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Primary Sources: Across Disciplines

Montgomery Library's Guide to Primary Sources

Digitized Primary Sources

Libraries, archives, historical societies, museums, and other organizations are able to share their collections with the world through the means of digitization. Researchers today have extensive access to primary documents, images, and objects, along with descriptive metadata, that were once limited only to individuals who could visit a collection in person.

Many types of digital collections are available online. All are on the web either free or via subscription databases available through libraries. These include:

Databases at Montgomery Library: Primary sources may be found on the following databases: ACLS Humanities E-Book Project; African-American Music Reference; American Civil War Letters and DiariesAmerican Song; ARTstor Digital LibraryCivil War Letters and Diaries; Classical Music Library; Classical Scores Library; Contemporary World Music; Early American Imprints; Early Encounters in North America; European Views of the Americas: 1493-1750; Mountain People: Life and Culture in Appalachia; National Library of Medicine; New York Times (Historical Issues 1851-2008); North American Women’s Letters and Diaries; PsycINFO.

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

Online exhibits of Kentucky library holdings: the University of Kentucky's Henry Clay: Images of the Great Compromiser, the Filson Historical Society's The First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820, Lincoln's KentuckyLewis and Clark in Kentucky, and Steamboating on Western Waters, and the Kentucky Historical Society's Military Treasures, Toyota Kentucky Hall of Governors, Great Revivals: Kentucky Decorative Arts Treasures.

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. National Archives: Online Exhibits is an agency of the Federal government.

Singular resources: Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database is 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. Both the online database and the accompanying printed Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (G 2446 .E625 E48 2010) are the outcome of five decades of independent and collaborative research.

Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States Web site. Originally published in 1932 by Charles O. Paullin and John K. Wright, the atlas remains a seminally useful atlas in American history. The online version of the atlas was created by Robert Nelson and the members of the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond. There are nearly seven hundred maps positioned across 166 plates. A broad array of historical issues of interest in 1932 include: exploration and settlement, disputes over boundaries, women's suffrage, agriculture, and the distribution of wealth. Paullin and Wright sought to show change over time by creating a series of maps on the same topic spanning decades or centuries. The site is loaded with historical detail, analysis, and useful features.

Regionally-oriented digital projects: Kentucky Digital Library, Documenting the American South, State Digital Resources from the Library of Congress, World Digital Library, the European Library, and The National Archives of the United Kingdom.

Collections (freely available) with transcriptions of documents and searchable databases: examples include the University of California Berkeley's Mark Twain Papers Project, the Library of Congress's American Memory Project and Civil Rights History Project, and the New York Public Library, and the New-York Historical Society's Digital Collections.  Museums online collections: Ashmolean: Museum of Art and Archaeology collections encompass the civilisations of east and west and chart the aspirations of humankind from the Neolithic era to the present day. The museum was founded in 1683.

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 Kentucky Digital Library, the Library of Congress's Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Kentucky Digital Library: Newspapers, Louisville Leader Collection, and the Nineteenth-Century in Print: Periodicals.

Government publications: books, pamphlets, reports, statistics, serials, maps, and other items published by local, state, and federal government agencies represent a rich source of historical information for researchers on a vast range of topics.  Much of the information is availalbe online.  Consult the United States government's GPO Access gateway site, along with federal, state and local government websites to find materials as well as the National Archives research site and the Library of Congress website. Also look for government documents in the Internet Archive.

Notable Sources Online

Numerous primary source digital collections are available online via subscription databases and at chargeless websites. Large public and university libraries are particularly good sources.

Notable sources include:

Turning the Pages

The British Library's Turning the Pages program allows you to virtually turn pages of some of the Library's treasured books. It gives the reader the capacity to magnify details, read or listen to expert commentary on each page, and store or share personal notations.

The masterpieces offered by the British Library from it collections include selections from Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks, Handel's draft score of the Messiah, Lewis Carroll's original version of Alice in Wonderland (entitled Alice's Adventures Under Ground), and a Genealogical Chronicle of English Kings dating from the reign of Edward I (1272-1307).