This guide is intended as a point of departure for research in history. We also have a more selective guide with major resources only: Introductory Library Research Guide for History.
- Finding Primary Sources Online offers methods for finding digital libraries and digital collections on the open Web and for finding Digital Libraries/Collections by Region or Language.
- Online Primary Source Collections for History lists digital collections at Harvard and beyond by topic
Please feel free to email us with questions. We can make an appointment for you to come in, and we can talk at length about your project.
- Fred Burchsted (firstname.lastname@example.org) Research Librarian and Liaison to the Department of History, Widener Library.
- Anna Assogba (email@example.com) Research Librarian and Liaison to Romance Languages and Literatures and to Religion, Lamont Library (With particular knowledge of Zotero and other citation management systems).
Getting What You Need
How can you get your hands/eyes on material?
This list includes Harvard Library services and selected non-Harvard resources that may be particularly helpful during the pandemic. Harvard Library has so many resources that there is no one perfect way to get at all materials, or to see if we have access, but we've listed the best options for most situations.
HOLLIS- the center of the Library ecosystem. This is often be the best first step to see if we have something. Many items are readily available through HOLLIS by clicking on "Online Access" or opening the listing and scrolling down to the "Get it" section. Check the HOLLIS section of this guide.
Browser Plugins for Library Access- Harvard Bookmark and Lean Library plugins can help you find out if we have access to books and articles online-- so you don't always have to go to HOLLIS when you want to know if we have a certain item.
Some of the below options will be offered in HOLLIS; others you may have to seek if you've checked there and haven't found what you needed.
HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access Service- full text books online, some available nowhere else. (Not to be confused with traditional HathiTrust. ETAS explained here https://www.hathitrust.org/ETAS-Description.) Expected to continue as long as our campus is mostly virtual. Note that:
- Make sure you're logged in once at the HathiTrust site (look in the upper right corner)
- Periodicals available via HathiTrust ETAS are not always linked from HOLLIS, so look them up in the HathiTrust Catalog Search.
- The full runs of journals available in HathiTrust will be available even where Harvard only has a partial run
- When searching from the HathiTrust site, do not select View Online Only. That applies to the HathiTrust site at large, not to the ETAS materials, and would omit the Temporary Access material in your results.
- No downloading is available for the Temporary Access material. You can only view it online because it's not an official program through the publisher; it's meant to replace no access to some of the millions of books currently "trapped" in libraries during the pandemic.
Non-Harvard sources for online books:
- Digital Libraries like Internet Archive
Public libraries: while they don't have everything carried by a research library, there is more overlap than you might expect. They're often a good source of ebooks, too- so if we don't have something or only one of us can read it at a time it might be available through your public library, often in an easier-to-read format. Check their website for more information.
- Boston Public Library has said they will honor Harvard email addresses during the pandemic even for students who aren't living in the neighborhood as usual. They have books, newspapers, and plenty more.
If you can't get to it online:
- Scan & Deliver- request pdfs of articles and book chapters we have in print (from the HOLLIS listing).
- Interlibrary Loan request materials from other libraries (log in on the ILL page)
- BorrowDirect- the fastest way to get books, music scores, some DVD and video, that we don't have in the library.
Purchase Request- they're prioritizing ebooks right now; specify if you hope to pick up print
Digitization of Special Collection Materials- at Harvard and elsewhere
- From Harvard's collections: look for "View in Library" in HOLLIS (to place a scanning request) or contact the repository directly. Most of our larger archival collections are able to provide scans.
- Beyond Harvard: Some non-Harvard repositories may be willing and able to scan material (usually for a fee) during the pandemic. Our Interlibrary Loan department will place the request and help with the cost (there is a cap).
- Contact the other repository to see what their current services. If they're able to help, get a price estimate for the material you need and the exact details (like Box 77 folder 4- this is available in Finding Aids)
- Log in to ILL. On the left side it says "Make a Request." Open that and choose "Request Article."
- Fill in what you can (put in N/A if the field is inapplicable) with the price and other information in the Comments box.
- This will get the process going and ILL will get back to you if they need more information or to discuss the price.
For those on campus/in the area: Library Pickup (make an appointment to pick up books at Lamont Library) and BorrowDirect (the fastest way to get a book Harvard doesn't have on the shelf), but not available for all books.
The Library has begun a Book Mailing Service for up to 10 books at one time via USPS. Users are limited to 100 books in total. Only for books unavailable digitally. Local people should still use Lamont Pick-up. Request via the Book Mailing Request Form rather than HOLLIS.
Remote Microfilm Viewing
A system for remote viewing of microfilm is available. You make an appointment, and a Widener staff member loads the reels into the machine, which you can access remotely via your home computer. You may view up to three reels per hour. Request form to remotely view microfilm.
You can often get microfilm via Interlibrary Loan which you can view remotely.
Options beyond Harvard:
Visit a Library near You
Other institutions: Most research libraries are still operating at limited capacity and admitting (if anyone) only specific groups (like students invited to be on campus).
Public libraries: while they don't have everything carried by a research library, there is more overlap than you might expect. Check with your local library to see what the current possibilities are for access. Even if they aren't admitting visitors right now they may have book pickup, interlibrary loan services, and online databases.
Search tips: WorldCat (the OCLC Union Catalog) which includes catalog records from over 70,000 libraries worldwide but largely U.S. Includes books, periodicals, archives and manuscripts, maps, videotapes, computer readable files, etc. Harvard's subscribed version offers the most powerful search (use Advanced search), but the public version allows you to enter your zip code and find nearby libraries holding a specified book (first find a listing for the item you have in mind. From there you can see what libraries report having it).
Visit an Archival Collection near You
Most libraries and archives are still operating at limited capacity and may be admitting a limited number of people (like students invited to campus for the semester), if anyone. It's always important to call ahead but during the pandemic, check their website or reach out to the archive to find out what services are available. The guides below may help you investigate the options and/or plan for future trips.
Our Library Research Guide for Finding Manuscripts and Archival Collections guide gives instructions for finding archives and manuscripts outside of Harvard. Methods for limiting by region, where available, are given for the archive and manuscript databases. Some archives have digitized, usually small, selected portions of their collections. These are often accessed through collection finding aids, sometimes through digital collections.
Our Research Travel Checklist guide offers advice on visiting non-Harvard archives.
More guides are available via the Harvard Library Research Guides site
Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Harvard
(See Research Contacts at bottom of left hand column)
Library Research Guide for American Material Culture (This is in an early stage of development)
Research Guides at Other Institutions
SSHL Guide to Online Primary Sources
Go to Google Advanced Search
- all of these words: Sociology library
- any of these words: guides research resources
- site or domain: edu (or ac.uk for Britain, etc.)
To find new Harvard E-Resources.Go to Cross-Search in Harvard Libraries E-Resources and choose the Quick Set: New E-Resources. This operates oddly, you sometimes have to select one of the E-Resources displayed, then close the resulting page to see the whole list of new E-Resources. This list displays some but not all new E-Resources.
The following history library blogs list new history resources: