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Primary Sources on the Web


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.

Here is a selective list of primary source web sites:

American Civil War Homepage
Excellent example of a subject-specific primary source site, with many useful links.

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

Austin Community College's Finding Primary Sources - on the Internet
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.

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.

*Finding Primary Sources
Wesleyan University Library's site covers the what and why of primary sources, with several annotated links to the most comprehensive sites.

*Hennepin County Library - Primary Sources
This public library tutorial site is designed to familiarize students with primary sources and their role in the research process. There is an introduction to primary sources on the Internet and how to locate them. The site also has many links, grouped by subject, such as US History, Humanities, and Science.

History Online - Primary Sources
Nice list of important collections of primary source materials from many countries and time periods.

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.

NetTutor - History Research
Attractive, concise tutorial site.

Perseus Project
Evolving collection of online resources for the Ancient World. Materials include ancient texts, maps, essays, articles, and images from over 70 museums.

Primary Sources on the Web
Western Michigan University's links to guides to the research process, along with links to the major sites.

Repositories of Primary Sources
A listing of over 4300 websites describing holdings of manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources for the research scholar. Access is by region or by an alphabetical index of state, province, or country. The list focuses on actual repositories; therefore virtual collections are excluded.