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Primary Document Resources

compiled by S. Crowther, MLS

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research.

1. Digital Commonwealth – MA online collection
Digital Commonwealth is a Web portal and fee-based repository service for online cultural heritage materials held by Massachusetts libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives. The portal facilitates the searching and browsing of member institutions' digital assets, allowing the discovery of all kinds of digital resources including manuscripts, images, historical documents, and sound recordings.
2. Using, Finding, and Evaluating Primary Sources on the Web.
This brief guide is designed to provide students and researchers with information to help them evaluate the internet sources and the quality of primary materials that can be found online.

3. National Museum of American History - Collections by Subject
The diverse collections of the National Museum of American History reflect a wide variety of subjects relating to the history of the United States as well as the history of science, medicine, and technology.

4. Primary Sources on the Web – The University of California, Berkeley Library
A selected list of websites containing primary sources. Note: all links may not be working.

5. The National Archives
Activities - Learning activities bases on using any primary source in the National Archives.
Documents - Choose from thousands of primary sources for classroom use.

6. 100 Milestone Documents
Compiled by the National Archives and Records Administration, and drawn primarily from its nationwide holdings. The documents chronicle United States history from 1776 to 1965.

7. Library of Congress - Primary Source Sets

8. U.S. National Archives Experience Digital Vaults
Collect primary source documents and images and use them to create digital posters and videos within the available templates.

9. The World Digital Library
A database of more than 7,000 primary source documents and images from around the world. Sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Searching is available in seven languages.

10. Historical Scene Investigation
Hosted by the University of William and Mary. This site provides a model for primary source-based activities, presenting historical cases for students to crack, analyze, and come to a conclusion about the investigation.

11. Digital History