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Primary Sources

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

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