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World History Subject Guide (archived): Primary sources

Featured resource

Finding World History
from the Center for History and New Media

Website reviews describe online primary–source archives, evaluate resources, and provide classroom suggestions. Browse by time period or try the advanced search.

What are primary sources?

Helpful resources for learning about primary sources,
what they are and how to find them:

Research Using Primary Sources
from the University of Maryland Libraries

or Primary Sources at Yale:  What are Primary Sources
(describes different kinds of primary sources)

UC Irvine has a tutorial with two parts:
Introducation to Primary Sources and
How to Find Primary Sources

These guides and tutorials are targeted at students from those universities, so some of the resources described will not be available to you.  However, there is a lot of useful information in each about primary sources in general.

Worldcat is a very large union catalog that includes the holdings of thousands of libraries worldwide. For primary sources, in “Advanced Search,” you can limit “Format” to “archival material.”

Digital archives with a specific focus

British Pathé
Digitized newsreel and video archives: more than 90,000 historical clips that cover the years from 1896 to the 1970s.

CELT: The Free Digital Humanities Resource for Irish history, literature and politics

Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

Digital Scriptorium, hosted by The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Featuring over 24,000 images of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts worldwide from around
20 institutions' collections.

Connected Histories: British History Sources, 1500-1900
A search engine that connects a number of digital historical archives from around Britain.

Europa Film Treasures
Streaming video, from European film archives

European Film Gateway
"Access point to films, images and texts from selected collections of 16 film archives across Europe"

Digital Collections from Yad Vashem (center for Holocaust remembrance and education)

Digital Gallery, from the National Library of Scotland

Hispanic Digital Library from the National Library of Spain

Islamic Heritage Project, from Harvard University, has digitized more than 600 primary-source "Islamic manuscripts, maps, and published texts."

Propylaeym, Virtual Library Classical Studies
Links to digital collections on Egyptology, Ancient History, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Byzantine Studies, Classical Archaeology, Classical Philology, Medieval and Neo-Latin Philology and Pre- and Early History.

Wilson Center Digital Archives, from the Woodrow Wilson International Center, contains once-secret documents from governments all across the globe.  Sources on the history of 20th century international relations and diplomacy.

Some online sources of primary materials

Internet History Sourcebook Project
A huge collection of links to historical texts in these areas:

Ancient     Medieval     Modern
African   Eastern Asian     Global
Jewish        Islamic        Lesbian/Gay
Women   Indian     Science

Milestone Documents in World History
REF 909 M5985 and online

Americas Archive in the Rice University Digital Scholarship Archive
Provides digital access to archival primary sources related to the cultural and political history of the Western Hemisphere from colonization to the present.

The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School:  Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy

Eurodocs: Online Sources for European History

European History Primary Sources, from the European University Institute. Compiles digitized primary sources pertaining to European history. Arranged by nation, language, period, subject, and type of source.  Paintings, music, films and books from Europe's galleries, libraries, archives and museums.

Hanover Historical Texts Project"The Project's principal aim is to make primary texts readily available to students and faculty for use in history and humanities courses.

In the First Person
"A free, high quality, professionally published, in-depth index of close to 4,000 collections of personal narratives in English from around the world."

Timelines: Sources from History, from the British Library

Women in World History: Primary SourcesBrowse or search more than 200 primary sources by region.  From the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University

World Digital Library makes available on the Internet significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world.

JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) is "an organisation that funds and supports the use of technology in the UK Further and Higher Education sector." You can search for and access dozens of digital collections.  Search or browse the website, or explore below.


Make an account through Castleton for full access to the New York Times online, incudling the archives

New York Times Historical
Full-text of the New York Times 1851-three years previous. PDF page images. Searchable by date, keyword, article type.

Check the Vermont State Colleges Online Catalog to see which newspapers are available here on microfilm. Consult a librarian about obtaining newspapers not in our collection.


Help locating primary sources

Library Research: Finding Primary Sources
from UC Berkeley's library

Using Primary Sources on the Web
from the American Library Association

Internet for Archives Tutorial from JISC in the UK

Historical maps

Old Maps Online from the University of Portsmouth, UK.  Search several historical online map collections at once.

A resource

Center for History and New Media includes these two resources:

"A website to help world history teachers and students locate, analyze, and learn from online primary sources and to further their understanding of the complex nature of world history, especially the issues of cultural contact and globalization"

"An online curriculum resource center to help high-school and college world history teachers and their students locate, analyze, and learn from primary sources dealing with women and gender in world history."

Documents in library holdings

Search libraries' catalogs for specific kinds of primary source materials. Try keywords such as

  • personal narrative 
  • correspondence
  • diary
  • interview
  • oral
  • eyewitness
  • document
This is an example of a keyword search that includes terms that are likely to be used to describe primary sources in an online catalog:

(personal narrative$ or corresponden$ or diar$ or interview$ or oral or eyewitness or document$)
and war and Iraq

(The $ substitutes for whatever letters that might come next, so that the search includes any words that start with what's typed but might end differently.  For example, diar$ catches diary and diaries and diarist.  Different catalogs use different symbols for this.)

Search Google for books and primary source documents

Try searching Google with the term "digitized" in addition to your search terms.

GoogleBooks permits searching the full content of some books. Books in the public domain (not copyright protected) are available full-text online, including many primary source documents.

Google Book Search

Also see the Wikipedia entry on your topic.  Look at the External links at the bottom for links to primary sources.