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Primary Sources: Digitized Sources

Find and use primary sources in your research.

Digitized Primary Sources

DBook Cover with Arabic Textigitization has made it possible for libraries, archives, historical societies, museums and individuals to easily share their collections with the world.  Researchers today have unprecedented access to images of primary source materials with descriptive metadata that, in the pre-digital age, were available only to those who could visit a collection in person.

There are many different types of digital collections online, both freely available on the web, and via subscription databases available through libraries.  These include:

Databases at NYU Libraries.  Primary sources may be found in the following databases:  Digital National Security Archive, Digital Sanborn Maps, Congressional Publications, Ancestry Library Edition (genealogical databases, Census Records, etc.), Making of Modern Law: Primary Sources 1620-1920, The Sixties:  Primary Sources and Personal Narratives, 1960-1974, Archives Unbound, and many others.  Check the Databases by Subject page to find digitized primary sources on your topic.

Digitized books and serials on the Web in the Internet Archive, Making of America (Cornell), Making of America (Michigan), Google Books, Hathi Trust, and other digital repositories.  Some sites, such as the Marxists Internet Archive, AMDOCS Documents for the Study of American History, and the Avalon Project:  Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy, provide transcriptions of documents.

Highlights from a library's holdings, often displayed as an online exhibit, such as the NYU Archives' Timeline of University History, 1831-2006, the New-York Historical Society's Slavery in New York and New York African Free School Collection, The Tamiment Library's Labor & The Holocaust: The Jewish Labor Committee and the Anti-Nazi Struggle and Cornell University Library's Triangle Factory Fire exhibit.

Library and Archival Exhibitions on the Web is a public service of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries that links to more than 3,000 online exhibits of library and archival materials posted by non-commercial institutions.  This resource is keyword-searchable by title, subject, and the name of the sponsoring institution. 

One-of-a-kind resources like the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, a fully searchable database containing a wealth of information on the voyages, the captives, and the places from which slave ships sailed and landed.  It contains maps, a timeline, images, and essays that place the data in context.  There are reams of statistics in tables, timelines, and maps, and researchers can search the data and create custom xy graphs, bar graphs, and pie-charts.  This online database and the accompanying printed Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade are the "culmination of several decades of independent and collaborative research." 

Regionally-oriented digital projects such as Peel's Prairie Provinces (Western Canada), Documenting the American South, Alaska's Digital Archives, State Digital Resources from the Library of Congress, the World Digital Library, and the New York Heritage Digital Collections, among many others.

Complete collections, often with transcriptions of documents and searchable databases.  Examples of freely available collections include the University of California Berkeley's Mark Twain Papers Project, the Library of Congress's American Memory Project, the Andre Studios Fashion Drawings & Sketches from the Fashion Institute of Technology and the New York Public Library, and the New-York Historical Society's Digital Collections.  Museums also offer online editions of their collections.  See the Louvre's Atlas database, which includes all the works exhibited in the museum, ca. 30,000 items.

One category of digitized texts on the web is early printed books.  The German blog Archivalia maintains a comprehensive list of digital libraries of Pre-1800 Printed Books in Western Languages.

Complete runs of newspapers and journals, both scanned in PDF (and showing illustrations), and full text.  The vast majority of full text newspapers and journals online are found within subscription databases made available through commercial vendors in libraries, but there are also some stellar free resources, such as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle online, 1841-1902, the Library of Congress's Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Fulton History: Old New York Newspapers, and the Nineteenth-Century in Print: Periodicals

Government documents, including books, pamphlets, reports, statistics, serials, maps, and other items published by local, state, and federal government agencies represent a rich source of information for researchers on a vast range of topics.  Much of the information is availalbe online.  Consult the U.S. federal government's GPO Access gateway site, along with federal, state and local government websites to find materials.  Visit the US Government Documents Center on the 6th floor of Bobst Library for assistance.  Also look for government documents in the Internet Archive.

Turning the Pages

Developed by the British Library, Turning the Pages allows you to virtually turn the pages of treasured books. You can magnify details, read or listen to expert commentary on each page, and store or share your own notes.

The British Library offers 14 masterpieces from its collections including Mozart's musical diary, Ramayana, India's great epic in 17th-century paintings, and a selection of sketches from Leonardo da VInci.

British Library

National Libary of Medicine

Vanderbilt University

Notable Sources Online

Vast collections of digital resources are available online, both within subscription databases and via freely available websites.  Large public and university librararies are particularly good sources. 

Notable sources include:

American Memory, Library of Congress

ARTstor (subscription database)

Digital Libraries (links to digitial libraries arranged by country)



Internet Archive

Library of Congress:  Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (contains links to digitized collections of photos, prints, and posters)

New York Public Library Digital Collections

State Digital Resources:  Memory Projects, Online Encyclopedias, Historical & Cultural Materials Collections (Library of Congress Web Guide) 

World Digital Library

Finding Digital Collections Online

Search Tip:  Search Google with your subject terms and the keywords "digital collections" or "digital library" to find digital collections.

Archives Unbound

This subscription database contains topically-focused digital collections of historical documents that support the research in a broad range of subjects.

Topics span Witchcraft to World War II to twentieth-century political history. 

Search Archives Unbound.