Primary Sources

Primary Sources

Texts  |  Manuscripts and Archival Materials  |  Visual Materials  |  Sound Recordings


What is a Primary Source?

In research, information sources are generally categorized by level (primary, secondary, or tertiary), depending on their originality and proximity to the source or origin (person, information, period, or idea).  A primary source is that which provides firsthand information, direct evidence, or original data on a topic. It is the material on which other research is based. Primary sources tend to be contemporary to the events or conditions under examination, but in some circumstances may be written or created at a later time, such as autobiographies, memoirs, or oral histories.

To complicate matters, the designations of primary, secondary and tertiary information may differ between disciplines and/or subjects.  For instance, a scholarly journal article is usually considered a primary source in the sciences while a scholarly journal article in the humanities is likely to be a secondary source.  However, a poem appearing in a literary journal for the first time would be a primary source, while a scholarly article interpreting, analyzing, or evaluating the same poem would be a secondary source.

Primary sources are usually characterized by their content, not their format.  It typically does not matter whether they are in their original format, in microform, in digital form, or published in print.  Examples of primary sources include original manuscripts, technical reports, diaries, memoirs, letters, journal articles, photographs, drawings, posters, film footage, sheet music, interviews, government documents, public records, eyewitness accounts, newspaper articles, conference proceedings, works of literature, statistical data, speeches, emails, tweets, and web pages.

Some of the primary sources available electronically via the Lucy Scribner Library are listed below. For more information and additional resources see our Helpful Resources page or consult a subject-specific research guide.


  

Texts

19th century British pamphlets project

Provides online access to the most significant British pamphlets from the 19th century held in UK research libraries. The pamphlets cover the key political, social, technological, and environmental issues of their day, and are a valuable primary resource relevant to a wide range of disciplines.

American Memory from the Library of Congress

A multimedia Website of digitized historical documents, photographs, sound recordings, moving pictures, books, pamphlets, maps, and other resources from the Library of Congress.

American West

Original manuscripts, maps, ephemeral material, and rare printed sources from the Graff Collection about the American West, including tales of frontier life, Native Americans, vigilantes, and outlaws, and the growth of urban centres and environmental impact of westward expansion and of life in the borderlands.

ARTFL project, University of Chicago

Coverage includes the Medieval period through the nineteenth-century. Genres represented include novels, verse, theater, journalism, essays, correspondence, and treatises. Subjects include literary criticism, biology, history, economics, and philosophy. Non- fiction prose and technical writing is represented as well.

Asia & the West

"This archive will enable students and scholars to examine a selection of records that constitute a political and social history of Western interaction with a number of Asian countries during the nineteenth century. Most of the manuscript collections in this archive consist of the British Foreign Office and United States consular and diplomatic records. These records were generally maintained in the local consular or diplomatic posts and reflect the day-to-day accounting of the activities of the indigenous populations and their national governments, the expansion of trade, and the exercise of extraterritorial rights and treaty provisions. In addition, a selection of missionary correspondence and journals has been included, as missionaries usually provided some of the earliest contact in various Asian locales with Western ideals."--Publisher description.

Associated Press Collections Online

Associated Press collections online includes several decades' worth of wire copy, correspondence, memos, internal publications, etc. Coverage varies by collection. Contents provided by Associated Press Corporate Archives, AP Images, and AP Archive.

The Bible in English

Presents 20 versions of the Bible. Offers texts from both Protestant and Catholic traditions. Texts from the Renaissance period are included. Includes all prefatory matter, notes, running heads, and glossaries.

British Politics & Society

A multi-year global digitization and publishing program focusing on primary source collections of the nineteenth century, Nineteenth century collections online will be comprised of numerous collections to be released over many years as separate modules. The British politics and society collection includes tens of thousands of primary sources related to the political climate in Great Britain during the long nineteenth century. Topics include British domestic and foreign policy, trade unions, Chartism, utopian socialism, public protest, radical movements, the cartographic record, political reform, education, family relationships, religion, leisure and many others. Primary sources include manuscripts, maps, drawings, newspapers, periodicals, government correspondence, letters, diaries, photographs, poster, pamphlets and more.

British Theatre, Music and Literature: High and Popular Culture

British Theatre, Music, and Literature: High and Popular Culture features a wide range of primary sources related to the arts in the long nineteenth century, from playbills and scripts to operas and complete scores. These rare documents, many of them never before available, are sourced from the British Library and other institutions. Curation is by experts in British arts history. Covers more than a century, and encompasses both the Georgian and Victorian theatre ... The collection provides a detailed look at the state of the British art[s] world and includes manuscripts and musical compositions as well as documents such as personal letters, annotated programs, meeting minutes, and financial records. It offers scholars an unmatched glimpse into the inner workings of the world of the arts in Britain.--About.

Early American imprints, Series I: Evans (1639-1800)

Covering American history and literature thru the colonial period up to the eighteenth century, this database is a full- text digitization of the microform set Early American Imprints, Series I (1639-1800), which was itself based on the American bibliography of Charles Evans and enhanced by Roger Bristol's Supplement to Evans' American bibliography. Offers fully searchable text and a browse feature with topical indexes.

Early American imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker (1801-1819)

Covering every aspect of American life during the early decades of the United States, Early American Imprints, Series II (1801-1819) provides full-text access to the 36,000 American books, pamphlets and broadsides published in the first nineteen years of the nineteenth century. Based on the authoritative bibliography by Ralph B. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker and supplemented by thousands of new items. Offers fully searchable text and a browse feature with topical indexes. Bibliographic records created by the AAS are integrated into the database, providing additional access points.

Early American newspapers. Series I: 1690-1876

Features cover-to-cover reproductions of hundreds of historic newspapers, providing more than one million pages as fully text-searchable facsimile images. For students and scholars of early America, this unique collection -- based largely on Clarence Brigham's "History and Bibliography of American Newspapers,1690-1820" -- offers an unprecedented look back into the history of the United States.

Early English books online

Reproduces works listed in: Pollard & Redgrave's Short-title catalogue, Wing's Short title catalogue and Thomason tracts, online via ProQuest Direct.

Eighteenth century journals

Portal to newspapers and periodicals c1685-1815 offers integrated access to the Hope Collection at the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Eighteenth Century Journals I) and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center University of Texas (Eighteenth Century Journals II). It brings together rare journals printed between c1685 and 1815, illuminating all aspects of eighteenth-century social, political and literary life. Topics include: the writings of Sir Isaac Newton; the French Revolution; reviews of literature, the theater, and fashion throughout Europe; the origins and rise of Romanticism; political debates; gender, religion, influence of the press, and coffee house gossip and discussion.

Empire online

This database is being published in five sections between 2003 and 2007 offering approximately 60,000 images of original documents linked to essays by leading scholars in the field of Empire Studies. The sections cover Cultural Contacts, 1492-1969 (2003); Empire Writing and the Literature of Empire (2003/4); The Visible Empire (2004/5); Religion and Empire (2005/6); and Race, Class and Colonialism, c1783-1969 (2006/7). The images will be sourced from about ten different libraries and archives around the world, including a strong core of document images from the British Library, including the Oriental and India Office Collections at the British Library; the University of Birmingham Library; the Bodleian Library, Oxford; and the Public Record Office and the State Records, New South Wales, Australia.

European Literature, 1790-1840

The collection includes the full-text of more than 9,500 English, French and German titles. The collection is sourced from the library of Victor Amadeus, whose Castle Corvey collection was one of the most spectacular discoveries of the late 1970s. The Corvey Collection comprises one of the most important archives of Romantic era writing in existence anywhere--including fiction, short prose, dramatic works, poetry and more--with a focus on especially difficult-to-find works by lesser-known, historically neglected writers.

The First World War

The First World War portal showcases a wealth of primary source material for the study of the Great War, complemented by a range of contextual secondary features. Includes three modules: Personal experiences; Propaganda and recruitment; Visual perspectives and narratives.

The Gerritsen collection of Aletta H. Jacobs

The Gerritsen Collection was begun by Aletta Jacobs Gerritsen in the late 1800s, and, when the work was finished in 1945, it was the greatest single source for the study of women's history in the world. The online resource delivers two million page images exactly as they appeared in the original printed works. It includes monographs, periodicals and pamphlets in fifteen languages, and is searchable by keyword and Boolean operators.

India, Raj, and empire

Manuscript collections from the National Library of Scotland comprising diaries, letters, maps, sketches and official and private papers: a rich array of documents with which to explore the history of India from the foundation of the East India Company in 1615 to the granting of independence for India and Pakistan in 1947.

King James Bible

Offers online access to the King James (1611) version of the Bible. Includes introductory matter, annotation, calendars, genealogies and tables.

LexisNexis academic legal research

Provides access to general legal news and law reviews; offers case law, including access to state high court, appellate and federal court level information, as well as citations of U.S. Supreme Court cases. Offers access to U.S. codes and regulations including state codes and tax law. Also offers international law information, including Canadian legislative materials, statutes and regulations, and EU legislation. Patent information and several law-related directories are available as well.

LexisNexis state capital

LexisNexis State Capital is an online service providing access to state government information. It includes legislative information (status of bills, full text of bills, legislative calendars), state statutes, full text of state regulations, information about state legislators and their staffs, and news sources for information on state issues for all 50 states.

Lincoln/Net

Lincoln/Net presents historical materials from Abraham Lincoln's Illinois years (1830-1861), including Lincoln's writings and speeches, as well as other materials illuminating antebellum Illinois.

Literature online

Provides online access to English and American poetry, drama, and prose. Includes biographies, bibliographies, criticism, and reference resources.

LitFinder

Provides online access to poetry, essays, short stories and plays.

London low life

Full-text searchable resource, containing colour digital images of rare books, ephemera, maps and other materials relating to 19th and early 20th century London; designed for both teaching and study, from undergraduate to research students and beyond. Will be of interest to students and scholars from a wide range of disciplines, including literature, cultural studies, urban studies, social history and the study of leisure and tourism. There is a strong emphasis on rare or unique material, particularly in the range of ephemera and street literature available.There is also an emphasis on visual material. The documents are drawn from the holdings of the Lilly Library, the rare books, manuscripts, and special collections library of the Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington.

Mr. Lincoln's Virtual Library

Mr. Lincoln's Virtual Library highlights two collections at the Library of Congress that illuminate the life of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), the sixteenth president of the United States. The Abraham Lincoln Papers housed in the Manuscript Division contain approximately 20,000 items including correspondence and papers accumulated primarily during Lincoln's presidency.

Popular Culture in Britain & America

This database contains original archival materials about popular culture in the U.S. and U.K. from 1950 to 1975. Topics include student protests, civil rights, consumerism, and the Vietnam War. The collection includes pamphlets, letters, government files, eye witness accounts, underground magazines, visual and video materials and ephemera and memorabilia. Part II contains additional material, such as music, press kits, mail order catalogues, advertising proofs, and documents on student unrest and the Troubles in Northern Ireland from the National Archives.

Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice, 1490-2007

This digital collection documents key aspects of the history of slavery worldwide over six centuries, with 16 key areas of focus: slavery in the early Americas; African coast; the Middle Passage; slavery and agriculture; urban and domestic slavery; slave testimony; spiritualism and religion in slave communities; resistance and revolts; the Underground Railroad; the abolition movement and the slavery debate; legislation and politics; freed slaves, freedmen and free black settlements; education; slavery and the Islamic world; varieties of slave experience; slavery today and the legacy of slavery. The collection also includes case studies from America, the Caribbean, Brazil, and Cuba.

Travel Writing, Spectacle & World History

Women's travel diaries and correspondence from the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. Includes manuscripts, diaries, travel journals, correspondence, photographs, postcards and ephemera, from 1818 to the 1970s.

Underground and Independent Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels

Primary source database focusing on North American and European adult comic books and graphic novels. The collection includes original material from the 1960s to today along with interviews, commentary, theory, and criticism from journals, books, and magazines.

United States code

"Containing the general and permanent laws of the United States, in force on ..."--Disc label; contains also full text of other significant documents including Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, etc.

United States statutes at large

"Every law, public and private, ever enacted by the Congress is published in Statutes at Large.... Prior to 1948 all treaties and international agreements approved by the Senate were also published in the set."

Victorian Popular Culture

Electronic collection of rare books, posters and manuscripts relating to the history of spiritualism, magic and popular entertainment in the United Kingdom, United States and Europe during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Consists of four components: Spiritualism, Sensation and Magic; Circuses, Sideshows and Freaks; Music Hall, Theatre and Popular Entertainment; and Moving pictures, optical entertainments & the advent of cinema. Includes full-text, full-color reproductions of books, ephemera, handbills, pamphlets, photos, posters, programs, scripts, and other types of materials.

Women and social movements in the United States 1600-2000

"Intended to serve as a resource for students and scholars of U.S. history and U.S. women's history ... The website provides learning modules in the form of mini-monographs, each of which is organized around a specific question about a single social movement. Each module contains fifteen to twenty documents that address the question."

Women writers online

Women Writers Online contains full-text editions of more than 100 texts by English and American women published between 1500 and 1830. It also includes excellent introductory essays written by contemporary scholars about Renaissance women writers, their texts, and related topics. The site also includes links to other textual databases, and a collection of syllabi.

 


 

Manuscript & Archival Materials

The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana

Alfred Whital Stern (1881-1960) of Chicago presented his outstanding collection of Lincolniana to the Library of Congress in 1953. Begun by Mr. Stern in the 1920s, the collection documents the life of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) both through writings by and about Lincoln as well as a large body of publications concerning the issues of the times including slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and related topics. The collection contains more than 11,100 items. This online release presents more than 1,300 items with more than 4,000 images and a date range of 1824-1931. It includes the complete collection of Stern’s contemporary newspapers, Lincoln’s law papers, sheet music, broadsides, prints, cartoons, maps, drawings, letters, campaign tickets, and other ephemeral items. The books and pamphlets in this collection are scheduled for digitization at a later date.

India, Raj, and empire

Manuscript collections from the National Library of Scotland comprising diaries, letters, maps, sketches and official and private papers: a rich array of documents with which to explore the history of India from the foundation of the East India Company in 1615 to the granting of independence for India and Pakistan in 1947.


 

Visual Materials

American Memory from the Library of Congress

A multimedia Website of digitized historical documents, photographs, sound recordings, moving pictures, books, pamphlets, maps, and other resources from the Library of Congress.

American West

Original manuscripts, maps, ephemeral material, and rare printed sources from the Graff Collection about the American West, including tales of frontier life, Native Americans, vigilantes, and outlaws, and the growth of urban centres and environmental impact of westward expansion and of life in the borderlands.

AP Images

Electronic library containing the Associated Press's current photos and a selection of pictures from their 50 million image print and negative library

ARTstor

Searchable database of more than 300,000 digital images and associated catalog data. ARTstor covers many time periods and cultures, and documents the fields of architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts, and design, as well as many other forms of visual culture. Users can search, view, and download images

Associated Press Collections Online

Associated Press collections online includes several decades' worth of wire copy, correspondence, memos, internal publications, etc. Coverage varies by collection. Contents provided by Associated Press Corporate Archives, AP Images, and AP Archive.

David Rumsey Map Collection

The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection has over 20,000 maps and images online. The collection focuses on rare 18th and 19th century North American and South American maps and other cartographic materials. Historic maps of the World, Europe, Asia, and Africa are also represented. Collection categories include antique atlas, globe, school geography, maritime chart, state, county, city, pocket, wall, children's, and manuscript maps.

Europeana

Links you to 4 million digital items including images such as paintings, drawings, maps, photos and pictures of museum objects. Some of these are world famous, others are hidden treasures from Europe's museums and galleries, archives and libraries.

The First World War

The First World War portal showcases a wealth of primary source material for the study of the Great War, complemented by a range of contextual secondary features. Includes three modules: Personal experiences; Propaganda and recruitment; Visual perspectives and narratives.

India, Raj, and empire

Manuscript collections from the National Library of Scotland comprising diaries, letters, maps, sketches and official and private papers: a rich array of documents with which to explore the history of India from the foundation of the East India Company in 1615 to the granting of independence for India and Pakistan in 1947.

London low life

Full-text searchable resource, containing colour digital images of rare books, ephemera, maps and other materials relating to 19th and early 20th century London; designed for both teaching and study, from undergraduate to research students and beyond. Will be of interest to students and scholars from a wide range of disciplines, including literature, cultural studies, urban studies, social history and the study of leisure and tourism. There is a strong emphasis on rare or unique material, particularly in the range of ephemera and street literature available.There is also an emphasis on visual material. The documents are drawn from the holdings of the Lilly Library, the rare books, manuscripts, and special collections library of the Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington.

NYPL Digital Gallery

Provides free and open access to over 685,000 images digitized from the The New York Public Library's vast collections, including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and more.

Popular Culture in Britain & America

This database contains original archival materials about popular culture in the U.S. and U.K. from 1950 to 1975. Topics include student protests, civil rights, consumerism, and the Vietnam War. The collection includes pamphlets, letters, government files, eye witness accounts, underground magazines, visual and video materials and ephemera and memorabilia. Part II contains additional material, such as music, press kits, mail order catalogues, advertising proofs, and documents on student unrest and the Troubles in Northern Ireland from the National Archives.

Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice, 1490-2007

This digital collection documents key aspects of the history of slavery worldwide over six centuries, with 16 key areas of focus: slavery in the early Americas; African coast; the Middle Passage; slavery and agriculture; urban and domestic slavery; slave testimony; spiritualism and religion in slave communities; resistance and revolts; the Underground Railroad; the abolition movement and the slavery debate; legislation and politics; freed slaves, freedmen and free black settlements; education; slavery and the Islamic world; varieties of slave experience; slavery today and the legacy of slavery. The collection also includes case studies from America, the Caribbean, Brazil, and Cuba.

Travel Writing, Spectacle & World History

Women's travel diaries and correspondence from the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. Includes manuscripts, diaries, travel journals, correspondence, photographs, postcards and ephemera, from 1818 to the 1970s.

Underground and Independent Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels

Primary source database focusing on North American and European adult comic books and graphic novels. The collection includes original material from the 1960s to today along with interviews, commentary, theory, and criticism from journals, books, and magazines.

Victorian Popular Culture

Electronic collection of rare books, posters and manuscripts relating to the history of spiritualism, magic and popular entertainment in the United Kingdom, United States and Europe during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Consists of four components: Spiritualism, Sensation and Magic; Circuses, Sideshows and Freaks; Music Hall, Theatre and Popular Entertainment; and Moving pictures, optical entertainments & the advent of cinema. Includes full-text, full-color reproductions of books, ephemera, handbills, pamphlets, photos, posters, programs, scripts, and other types of materials.


 

Recordings

African American song

African American Song is the first online resource to document the history of African American music in an online music listening service. The collection contains a diverse range of genres such as jazz, blues, gospel, ragtime, folk songs, and narratives, among others. This release features some 12,000 tracks of great historical recordings from Document Records from the first half of the 20th century

American Memory from the Library of Congress

A multimedia Website of digitized historical documents, photographs, sound recordings, moving pictures, books, pamphlets, maps, and other resources from the Library of Congress.

American song

American Song is a history database that will contain 50,000 tracks that allows people to hear and feel the music from America's past. The database will include songs by and about American Indians, miners, immigrants, slaves, children, pioneers, and cowboys. Included in the database are the songs of Civil Rights, political campaigns, Prohibition, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, anti-war protests and more.

Classical music library

Classical music library is a classical music service that enables listening and learning at library and home computers. It includes around 15,000 recordings, along with program notes, composer biographies, and images cross-referenced to the recordings

Contemporary world music

Contemporary world music will contain 50,000 tracks that delivers the sounds of all regions from every continent. The database will contain important genres such as reggae, worldbeat, neo-traditional, world fusion, Balkanic jazz, African film, Bollywood, Arab swing and jazz and other genres such as traditional music - Indian classical, fado, flamenco, klezmer, zydeco, gospel, gagaku and more. This database is a complementary database to Smithsonian global sound for libraries - it includes a blend of contemporary and traditional world music recordings from many labels throughout the world

Database of recorded American music

A collection of sound recordings documenting American music largely ignored by the commercial recording companies. Works can be browsed by work, album or track titles, as well as by artist roles, and date of recording and composition. Some biographical and role information are provided for artists Jazz music library Jazz Music Library is a collection of jazz recordings which covers thousands of artists, ensembles, albums, and genres, from all over the world, from the beginnings of jazz to today. It's an essential resource for the study and teaching of jazz history, performance, theory, or appreciation.

Naxos classical music library

Naxos Music Library is the most comprehensive collection of classical music available online. It includes the complete Naxos, Marco Polo and Da Capo catalogues of over 75,000 tracks, including Classical music, Historical recordings, Jazz, World, Folk and Chinese music. Whilst listening, users can read notes on the works being played as well as biographical information on composers or artists in Naxos's extensive database

Naxos jazz music library

Includes thousands of titles of the Fantasy catalogue and Naxos Jazz. Works may be searched by featured artist(s), disc / song title and catalogue number

Smithsonian global sound for libraries

Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries includes the published recordings owned by the non-profit Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label and the archival audio collections of the legendary Folkways Records, Cook, Dyer-Bennet, Fast Folk, Monitor, Paredon and other labels. It also includes music recorded around the African continent by Dr. Hugh Tracey for the International Library of African Music (ILAM) at Rhodes University as well as material collected by recordists on the South Asian subcontinent from the Archive Research Centre for Ethnomusicology (ARCE), sponsored by the American Institute for Indian Studies. Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries is a joint venture with Smithsonian Global Sound®, an international network of music audio archives and an educational resource that delivers the world's diverse cultural expressions via digital media

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