Finding Primary Sources Online: Contents

This page lists resources for digitized historical primary sources. Resources containing books, archives/manuscripts and mixed collections are included. Databases for particular primary source types, newspapers, periodicals, personal writings, images, films, etc., are listed on their own pages in this guide. A list of primary sources types with links is given at Outline of Primary Sources for History.

General resources are listed first, then the same categories of resources, where needed, are listed by region or language.

General Digital Libraries

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 .

To search full text within a particular subject, go to Advanced Search and put your subject terms in the Description field. Search.  In the Search box in the results page, you will see: description:(your term).  Add your full text terms: description:(archaeology Boston) AND "Long Wharf" and shift from Search metadata to Search text contents

The Internet Archive is so large and various that it can be difficult to navigate.  These partial lists of contents are useful:

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.

Finding Primary Sources on the Open Web

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.

In most one cannot effectively limit to archival/manuscript sources.  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.  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.

Advanced Google Searches

General Google searches may yield very many results, and it may take much sifting through the results in order to find relevant items. Using Google Advanced Search with specific search terms can help yield more focused results.​ Detailed instructions for searching Google Advanced Search.

Bielefeld Academic Search Engine

Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) searches metadata and some full text, from over 2000 sources of academic open access documents.  About 60% of the documents indexed are available 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 not available elsewhere.
Use Browsing to narrow your search to subject area (e.g., Literature) or Document type (e.g., Manuscript, broadly construed).  Open Browsing and choose-Dewey Decimal (for Subject), choose major subject to see next finer level, twice.  After choosing View Records add a search term to the Subject Term or Document Type:

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.

WorldCat (the OCLC Union Catalog)

Numerous digitized collections of primary sources have records in WorldCat.  These collections of primary sources are often swamped by ebooks on the same subject. There is no one perfect method for finding them, but the following may be tried for any topic.  Always find the proper Subject terms for your topic and search using those as well as any keywords.  Use Advanced search. Detailed instructions for searching WorldCat.

OAISTER is a subset of WorldCat for open access online academic material. It can be useful in separating digitized primary sources from the numerous ebooks in WolrldCat.  It includes digitized books and journal articles, open access publications, manuscript/archival material, photographic images, audio and visual files, data sets, and theses. It includes such a vast range of resources that digitized archival and other primary sources are lost in the abundant results if a broad topical term is used.  So it is best to use a narrow term or proper name. Thus "Act-Up" yields archival letters. It is possible to limit a search to Archival Material, but I have not found this to be useful.

Lists and Guides for Digital Collections

Other Libraries' Research Guides are often contains Lists of Digital Collections

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.]

Digital collections: Rechtshistorie offers valuable lists of national digital libraries and of digitized archival material by country.

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

ECHO: Cultural Heritage Online

World History: Primary Source Collections Online

WWW Virtual Library

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)

Voice of the Shuttle: History. This is the history page of a huge collection of links to humanities (broadly conceived) resources,

Finding the Right Subscription Database

To find databases available via Harvard Library by subject, go to HOLLIS Databases, scroll down to Best Databases for… and open History, or other topic.  Refine your results set on the right.  For example, for historical resources relating to women, go to Subject Category, open Show More, open Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.  Also look for research guides on your subject among the Harvard Library research guides (Open Guides by Subject).

Because there are so many subscription databases, and because each database often includes numerous subcollections, it is difficult to know which databases may contain the sources you want.  For example, Vietnam War and American Foreign Policy, 1960-1975 (ProQuest History Vault) includes U.S. State Department Office of the Executive Secretariat Crisis Files. Part 1, the Berlin Crisis, 1957-1963.  Detailed instructions for finding these subcollections.

Local Online Sources

Many sources digitized by local public libraries, historical societies and other institutions may be found via the Digital Public Library of America, the state/regional portals, and worldwide, via the tools listed below.  But some will not be findable. For local sources one may visit the websites of nearby institutions.

Library Directories

Library Resources outside the U.S. (Brown University) offers overviews of library resources worldwide

Archival Directories

Historical Society Directories

Digitized Harvard Collections

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

Harvard Law School Library Digital Collections

Digital Libraries/Collections by Region or Language

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

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

History: Europe: Primary Sources (Berkeley)

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

Open Access in Central and Eastern Europe contains scientific and secondary source open access as well as historical primary sources.

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

Selected Internet Resources for History (Western Europe)

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

Judaica Europeana: a network of museums, libraries and archives

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)

Classiques Garnier Numérique offers the Bibliographie de la littérature française, together with collections of French language primary texts and reference works, including French and francophone literature (Europe, Africa, Indian Ocean, Americas, Asia) and dictionaries and grammars from the 9th to the 20th century.

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

History: Europe: France (Berkeley)

Tools for Finding Digitized Material

Réseau francophone numérique contains digitized historical material from French-speaking countries worldwide.

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.

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

Greece

Anemi - Digital Library of Modern Greek Studies

Ireland

Digital Repository of Ireland

The Netherlands

Lists

History: Europe: Netherlands & Low Countries (Berkeley)

Digital Libraries

Dutch National Library offers digitized works

Early Dutch Books Online (1781-1800) contains 10,000 books from the Dutch-speaking region.

Historici.nl (-2000) contains full text of numerous secondary and primary books and periodicals in Dutch history

Russia/Eastern Europe

National Digital Library (Russia)

Lists

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

History: Europe: Russia (Berkeley)

 

History: Europe: Other Eastern Europe (Berkeley)

Serbia

Digital National Library of Serbia

Slovenia

Digital Library of Slovenia

Spain

Biblioteca Digital Hispánica

Hispana: directorio y recolector de recursos digitales is a central index of over 4 million digital objects from 195 repositories and 326 different projects throughout Spain.

Switzerland

E-Codices, Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland

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

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.

Indian Ocean

Bibliothéque numérique contains a collection of digitized Mauritian rare books, journals, annual reports and government documents.

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,

Gale World Scholar Latin America & the Caribbean Archive includes primary source documents, academic journals and news feeds, reference sources, maps, statistics, audio and video

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

Shamela Free Digital Collection of Arabic Books

Waqfeya Arabic books with a focus on Islamic Religious Sciences

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

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

Images

Images of America: a history of American life in images and texts is the online version of thousands of books in the Arcadia US local history series. The histories Includes photographs from archives, historical societies and private collections. Images and text are fully searchable. Searchable by location, person, event, date, ethic group and organization. Search HOLLIS+ HOLLIS tab Advanced search as Series (exact phrase) Images of America for the print books.

American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920 contains about 2,800 lantern slide views of American buildings and landscapes.

Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920 (Library of Congress) photograph collection includes over 25,000 items, mostly of the eastern U.S., with subject index and keyword searchable.

History of the American West (1860-1920) offers over 30,000 photographs from the Denver Public Library.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog