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American Historical Review Digital Primary Sources

A list from the American Historical Review of open access databases containing digitized primary sources for historical research.

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
"The Timeline presents a thematic, chronological, and geographical exploration of global art history through The Met collection ... and currently comprises more than 1,000 essays, close to 7,600 works of art, 300 chronologies, and 3,700 keywords."
Regions: World
Dates: 8000 B.C.E.-present

World Digital Library (Library of Congress; UNESCO)
“The World Digital Library (WDL) is a project of the U.S. Library of Congress, carried out with the support of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), and in cooperation with libraries, archives, museums, educational institutions, and international organizations from around the world. The WDL makes available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from all countries and cultures.”
Regions: Global
Dates: 8000 B.C.E.-present

Pacific Rim Library (Pacific Rim Research Libraries Alliance)
“PRL provides access to metadata records of unique and historically important artifacts—including books, audiovisual materials, artworks and more. The collections on PRL are curated by members of the Pacific Rim Research Library Alliance (PRRLA) to enhance discovery, create a shared resource, and promote the use of PRRLA collections. PRL was developed and is hosted by the UCLA Library.”
Regions: Pacific Rim
Dates: 1600 B.C.E.-present

Endangered Archives (British Library; Various repositories)
"The Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) facilitates the digitisation of archives around the world that are in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration. Thanks to generous funding from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, we have provided grants to more than 370 projects in 90 countries worldwide, in over 100 languages and scripts.
Since 2004, the Programme has digitised over seven million images and 25 thousand sound tracks. Archive types digitised so far include: rare printed sources; manuscripts, visual materials, audio recordings. This continually expanding online collection is available freely through local archival partners, this website and it is discoverable via the British Library catalogue, for research, inspiration and enjoyment."
Regions: Global
Dates: 1000 B.C.E.-2000

Smithsonian Open Access (Smithsonian Institute)
With Smithsonian Open Access, visitors may “explore and reuse millions of digital items from the Smithsonian’s collections (2.8 million at February 2020 launch).” The digital assets—“nearly 3 million 2D and 3D digital items . . . [including] images and data from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo”—are being made available in the public domain and have a Creative Commons Zero designation.
Regions: Global
Dates: antiquity-present

Virtual Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (Hill Museum & Manuscript Library)
“[Virtual Hill Museum and Manuscript Library] offers resources and tools for the study of manuscripts and currently features manuscript cultures from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. The site houses high-resolution images of manuscripts, many of them digitized as part of HMML’s global mission to preserve and share important, endangered, and inaccessible manuscript collections through digital photography, archiving, and cataloging. It also contains descriptions of manuscripts from HMML’s legacy microfilm collection, with scans of some of these films.”
Regions: Global
Dates: c. 5th c.-20th c.

Ktiv: The International Collection of Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts (The Friedberg Jewish Manuscript Society; National Library of Israel)
“With the rapid advances in the technological environment that significantly expand options for preservation, presentation and access to digital content, the National Library of Israel initiated the renewal of its collection of copies of Hebrew manuscripts. This enterprise, undertaken in partnership with the Friedberg Jewish Manuscript Society (FJMS), is designed​ to make Jewish manuscripts widely available. The International Collection of Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts will enable global centralized digital access to the complete corpus of existing Hebrew manuscripts.”
Regions: Israel; North Africa; Middle East; Europe
Dates: 500-1961

CURIOSity Digital Collections (Harvard University Library)
Hosted by Harvard Library, this digital collection offers “curated views that provide specialized search options and unique content.” Visitors may access a number of unique digital exhibits that feature a wide array of multimedia, including artwork, photographs, digitized manuscripts, maps, music scores, and oral interviews; exhibits cover themes from around the world and document a broad range of historical eras.
Regions: Global
Dates: 1000-present

Cornell Digital Witchcraft (Cornell University Library)
"An online selection of 104 English language books" from Cornell University Library’s Witchcraft Collection, which "documents the earliest and the latest manifestations of the belief in witchcraft as well as its geographical boundaries, and elaborates this history with works on demonology; criminal law and investigation of criminal cases and social violence; the use of censorship, torture, exorcism, and the medical treatment of possession or madness; and sexuality. Especially after the late seventeenth century, many books express skepticism and recommend moderation concerning witchcraft beliefs, paganism, etc."
Regions: Western Europe; United States
Dates: 1400-1800

Biodiversity Heritage Library (Smithsonian Libraries and Archives)
“The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives. BHL is revolutionizing global research by providing free, worldwide access to knowledge about life on Earth . . . . BHL operates as a worldwide consortium of natural history, botanical, research, and national libraries working together to address [the challenge of lack of access to biodiversity literature] by digitizing the natural history literature held in their collections and making it freely available for open access as part of a global ‘biodiversity community.’”
Regions: Global
Dates: 1469-present

Persuasive Maps (Cornell University Library; PJ Mode)
Hosted by the Cornell University Library, this collection holds “more than 800 maps intended primarily to influence opinions or beliefs—to send a message—rather than to communicate geographic information. The collection reflects a variety of persuasive tools, including allegorical, satirical, and pictorial mapping; selective inclusion; unusual use of projections, color, graphics, and text; and intentional deception. Maps in the collection address a wide range of messages: religious, political, military, commercial, moral and social.”
Regions: Global
Dates: 1491-2012

David Rumsey Map Collection (Cartography Associates)
"Contains more than 150,000 maps. The collection focuses on rare 16th through 21st century maps of North and South America, as well as maps of the World, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania."
Regions: World
Dates: 1500-present

International Children's Digital Library (International Children's Digital Library Foundation)
The purpose of this digital library is “to create a collection of more than 10,000 books in at least 100 languages that is freely available to children, teachers, librarians, parents, and scholars throughout the world via the Internet. The materials included in the collection reflect similarities and differences in cultures, societies, interests, lifestyles, and priorities of peoples around the world. The collection’s focus is on identifying materials that help children to understand the world around them and the global society in which they live.”
Regions: Global
Dates: 1505-2010

Enslaved: Peoples of the Historical Slave Trade (Matrix: Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences at Michigan State University)
“With the help of scholars, educators, and family historians, Enslaved: Peoples of the Historical Slave Trade ( is rapidly expanding in 2021. We are building a robust, open-source architecture to discover, connect, and visualize 600,000 (and growing) people records and 5 million data points. From archival fragments and spreadsheet entries, we see the lives of the enslaved in richer detail. Explore the data and life stories on and read articles on data-driven research about the lives of the enslaved in the Journal of Slavery and Data Preservation.”
Regions: Atlantic World; Indian Ocean World
Dates: 1508-1957

Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (Emory University)
Details of almost 36,000 transatlantic slave voyages, including information about vessels, enslaved peoples, slave traders, and estimates of the overall size and direction of the traffic.
Regions: Americas; Africa; Western Europe; Caribbean
Dates: 1514-1866

International Institute of Social History (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts & Sciences)
“The IISH collections comprise of material about social movements and people connected to those movements, whose heritage is often not included in state archives, or in some countries it may even be under threat of being seized or destroyed by the central government. The IISH provides an option to deposit those endangered archives, so that they will remain part of society's collective memory. In this sense, the Institute fulfils an important societal role. Without the IISH, essential archival material would have been lost to society.”
Regions: Global
Dates: 1520-present

Slavery Archive: National Archives of the Netherlands (National Archives of the Netherlands)
“Important archives on slavery have been digitised over the past years by the National Archives of the Netherlands, in cooperation with Metamorfoze, the Netherlands' national programme for the preservation of paper heritage. On this page, visitors can access the 1.9 million scans that have become available so far from institutions in the Netherlands, England, Guyana and Suriname. The scans from the collection of the National Archives of the Netherlands can be accessed and searched on this page. Links to scans from the collections of other (archival) institutions are also included.” The site notes that “most inventories and scanned material are . . . only available in Dutch.”
Regions: Suriname; Berbice; West Africa; Netherlands
Dates: 1564-1990

Digital Transgender Archive (Various repositories)
“The purpose of the Digital Transgender Archive (DTA) is to increase the accessibility of transgender history by providing an online hub for digitized historical materials, born-digital materials, and information on archival holdings throughout the world . . . By digitally localizing a wide range of trans-related materials, the DTA expands access to trans history for academics and independent researchers alike in order to foster education and dialog concerning trans history.”
Regions: Global
Dates: 1587-present

Farabi Digital Library ()
“Collections have been formed in the Farabi Digital Library on a wide range of subjects in order to allow users to reach the largest possible number of sources. Thus it comprises collections of copies of the Holy Quran, calligraphic works, maps, yearbooks, periodicals, early printed books and historical photographs. The collections that are selected for digitization are mostly related to Islamic culture and civilization. Among them are chronicles that list historical events by title and date, original sources on the history of the Muslim world, palace records such as calendars and war reports, complete sets of newspapers and journals, and some publications of IRCICA.”
Regions: Turkey; Ottoman Empire; Balkans; Middle East
Dates: 1587-2015

The Royal Commonwealth Society Library (Cambridge Digital Library)
“The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) Library collections are a treasure-trove of resources, pictorial and written, for those researching the Commonwealth and Britain’s former colonial territories. They include over 300,000 printed items, about 900 archival collections (manuscript diaries, correspondence, pictures, cine films, scrapbooks and newspaper cuttings) and over 125,000 photographs. Collections are being added to Cambridge Digital Library on a regular basis.”
Regions: British Empire; Commonwealth
Dates: 1659-1990

Mapping Marronage (University of Michigan)
“Mapping Marronage is an interactive visualization of the trans-Atlantic networks of intellectual and creative exchange created by enslaved people in the 18th and 19th century. It traces the geographic reach, crossings and intersections of letters, autobiographies and creative works authored by enslaved people of African-descent.”
Regions: Atlantic World
Dates: 1705-1896

The Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature (University of Florida)
“The Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature in the Department of Special Collections at the University of Florida’s George A. Smathers Libraries contains more than 115,000 volumes published in the United States and Great Britain from the mid-1600s to present day,” and it includes comparative editions of popular children’s literature, as well as “alphabet books, marginalia and inscriptions, nonfiction from the 20th century, Little Golden Books, religious tracts, and illustrated editions from the Golden Age of Children's Literature.” This digital collection offers online access to these volumes and allows visitors to search for specific items or browse volumes by creator, genre, publication date, and publisher.
Regions: United States; Britain
Dates: 1722-present

Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora (University of Colorado Boulder; University of Virginia; Virginia Humanities; Blumfield Labs; UNESCO)
“This educational resource is a two-part website created for teachers, researchers, students and the general public. It exists to assist anyone interested in visualizing the experiences of Africans and their descendants who were enslaved and transported to slave societies around the world.” The website “is a digital archive for hundreds of historical images, paintings, lithographs, and photographs illustrating enslaved Africans and their descendants before c. 1900.”
Regions: Atlantic World; Africa
Dates: 1750-1900

Global Press Archive (East View; Stanford Libraries; Hoover Institution Library & Archives)
“East View Global Press Archive . . . is a program that embraces an unprecedented variety of global news publications, presented in full-image and full-text format optimized for scholarly use. GPA encompasses newspapers in more than 30 languages and will ultimately include titles from over 80 countries. GPA is the result of a landmark initiative of Stanford Libraries and the Hoover Institution Library & Archives to digitally preserve and make more accessible thousands of original print newspaper publications collected by the Hoover Institution and now housed by Stanford Libraries.”
Regions: Global
Dates: 1767-present

Anarchy Archives (Pitzer College)
The stated aim of the curator (retired political science professor Dana Ward) is "to provide at one site the collected works of the major anarchists and an online history of anarchists and anarchist movements worldwide, including a graphics archive."
Regions: Europe; England; United States
Dates: 1783-1981

Livingstone Online (University of Maryland Libraries; University College London)
“Livingstone Online is a digital museum and library that allows users to encounter the written, visual, and material legacies of the famous Victorian explorer David Livingstone (1813–73). The site draws on recent scholarship and international collaboration to restore one of the British Empire’s most iconic figures to the many historical and cultural contexts in which he worked, traveled, and is remembered.”
Regions: Africa; United Kingdom; India
Dates: 1795-2009

Moving Beyond "Rags to Riches" (George Washington University)
This digital history project chronicles the late-nineteenth-century Irish emigration to America, especially focusing on the lost stories of New York’s Irish Famine immigrants. The collection includes over a thousand digitized original documents and follows the stories of four hundred selected immigrants, showing how they were able to survive and thrive in America.
Regions: Ireland; United States
Dates: 1840-1870

Cleared for Takeoff: Explore Commercial Aviation (Digital Public Library of America)
“Cleared for Takeoff: Explore Commercial Aviation features Pan American World Airways, Inc., materials digitized from collections at the University of Miami, HistoryMiami Museum, and Duke University alongside commercial aviation resources from DPLA’s partner network. The portal aims to enable students, teachers, scholars, and other researchers to easily discover and build connections across aviation collections nationwide.”
Regions: Global
Dates: 1850-present

What's on the Menu? (New York Public Library)
“With approximately 45,000 menus dating from the 1840s to the present, The New York Public Library’s restaurant menu collection is one of the largest in the world, used by historians, chefs, novelists and everyday food enthusiasts.” The website includes images of menus and a growing collection of searchable transcriptions of the menus.
Regions: New York; United States; Global
Dates: 1851-2008

Historic Mexican and Mexican American Press (University of Arizona)
"Documents and showcases historic Mexican and Mexican American publications published in Tucson, El Paso, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sonora, Mexico from the mid-1800s to the 1970s."
Regions: United States; Mexico
Dates: 1855-2004

International Mission Photography Archive (University of Southern California Libraries)
"The photographs record missionary endeavors and reflect the missionaries’ experience of communities and environments abroad ... The pictures document indigenous peoples’ responses to missions and the history of indigenous churches ... They also offer views of traditional culture, landscapes, cities, and towns before and in the early stages of modern development."
Regions: World
Dates: 1860-1960

Colonialism and African Diaspora on Picture Postcards (University of Cologne)
“The digital collection Colonialism and African Diaspora on Picture Postcards comprises 3,027 postcards showing Africans and African-Americans in the period of colonialism. It is based on the collection of a private person from Hamburg who released the scans for digitisation.”
Regions: Africa; United States
Dates: 1863-1964

Wilson Center Digital Archive (Woodrow Wilson Center)
"Collects the research of three Wilson Center projects which focus on the interrelated histories of the Cold War, Korea, and Nuclear Proliferation" and "contains once-secret documents from governments all across the globe, ... providing fresh insights into the history of international relations and diplomacy."
Regions: World
Dates: 1866-2010

Carnegie Corporation of New York Digital Archive (Columbia University)
“This website provides a portal into the Corporation’s philanthropy from the 1870s to the 21st century . . . Scholars studying the history of philanthropy, capital, education, race, foreign relations, and a range of other topics will find that the website contains valuable primary resource material.”
Regions: Global
Dates: 1886-1927

Hoji Shinbun Digital Collection (Various repositories)
“The Hoji Shinbun Digital Collection is currently the world’s largest online archive of open-access, full image Japanese American and other overseas Japanese newspapers in Asia and South America. Image content in this collection is accompanied by OCR-generated text where possible, thus rendering the text searchable.”
Regions: United States; Asia
Dates: 1887-1955

LA84 Foundation Sports History Library (The LA84 Foundation Library)
“Created with a share of the 1984 Olympic Games surplus, LA84 began operations in 1985 as a grant making and educational foundation ... The foundation’s LA84 Sport History Library is a growing digital collection of more than 90,000 online documents on Olympic and general sport history,” including periodicals, Olympic Committee reports, and transcripts of oral history interviews.
Regions: Global
Dates: 1896-present

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Archive (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee)
The JDC’s digitized archive provides online access to selected sources from its main archives. Those archives record the activities of the Jewish humanitarian aid organization in over ninety countries. The digital collection includes minutes, reports, correspondences, eyewitness accounts, speeches, press releases, news dispatches, telegrams, and passenger lists.
Regions: Transnational
Dates: 1914-present

League of Nations Malaria Documents (World Health Organization Historical Collection)
This portion of the WHO collection contains documents published by the Malaria Commission on the resurgence of malaria in Europe from 1924 to 1932.
Regions: Yugoslavia; Greece; Bulgaria; Romania; Russia; Italy
Dates: 1924-1932

Archivo Mesoamericano (Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social; Instituto de Historia de Nicaragua y Centroamérica; Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen; Indiana University Libraries)
“A digital archive of annotated historical and ethnographic video materials created in collaboration with the Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) in Mexico, the Institute of History of Nicaragua and Central America (IHNCA) in Nicaragua, and the Museum of the Word and the Image (MUPI) in El Salvador. Collectively, the Archivo contains footage dating from 1974 to 2007, and addresses such topics as human rights, political violence, youth movements, the Sandinista government, guerrilla media, revolutionary literature, armed conflict and international relations, among other subjects. It also places an emphasis on the ethno-linguistic and ethno-historical legacy of indigenous peoples in the region, and contains materials that feature endangered languages such as Chinanteco, Mixe, Mixtec, and Zapotec from Oaxaca, Nahuatl from Veracruz, Chontal from Tabasco; Tzeltal and Tzotzil from Chiapas; Pipil from El Salvador; and Miskitú and Sumo from Nicaragua.”
Regions: El Salvador; Nicaragua; Mexico
Dates: 1929-present

Lesbian Herstory Archive (Pratt Institute School of Information)
This archive contains selected digitized audio cassettes and VHS tapes from the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, New York. These recordings have been digitized with the help of volunteers and the students and faculty of the Pratt Institute’s School of Information. These oral histories and other materials are organized into five thematic collections, each chronicling the lives and struggles of various lesbian activists, communities, and organizations.
Regions: Caribbean; United States
Dates: 1930-1993

Todd Webb Archive (Betsy Evans Hunt)
“Up until the 1980s, Todd Webb photographed and produced a unique body of work, which has attained an important place in the annals of American photographic history. Frequently referred to as ‘an historian with a camera,’ Webb’s rich images document life all over the world. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and is included in numerous museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Art Institute, and the Chicago Art Institute.”
Regions: United States; Europe; Africa
Dates: 1941-1981

National Security Archive (George Washington University)
Declassified U.S. government documents, primarily obtained through targeted Freedom of Information Act requests, pertaining to national security, foreign policy, diplomatic and military history, intelligence policy, and much more. All postings are curated by on-staff subject experts.
Regions: World
Dates: 1945-present

The Year Book of the United Nations (United Nations)
Digitized full issues of the Department of Public Information’s Yearbook of the United Nations. According to the website, the yearbooks include "the texts of all major General Assembly, Security Council and Economic and Social Council resolutions and decisions, and places them in a narrative context of UN consideration, deliberation and action."
Regions: World
Dates: 1946-present

Human Rights Documentation Initiative (University of Texas Libraries)
“The UT Libraries’ Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) is committed to the long-term preservation of fragile and vulnerable records of human rights struggles worldwide, the promotion and secure usage of human rights archival materials, and the advancement of human rights research and advocacy around the world. The HRDI collection contains harvested internet resources and audiovisual materials created by partner organizations.”
Regions: Global
Dates: 1950-2014

Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives (Bodleian Library, University of Oxford)
The Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives is a digital archive of materials used by anti-apartheid activists in the United Kingdom and South Africa while the apartheid system was in place. Archived materials include posters, t-shirts, badges, and pamphlets created and used by members of the movement.
Regions: Britain; South Africa
Dates: 1959-1994

American Soviet Jewry Movement (American Jewish Historical Society)
"Center for Jewish History staff digitized and made available 78,801 images of archival material and 544 hours of audio recordings from the American Jewish Historical Society’s Archive of the American Soviet Jewry Movement. The Digitizing American Jewry Collection Project effort has made trip reports, photographs, posters, speeches, and ephemera openly available."
Regions: United States; USSR
Dates: 1960-1999

Cuba and Southern Africa (Woodrow Wilson Center)
Scanned documents about Cuba’s policy toward Southern Africa during the end of the Cold War. These Spanish-language documents were acquired by Piero Gleijeses for his book Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976–1991 (2013).
Regions: Cuba; South Africa; Angola
Dates: 1976-1989

Global Feminisms Project (University of Michigan)
“The Global Feminisms Project (GFP) originated in 2002 to create an archive of oral histories from women scholars and activists from four countries: China, India, Poland, and the USA Since then, we have added interviews from Brazil, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Russia.”
Regions: Various countries
Dates: 2002-present

The World-Historical Dataverse (World History Center, University of Pittsburgh; Harvard Dataverse)
“The World-Historical Dataverse is a dataset archive published by the World History Center at the University of Pittsburgh. It is intended to contribute to the development and exchange of datasets relevant to world-historical documentation and analysis. Any duplication, reference, or transmission of the datasets or their contents must be accompanied by a citation following standard acceptable guidelines according to the terms of this site.”
Regions: Global
Dates: 2010-present