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


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

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.

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.


Discovering American Women's History Online
Provides access to a digital collection of primary sources (photos, letters, diaries, artifacts, etc.) that document the history of women in the United States. These diverse collections range from Ancestral Pueblo pottery to interviews with women engineers from the 1970s.

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.

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

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. 

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.

Online sources of European history documents.

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

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.

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.

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

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.



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