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Finding Digitized Primary Sources

A Guide for Digital Research in History and Literature

Digital Collections

There is no one way to find digitized primary sources on the Internet. The following offers methods for finding online historical resources which are more focused than a simple Google search. Most find items within digital collections. A few search the full text.

Specific searches usually work better than broad topical searches.  Searches for proper names often yield good results.

The Digital Public Library of America

 

The Digital Public Library of America offers textual, visual, and sound resources contributed by numerous libraries, archives, and museums.  It searches catalog records, not full text, and contains many individual items, such as letters and photographs, from digital collections. Searches for proper names often yield individual items (photographs, letters, etc.) within collections. Subject terms indicating archival material can be added, e.g.: Naturalists AND (diaries OR correspondence OR archives OR manuscripts OR “Personal narratives” OR notebooks). Although helpful, this search will still yield much printed material.

Digital Libraries by State

 

These websites list hundreds of local, state, and regional resources. Each is different and some are better designed than others.  Very useful when your topic has a regional focus.

Advanced Google Searches

 

Using Google Advanced Search with specific search terms can help yield more focused results than a general Google search.

Within Google Advanced Search, use “all these words” and “any of these words” to enter keywords for your subject, for example,

  • all these words: Botanists
  • any of these words: archives • manuscripts • correspondence • diaries • scrapbooks • sources • letters

This will yield a mixture of digitized full text and other material.

Also try:

  • all these words: Botanists
  • any of these words: "digital archives" • "digital collection" • "online collection"

For any of these searches, use the “site or domain” box to search within just .edu, .org, or .gov sites.

Other Libraries' Research Guides are often Useful

In Google Advanced Search

  • all these words: library [your topic keywords]
  • any of these words: guides research resources
  • site or domain: .edu  [or ac.uk or country domain, etc.]

 

Bielefeld Academic Search Engine

 

Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) searches metadata and some full text from over 8,300 sources of academic documents.  About 60% of the documents indexed are available in full text.  The metadata searched is provided by the source, and tagging is often inexact.  This is a vast collection of documents and has much that's not available elsewhere.
The Advanced Search is recommended for combining search terms with different types of documents, such as Manuscript, Report, or Image.

EROMM

 

EROMM: European Register of Microform and Digital Masters searches its own database of records of printed and handwritten material in digital form or on microfilm from institutions worldwide and offers web search for such material.

Europeana

 

Europeana: Cultural collections of Europe is the largest European search engine for digitized books, images, manuscripts, etc. Similar to the Digital Library of America, it searches catalog records of material contributed by numerous repositories, with links to full text.  

Digitized Collections in WorldCat

 

WorldCat offers the most comprehensive search for digitized archival/manuscript (AM) material. However, digitized AM collections usually are not tagged as AM. There are several methods, none of which is perfect, of isolating digitized manuscript material.

Use Advanced Search:

Keyword: "slave insurrections"
AND
Subject: archives OR correspondence OR diaries OR scrapbooks OR sources OR manuscripts

Check 'Internet Resources' at 'Limit type to:' Open Options on the upper right, and choose Record List Size: 100, then search.

Most of the results are likely to be ebook versions of books containing primary sources rather than digitized AM.  The default results order is by the number of holding libraries, so ebooks held by numerous libraries will be toward the top of the list.  Therefore, jump down in the list until you get to resources held by only one or two libraries in order to avoid the ebook records.  Here you should find the records of digitized AM collections in the free Web mixed in with other results. Though clumsy, this method of sorting through the results is the most consistent way to get the relevant items.

The difficulties in searching WorldCat for AM material derive from digitized and microfilm collections not being searchably tagged as AM, and from variations in the ways the numerous member libraries tag AM (original, microfilm, digitized). Records for books are much more consistent.

Lists and Guides for Digital Collections

GENERAL:

Digital Library Directory is a searchable collection of links to digital collections.

Digital collections: Rechtshistorie

Internet Sites with Primary Sources for History

Endangered Archives Programme (British Library)

History (University of Washington)  The Primary Sources pages of the History guides list numerous primary source collections

Bodleian History Faculty Library Bookmarks

Guide to Online Primary Sources (UC San Diego)

The origins of the Cold War: Deciphering open access primary sources

Voice of the Shuttle: History

UNITED STATES:

AMDOCS: Documents for the Study of American History: Online documents arranged by year

Discovering American Women's History Online. Offers collection level search.

U.S. History: Primary Source Collections Online

Primary Sources for United States History

Primary Source Collections (U.S.) (Univ. of Okla)

“Gay Is Good”: Digital collections in LGBTQ U.S. History

EUROPE:

European History Primary Sources is an index of scholarly websites providing access to primary sources. Offers collection level search.

EuroDocs: Online Sources for European History: Selected Transcriptions, Facsimiles and Translations. List of digitized documents by country

MICHAEL: Multilingual Inventory of Cultural Heritage in Europe searches digital collections at the collection rather than the item level from European museums, archives and libraries.  Contains material not in Base, Europeana or EROMM

Archives Hub: British digital collections

Online Resources (Institute of Historical Research)

Research guides: Online collections (UK National Archives)

Guide to German Studies: Digital Libraries & Collections (Univ. of North Carolina)

Digitale Sammlungen: Liste digitaler Sammlungen mit deutschsprachigen gemeinfreien Büchern

French and other European Digital Libraries and Online Catalogs

Patrimoine numérique. Catalogue des collections numérisées

Bibliothèque Francophone Numérique.  Scroll down for Découvrez les Collections par Zones Géographiques.

Digital Humanities Database. A searchable database of French and Francophone Studies digital projects.

MIDDLE EAST:

Middle East & Islamic Studies Collection Digital Collections

Google Book Search, HathiTrust Digital Library and Internet Archives offer books and periodicals digitized from numerous libraries.  Only out-of-copyright, generally post-1923 books are fully viewable.  Each of these three digital libraries allows searching full text over their entire collections.

Google Book Search offers full text of:

  • Largely, pre-1924 books and periodicals scanned from libraries,
  • Post-1924 books and periodicals digitized in libraries. Full text searchable and snippet views displayed
  • "Previews" of books submitted by publishers. Some pages are hidden.  Some, but not all, of the hidden pages are searchable.

HathiTrust Digital Library. Each full text item is linked to a standard library catalog record, thus providing good metadata and subject terms.  Thus a full text search of the whole database can be limited by title or Subject term.  The catalog can be searched separately.  Many post-1923 out-of-copyright books, especially government documents, are full text viewable. You can search within copyright books to see what page your search term is on.

Internet Archive now offers a full text search. Put your terms (phrases or personal names, in quotation marks (""), work best) in the search box and choose Text Contents.

The Online Books Page arranges electronic texts by Library of Congress call numbers and is searchable (but not full text searchable).  Includes books not in Google Books, HathiTrust, or Internet Archive. Has many other useful features.

Internet History Sourcebooks Project

World Digital Library offers primary source materials.

The Making of the Modern World offers full text searching of works on economics and business published from 1450-1914 from the Kress Collection of Business and Economics at the Baker Library, Harvard Business School and the Goldsmiths' Library of Economic Literature at the University of London Library. Includes material on commerce, finance, social conditions, politics, public health, trade and transport. A great deal of more recently acquired material in the Kress Collection is not included in The Making of the Modern World.

Digital Collections at Harvard. Digitized versions of Harvard University Library collections.

Harvard Law School Library Digital Collections

International

Endangered Archives Programme offers digitized material (manuscripts, rare printed books, documents, newspapers, periodicals, photographs and sound recordings) (largely pre -mid-20th century) at risk of loss or decay in countries worldwide.

Digital Library for International Research (DLIR) offers printed and manuscript material from numerous countries worldwide. Search/browse level: Collection, Item

Africa

General Digital Libraries

Aluka Digital Library images and full text concerning: World Heritage Sites: Africa and Struggles for Freedom in Southern Africa.

African Online Digital Library is an open access digital library of African cultural heritage material

African Activist Archive (1950s-1990s) includes: pamphlets, newsletters, leaflets, buttons, posters, photographs, and audio/video recordings relating to social justice activism in supporting Africans.  Offers an international directory of non-digitized collections in repositories worldwide.

Lists of Digital Collections

Africana Library Catalogs & Archives  (Columbia)

African Studies Internet Resources (Columbia) 

Primary Source Collections Online: Africa

History: Africa: Primary Sources (Univ. of Wisc.)

Asia, South

Lahore University of Management Sciences Digital Library

National Digital Library of India

Cornell South East Asia Collections

University of Tubingen Hermann Gundert Portal (Indian Language Printed Material and Manuscript Collections)

Kerala Sahitya Akademi Portal (Malayalam Language)

University of Wisconsin Bhopal Disaster Archive

National Archives of India Digital Collections

Gokhale Library (Maharashtra, India) Printed Reports

Asiatic Society of Mumbai Digital Collections

National Archives of Singapore Digital Collections

Shiju Alex Kerala History Archive (mainly consisting of printed texts in Malayalam but also including several English language Missionary papers)

West Bengal Public Library Network

South Asia Open Archive extensive archive of South Asian materials including several collections in the English language

Canada

Canadian National Digital Heritage Index

China

Greater China Archival Resources Web Archive

Europe

General digital libraries

Early European Books offers full text of books published on the Continent, beginnings to 1701. Not full text searchable. Overview of contents.

Virtual Library Eastern Europe (ViFaOst)

Tools for Finding Digitized Material

Europeana: Cultural collections of Europe is the largest European search engine for digitized books, images, manuscripts, etc. Searches catalogs records of material contributed by numerous repositories.  Not full text searchable; links to full text.  Similar to the Digital Library of America

Lists of Digital Libraries and Collections

Digital Libraries of Europe (NYU Guide)

European History Primary Sources is an index of scholarly websites providing access to primary sources. Offers collection level search.

EuroDocs: Online Sources for European History: Selected Transcriptions, Facsimiles and Translations. List of digitized documents by country

MICHAEL: Multilingual Inventory of Cultural Heritage in Europe searches digital collections at the collection rather than the item level from European museums, archives and libraries.  Contains material not in Base, Europeana or EROMM

Selected Internet Resources for History (Western Europe)

WessWeb (Western European Studies Section, Association of College and Research Libraries)

Austria

Kulturpool – a portal for cultural institutions in Austria with a search interface for their digital collections

France/Francophone

General Digital Libraries

ARTFL Project (American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language)

Gallica includes the full-text for more than 100,000 volumes and 300,000 images covering the Middle Ages to the beginning of the twentieth century, with an emphasis on nineteenth-century material. Included are dictionaries and encyclopedias, journals, manuscripts, recordings and images.

Lists of Digital Collections

French and Francophone Digital Humanities Projects

Tools for Finding Digitized Material

Patrimoine numérique. Catalogue des collections numérisées

Bibliothèque Francophone Numérique.  Scroll down for Découvrez les Collections par Zones Géographiques.

Digital Humanities Database. A searchable database of French and Francophone Studies digital projects. Collection/project level search.

Archives Nationale d'Outre-Mer. Records of French colonial administrations, including visual material.

Germany

Digital Libraries

Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek offers textual and visual resources contributed by numerous libraries, archives, and museums.  Searches catalog records, not full text, and links to the items on the contributors' websites.  Contains many individual items, such as letters and photographs, from digital collections.

Gottinger Digitalisierungs-Zentrum hosts a large collection of mainly, but not exclusively, German books in several subject areas.

Zentrales Verzeichnis Digitalisierter Drucke (ZVDD) is the German national portal for digitized scholarly imprints. Searches easily limited by century of publication.

Lists of Digital Collections

Kulturerbe Digital  offers links to search engines for German digitized material, together with a searchable and browsable list of digitization projects.

Clio-online: Fachportal für die Geschichtswissenschaften (Largely German)

Inventory of Digital Projects in German Studies or From German-Speaking Countries

Digitale Sammlungen: Liste digitaler Sammlungen mit deutschsprachigen gemeinfreien Büchern

Ireland

Digital Repository of Ireland

Spain

Biblioteca Digital Hispánica

ARCA: Arxiu de Revistes Catalanes Antigues (Archive of Historical Catalan Journals)

e-rara.ch, the platform for digitized rare books from Swiss libraries: https://www.e-rara.ch

Switzerland

E-Codices, Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland

United Kingdom/English Language

General Digital Libraries

Searching Early English Books Online (EEBO), Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) and Early American Imprints.
Since spelling in early books is variable and the long s (which looks like an f) is often used, it is important to try variant spellings and the wild card feature. ECCO offers fuzzy searching in Advanced Search

Both Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) contain full text of most books published 1475-1800 in Great Britain and North America and books published in English anywhere.

Early English Books Online (EEBO) offers full text for works, including much ephemera and many periodicals, dated 1475-1700. Uses Library of Congress Subject Headings.

EEBO uses page images and OCR text. Although searchable by words and phrases, there are character recognition errors and full Boolean searching is not possible. Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership has input over 25,000 works and offers corrected text and full Boolean and other search capabilities for this subset of EEBO.

Periodicals included in EEBO include corantos, newsbooks and periodicals included in the Thomason TractsPeriodicals Search guide.

Search Guide: Early English Books Online (EEBO)

Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) offers full text for English language works dated 1700-1800. Uses Library of Congress Subject Headings. Searchable by words and phrases based on the OCR text. Many 18th century American imprints are not included in ECCO because they are available in Early American Imprints (EAI) (next).

Both EEBO and ECCO are based on the English Short Title Catalog (ESTC) which has over 470,000 catalog (no full text) entries listing books, periodicals, newspapers and some ephemera printed before 1801. Works published in Britain, Ireland, British colonies, and the US are included, together with items printed elsewhere which contain significant text in English, Welsh, Irish or Gaelic. Books falsely claiming London publication are included. Items omitted from ECCO because they are available in EAI are represented in the ESTC. Reprints (reissues of original works) are not usually included in ECCO; they are fully represented in the ESTC.

NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship) (1770-1920) searches (full text search available) selected digital scholarship and primary source databases related to the British and American long 19th century. Where fee-based material is found, you will have to go through Harvard Library E-Resources; no automatic link to Harvard resources is available.

British History Online (11th-19th cent.) offers printed primary and secondary sources for the history of the British Isles. These resources cover ecclesiastical and religious history, intellectual and cultural history, local history, urban development, economic history, parliamentary history, and administrative and legal matters.

Lists of Digital Collections

Tools for Finding Digitized Material

Connected Histories: British History Sources, 1500-1900 provides federated searching for several databases of British primary historical sources, including the primary source content of British History Online for 1500-1900.

Manuscripts Online (1000 to 1500) searches a variety of online resources on manuscript and early printed culture in Britain. Includes literary manuscripts, historical documents and early printed books on websites of libraries, archives, universities and publishers. Some of the resources searched are only accessible via subscription. These resources allow free snippet results but do not provide full access.
Project blog.

Connected Histories and Manuscripts Online are not integrated into the Try Harvard Library system. When you find something in a licensed/subscription database only a snippet view will display, and you will need to go to the same resource in the Harvard system (if we have it) and redo the search.

Finding the Right Subscription Database

Connected Histories and Manuscripts Online (above) include both free and subscription databases.

Latin America/Caribbean

Digital Library of the Caribbean
Digitized archival materials originating in the Caribbean and also Latin American beyond the Caribbean. Collections, subjects covered, and types of materials included.

Biblioteca Digital del Patrimonio Iberoamericano
Contains manuscripts, sound recordings, newspapers, maps, drawings, and other primary source materials from the national libraries of Latin American countries.

Lists

Latin American & Caribbean Digital Primary Sources (Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials)
A listing of freely available digitized collections of various types of primary source materials from many Latin American countries.

History: Latin America: Primary Sources (University of Washington guide)

Latin American Network Information Center (LANIC)
Guide to Latin American material on the Web, with links to primary sources.

Middle East

Qatar Digital Library

Duke University Libraries, Ottoman-Turkish Literature

IRCICA FARABİ digital library (Turkey)

American University in Cairo Digital Collections

University of Hamburg, Islamic Printed Page project

Hebrew Books

Lists

Manuscripts | Digital Resources and Projects in Islamic Studies

Online Archives, Digitized Collections and Resources for Middle East, North African, and Islamic(ate) Studies (Hazine)

Orient-Institut Istanbul: Databases, portals, and virtual libraries

Access to Middle East and Islamic Resources (AMIR). Blog with links to numerous online resources on Teaching and Learning in this region

Middle East & Islamic Studies Collection Digital Collections

Russia/Eastern Europe

National Digital Library (Russia)

Lists

Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia: A Research Guide: Digital Libraries and Web Resources (Princeton)

United States

General Digital Libraries

The Digital Public Library of America offers textual, visual, and sound resources contributed by numerous libraries, archives, and museums.  Searches catalog records, not full text, and links to the items on the contributors' websites.  Contains many individual items, such as letters and photographs, from digital collections.

American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1, 1760-1900

Early American Imprints, Series 1 (1639-1800) and Early American Imprints, Series 2 (1801-1819) are based on the microform collection of books, pamphlets and broadsides issued in America recorded in Charles Evans' American Bibliography and Roger P. Bristol's Supplement to Charles Evans' American Bibliography, and in American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801-1819 by Ralph Shaw and Richard Shoemaker.

Sabin Americana Digital Archive (1500-1926) searchable full text of European writings on America. DescriptionOn Joseph Sabin.

NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship) (1770-1920) searches (full text search available) selected digital scholarship and primary source databases related to the British and American long 19th century. Where fee-based material is found, you will have to go through Harvard Library E-Resources; no automatic link to Harvard resources is available.

American Pamphlets, Series 1, 1820-1922 offers pamphlets held at the New York Historical Society.

Nineteenth Century in Print: The Making of America in Books and Periodicals: Periodicals

American Memory (Library of Congress)

National Archives (US) Catalog - Can be limited to archival materials online

Microfilm Publications and Original Records Digitized by Our Digitization Partners:   Ancestry,  Fold3,  FamilySearch

Lists of Digital Collections

Digital Libraries by State

These websites list hundreds of local, state, and regional resources. Each is different and some are better designed than others.  Very useful when your topic has a regional focus.

AMDOCS: Documents for the Study of American History: Online documents arranged by year

Discovering American Women's History Online. Offers collection level search.

U.S. History: Primary Source Collections Online

Primary Sources for United States History