History: Primary Sources

Digitized Primary Sources

  • The American Founding Era
    Rotunda’s Founding Era Collection is an integrated research environment that covers the correspondence of a number of key figures from America’s founding era.
  • AM explorer
    Allows researchers to search across over sixty primary-source databases published by Adam Matthew Digital. These include: American Consumer Culture; Apartheid South Africa 1948-1980; Confidential Print archival sources for Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America; East India Company records; Foreign Office Files for China, Japan, and the Middle East; Mass Observation Online; Socialism on film: the Cold War and international propaganda; and World's Fairs : a global history of expositions.
  • Archives Direct : Sources from The National Archives, UK  (Adam Matthew)
    Archives Direct is a suite of collections sourced from The National Archives, Kew, the official archive of the United Kingdom. Containing diplomatic correspondence, letters, reports, surveys, material from newspapers, statistical analyses, published pamphlets, ephemera, military papers, profiles of prominent individuals, maps and many other types of document, it consists of the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from the British state’s point of view.
  • Archives unbound
    Archives Unbound presents topically-focused digital collections of historical documents that support the research and study needs of scholars and students at the college and university level. Collections in Archives Unbound cover a broad range of topics from the Middle Ages forward-from Witchcraft to World War II to twentieth-century political history.
  • Digital National Security Archive
    The Digital National Security Archive contains the most comprehensive set of declassified government documents available. The resource now includes 40 collections consisting of over 94,000 meticulously indexed documents, with more than 650,000 total pages. Each of these collections, compiled by top scholars and experts, exhaustively covers the most critical world events, countries, and U.S. policy decisions from post World War II through the 21st century.
  • Gale. Primary Sources
    Provides cross-searchable access to more than thirty primary-source collection databases, including:
    17th and 18th Century Burney Collection of British newspapers and news pamphlets; Associated Press Collections Online; Brazilian and Portuguese History and Culture (The Oliveira Lima Library); Eighteenth Century Collections Online; Indigenous Peoples: North America; Nineteenth Century Collections Online; Sabin Americana, 1500-1926; The Making of Modern Law; The Making of the Modern World; U.S. Declassified Documents Online. Also includes digital archive beginning with the first issue for many periodicals and newspapers: The Times of London and Sunday Times; The Telegraph; Financial Times; and The Daily Mail, etc.
  • The Making of the Modern World (MOMW)  (Gale) 
     MOMW had its origins in the systematic building of collections of works of "economic literature." Provides access to extensive collections for research into the history of the dynamics of Western trade, including the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, banking and finance, and the emergence of the modern corporation. It is also strong in the rise of the modern labor movement, the evolving status of slavery, the condition and making of the working class, colonization, the Atlantic world, Latin American/Caribbean studies, social history, gender, and the economic theories that championed and challenged capitalism in the nineteenth century. Also offers deep resources in the role of finance and taxation and the growth of the early modern monarchy. Includes texts published 1450 to 1945.
  • Nineteenth Century collections online  
    Twelve eight in-depth collections of nineteenth-century materials. Includes a variety of material types--monographs, newspapers, pamphlets, manuscripts, ephemera, maps, photographs, statistics, and more.
  • ProQuest History Vault.
    "ProQuest History Vault unlocks the wealth of key archival materials with a single search. Researchers can access digitized letters, papers, photographs, scrapbooks, financial records, diaries, and many more primary source materials taken from the University Publications of America (UPA) Collections." Currently includes these collections: Slavery and the Law; Southern Life and African American History, 1775-1915, Plantations Records, Parts 1 & 2; and Vietnam War and American Foreign Policy, 1960-1975.

  • Readex AllSearch
    Searches across over forty primary-source databases. Many of these cover titles published in the U.S.: for example, African American Periodicals, 1825 - 1995; America's Historical Imprints, 1535 - 1922; Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535 - 1922; The American Civil War Collection, 1860 - 1922; and America's Historical Newspapers. Other resources are global in their subject focus or in the origin of the titles they cover: for example Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Daily Reports, 1941-1996; Rand Daily Mail, 1902 - 1985 (South Africa); World Newspaper Archive; African Newspapers; Latin American Newspapers; and Caribbean Newspapers.


  • Search Pointer: The libraries provide access to many databases that consist of collections of texts that are relevant to historical research. You can browse these databases by clicking Databases / Text Collections.

Identifying Archival Collections

  • Archival Collections Portal (Columbia University Libraries)
    This portal provides access to records of archival collections at Columbia University Libraries, including: finding aids; collection descriptions; and available digital content, such as online exhibits and images.
  • ArchiveGrid
    A collection of nearly two million archival material descriptions, including records from WorldCat and finding aids harvested from the web. Archival collections held by thousands of libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives are represented in ArchiveGrid.
  • Archive Finder (for US, UK, Ireland), incorporates ArchivesUSA. Searches multiple archives by keyword.
  • American National Biography Online Entries for individuals includes a note at the end that lists a few major archival collections on the subject, as well as published biographies.
  • History Senior Theses: Using European Libraries, Archives and Research Centers
    A guide created for Columbia students planning to do research in European and/or British archives and/or special libraries.
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Entries include biographies, archives, and locations of portraits/photos.
  • Social and Cultural History: Letters and Diaries Online Searchable archive of private writing/personal narratives.

Need Help?

Ask A Librarian

Need help?

You can ask a librarian through online chat, by email, phone, or in person. 


Have a quick question?

Check for the answer in our frequently asked questions