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Primary Sources

How to find print and digital primary sources in the library and on the web.

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Searching the Web for Primary Sources

For the past couple decades, libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions have put a lot of effort into making a wide variety of primary sources freely-available on the web. The issue is how to effectively discover them. 

Suggestions for Improved Web Search:

  • Try multiple specific searches for different types of primary sources you believe would exist for your topic in addition to a general search for "primary sources".
    • Ex. images, diaries, correspondence, letters, posters, film, transcripts, recordings, manuscripts, maps.  
  • Other search terms that may help identify primary sources include "museums," "archives," and "collections." 
  • Many primary source collections are hosted by colleges and universities. Add "" to your search terms to only search .edu websites.
    • Ex. monasteries manuscripts
  • Once your find a useful site, you can use Google to do a search of just that website by adding "site:" before the website's URL to your search terms.
    • Ex. WPA 

Many of these search techniques are more easily done through the Google advanced search:

Online Primary Source Collections

Here is just a small sample of many primary source collections and libraries available on the web to help you get started. 


United States