has information about the first penny, copyright law, newspaper, political cartoon, and others. The Digital Library contains portraits, places, events, early scenes, battles, maps, early-day ads, and more. 

Digital Classroom 
The "National Archives' gateway for resources about primary sources, activities and training for educators and students."

Documenting the American South (DAS) 
Over 1,200 primary sources documenting the cultural history of the American South from the viewpoint of Southerners.

History Matters
Text, image, audio and video narratives of Americans.  Use the search function to limit by time period, subject matter and/or type of resource.

Making of America 
"A digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology."

Our Documents
100 milestone documents of American history. These documents reflect America's diversity and unity, its past and future.

Pilgrim Hall Museum: The Pilgrim Story 
This site combines images of items from the museum with well-documented historical information to illuminate the Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag Nation (American Indian tribe) story to 1692. Includes the background of the settlers, the voyage of the Mayflower, and the "First Thanksgiving." Also provides brief biographies of colonists, articles about the colony, and transcripts of documents such as wills, inventories, and the Mayflower Compact.

Music and Literature

Lyrical Legacy: 400 Years of American Song and Poetry 
18 American songs and poems from the digital collections of the Library of Congress. Each is represented by an original primary source document, along with historical background information and, in many cases, sound recordings and alternate versions.

Women

American Women's History: A Research Guide
Provides "citations to print and Internet reference sources, as well as to selected large primary source collections. Browsable by U.S. state and topic.

Civil War Women: Primary Sources on the Internet

The Emma Goldman Papers 
Digitized collections from the Emma Goldman Papers Project at UC Berkeley. This collection includes letters, images and a newsreel clip from 1934.

North American Women's Letters and Diaries
"The largest collection of women's diaries and correspondence ever assembled. Spanning more than 300 years (Colonial times to 1950), brings the personal experiences of some 1,325 women to researchers, students, and general readers."

Salem Witch Trials: Documentary Archive and Transcription Project 
An "electronic collection of primary source materials relating to the Salem [Massachusetts] witch trials of 1692 and a new transcription of the court records." Contains an overview essay about the trials, court records, maps, profiles of notable people, and links to related archives. 

Stanton and Anthony Papers Project 
Features full text materials by the two women's rights advocates, a timeline, bibliographies for adults and children, statistics on women's voting records from 1868 to 1873, and related resources.

Women Working, 1800-1930
Focuses on women's role in the United States economy and provides access to digitized historical, manuscript, and image resources selected from Harvard University's library and museum collections. The collection features approximately 500,000 digitized pages and images.


 

California History

Calisphere 
University of California's gateway to historical items from the UC campuses and a variety of cultural heritage organizations. Searchable, or browsable by individual subjects or themed collections.

The Chinese in California 
Collection of material dealing with Chinese immigration to California.  Includes original illustrations, cartoons, letters, diary excerpts, speeches, sheet music, and other images and printed matter. Search or browse the material by subject, name, title, group, or theme. 

Online Archive of California
An online archive of over 28,000 images illustrating California's history and culture.

Web de Anza 
This site "provides students and scholars with primary source documents and multimedia resources covering Juan Bautista de Anza's two overland expeditions from the Sonoran desert to northern California, leading to the colonization of San Francisco in 1776." Includes maps, pictures, timelines, the text of the diaries of de Anza and the Franciscan friars who were with him, biographies of key figures, a bibliography, and more.

 



General History

Cold War

Cold War Documents
A compilation of documents from the Cold War era.

Cold War International History Project
Disseminates new information and perspectives on the history of the Cold War.

General sources

The Avalon Project
Historical documents relevant to the fields of law, history, economics, politics, diplomacy and government.

EuroDocs
Online sources of European history documents.

Historical Text Archive
Includes primary and secondary documents from world history.

Internet History Sourcebooks Project
Large collections of well-organized primary texts from around the world.

MINERVA 
Program to collect and preserve primary source material from the Internet. MINERVA's archives include "Election 2002" and "September 11, 2001." Also find a list of anticipated topics for archives and presentations about the operation of this project.

NYPL Digital Gallery 
This site "provides access to over 275,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the collections of The New York Public Library [NYPL], including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more." Searchable, or browsable by collection, such as art and literature, cities and buildings, industry and technology, and nature and science.

Picture This: The World in the Early Twentieth Century 
This collection of hundreds of images from glass lantern slides shows "people and places as they appeared in the early twentieth century. The descriptions of the images are contemporary to that period." Countries covered are China, Egypt, England, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Japan, South Africa, Sudan, Venezuela, West Indies, and Yugoslavia. 

Middle Ages (Medieval Period)

De Re Militari
Primary sources on medieval military history.

Florilegium Urbanum 
Primary source texts illustrative of various aspects of medieval urban life, presented in modern English. Texts are grouped into the broad categories of community, economy, government, and life cycle.

Greenwood Daily Life Online
Medieval World section includes articles about domestic life, economic life, intellectual life, material life, political life, recreational life and religious life. Includes an historical overview as well as primary sources.

The Labyrinth: Resources for Medieval Studies 
Subject-oriented list of medieval resources. Allows limiting to primary source material.

Leeds Medieval History Texts in Translation 
Primary source material related to the Pontificate of Gregory VII, the Crusades, and the Norman Kingdom of Sicily.

The ORB: Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies
See especially sections titled "Library" and "Reference Shelf" for primary sources.

World War II

Historic Government Publications from World War II
Browse and search various American Government publications and collections from World War II.

Holocaust Documents
A page of primary sources from the Holocaust. 

World War II Primary Source Document Collection 
Original documents relating to WWII. The Pearl Harbor Archives hold more than 5,000 pages of documents, exhibits, and testimonies surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor.

World War II Resources
Primary source materials on all aspects of the war. Searchable.

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