Primary Resources

What is a "primary source" anyway? Historians use the term "primary source" to distinguish original documents or accounts of events from second or third-hand statements about the original event or artifact. A photograph, a memoir or a letter is a primary source, while an essay or a textbook interpreting it is a secondary or tertiary source.  Most libraries have very little primary source material in their collections. The Web is increasingly a very good place to find primary sources.

  • American Memory
    Historical Collections from the National Digital Library.
    Library of Congress website contains collections of primary source and archival material relating to American culture and history.

  • Austin Community College's Finding Primary Sources
    Handy overview of how to use the Web for history research, with annotated links to some key sites.
  • Avalon Project
    Important documents in American history, politics, and government from the pre-18th century to the present from the Avalon Project at the Yale Law School.
  • California Heritage Collection
    An online archive of more than 30,000 images illustrating California's history and culture, from the collections of the Bancroft Library at the University of C alifornia, Berkeley.
  • Calisphere
    The University of California has digitized more than 150,000 primary sources, including photos, documents, newspapers, political cartoons, works of art, diaries, transcribed oral histories, advertising and other unique cultural artifacts which reveal the diverse history and culture of California and its role in national and world history.
  • Education Place - Primary Sources on the Web
    Houghton Mifflin's list includes primary source documents, maps and images for classroom use. The sites are sorted into two categories: United States History and World History.
  • Internet History Sourcebooks Project
    As a site which contains "collections of public domain and copy-permitted historical texts," this is great for finding primary historical resources. The three primary historical sourcebooks cover Ancient, Medieval, and Modern History. Additional historical sourcebooks are organized by theme. In addition to full-text historical documents, one can find links to secondary articles, reviews, discussions, and more Web sites.
  • Library Research Using Primary Sources
    UC Berkeley's Teaching Library has an excellent collection of links to primary source research sites.
  • Making of America
    UC Berkeley's Teaching Library has an excellent collection of links to primary source research sites.
  • National Archives and Records Administration
    This "digital classroom" site contains reproducible copies of primary documents from the holdings of the National Archives of the United States, teaching activities correlated to the National History Standards and National Standards for Civics and Government, and cross-curricular connections.

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