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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.

Calisphere (University of California Libraries)
“Calisphere provides free access to unique and historically important artifacts for research, teaching, and curious exploration. Discover over one million photographs, documents, letters, artwork, diaries, oral histories, films, advertisements, musical recordings, and more . . . The collections on Calisphere have been digitized and contributed by all ten campuses of the University of California and other important libraries, archives, and museums throughout the state.”
Regions: California; United States
Dates: 500 B.C.E.-present

Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources For Slave Societies (Vanderbilt University)
"Dedicated to identifying, cataloguing, and digitally preserving endangered archival materials documenting the history of Africans and Afro-descended peoples in the Iberian colonies. ESSSS currently has projects in Colombia, Cuba and Brazil." The project has since added records from Spanish Florida.
Regions: Caribbean; South America
Dates: 1500-1900

Birmingham [Alabama] Public Library Digital Collections (Birmingham Public Library)
“The Digital Collections of Birmingham Public Library were created to preserve and make available the local history of Birmingham [Alabama] and the surrounding area. These resources may help students, teachers, genealogists, historians and interested citizens learn more about the history of Birmingham.”
Regions: United States; Alabama
Dates: 1500-2011

Canadiana (Canadian Research Knowledge Network)
“With the support of major memory institutions, CRKN [the Canadian Research Knowledge Network] identifies, catalogues, and digitizes documentary heritage—books, newspapers, periodicals, images and nationally-significant archival materials—in specialized searchable databases,” including Canadiana Online, Héritage, and Early Canadiana Online.
Regions: Canada
Dates: 1557-1920

Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents (Creighton University)
"This site contains the entire English translation of The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, originally compiled and edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites and published by The Burrows Brothers Company, Cleveland, throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century."
Regions: North America
Dates: 1610-1791

Medicine in the Americas (U.S. National Library of Medicine)
“A digital library project that makes freely available original works demonstrating the evolution of American medicine from colonial frontier outposts of the 17th century to research hospitals of the 20th century.” Materials include both popular and clinical works on subjects ranging from public health to alternative therapies, ethnic and racial diversity, and women’s health.
Regions: United States; Latin America; Caribbean; Canada
Dates: 1610-1920

Hudson River Valley Heritage (Various repositories; Southeastern New York Library Resources Council)
“Hudson River Valley Heritage (HRVH) is a digital library that provides visitors with free access to search and browse historical materials from the collections of libraries, archives, museums and historical societies” in the southeastern counties of New York State. “Partners are continually adding new material to the digital collections of photographs, maps, letters, postcards, manuscripts, scrapbooks, programs from events, memorabilia and ephemera, oral histories,” and more, constituting tens of thousands of unique items.
Regions: United States; New York
Dates: 1620-present

Documenting the American South (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
This collection contains texts, images, and audio files related to the history, literature, and culture of the American South. Sources are organized into sixteen thematic collections of books, diaries, posters, artifacts, letters, oral history interviews, and songs.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1624-2006

Umbra Search (University of Minnesota; Various repositories)
“Umbra Search African American History makes African American history more broadly accessible through a freely available widget and search tool,” and it offers “digitization of African American materials across University of Minnesota collections”; the site also “brings together hundreds of thousands of digitized materials from over 1,000 libraries and archives across the country.”
Regions: United States
Dates: 1656-present

Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project (University of Virginia)
“An electronic collection of primary source materials relating to the Salem witch trials of 1692 .. . These resources include court records, contemporary books, and record books, as well as images of the original court documents, indexed according to various archival collections. The overview also refers to some of the notable people who played important roles in the trials and in the debate about the legitimacy of the trials. Users of the Archive may search the court records and contemporary books and letters for names of people involved, aided by a list of notable people and by a complete alphabetical list of everyone mentioned in the court documents. The Archive’s historical maps of Salem Village, Salem, and Andover show the locations of the houses of many of the people involved in the trials. The Regional Accusations Map displays the chronology of the accusations from February through November 1692 ... The Archive’s collection of literary works includes works by Hawthorne, Longfellow, Whittier, and Freeman.”
Regions: United States; Massachusetts
Dates: 1692-1893

North American Slave Narratives (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
"This collection includes all the existing autobiographical narratives of fugitive and former slaves published as broadsides, pamphlets, or books in English up to 1920."
Regions: North America
Dates: 1700-1920

Early American Manuscripts Project (New York Public Library)
"With support from the The Polonsky Foundation, The New York Public Library is currently digitizing upwards of 50,000 pages of historic early American manuscript material. The Early American Manuscripts Project will allow students, researchers, and the general public to revisit major political events of the era from new perspectives and to explore currents of everyday social, cultural, and economic life in the colonial, revolutionary, and early national periods."
Regions: United States
Dates: 1700-1800

Music and Performing Arts in Colonial America (University of Hawai'i at Manoa)
"Database of more than 53,000 newspaper articles, advertisements, and illustrations that refer to or include music, poetry, or the performing arts in British North America."
Regions: North America
Dates: 1704-1783

Freedom on the Move (Various institutions)
This is a research aid, pedagogical tool, and resource related to fugitive and runaway slave ads; “the ads constitute a detailed, concise, and rare source of information about the experiences of enslaved people.” The site includes digitized images of advertisements, and visitors can contribute by adding transcriptions and updating image metadata to aid others in future searches; searches can be narrowed by type of advertisement, runaway information, enslaver information, and time and place.
Regions: United States; Canada; Mexico; Cuba
Dates: 1704-1861

Founders Online (National Archives; University of Virginia Press)
Transcribed and annotated writings from "George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams [and family], Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison." The comprehensive collection contains thousands of items, including diaries, correspondence to and from, and other significant drafts and essays.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1706-1836

Transcribing Early American Manuscript (Various repositories)
“This digital archive houses sermons transcribed from the papers of Baptist, Catholic, Congregational, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Unitarian ministers who preached up and down the Atlantic coast of North America; it includes the manuscript sermons of white, Native American, and African American preachers.” Searchable by preacher, year, colony/ state, denomination, and biblical text.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1707-1820

Indigenous Digital Archive Treaties Explorer (Museum of Indian Arts and Culture; National Archives)
Part of the larger Indigenous Digital Archive, the IDA Treaties Explorer explains that “while treaties between Indigenous peoples and the United States affect virtually every area in the USA, there is as yet no official list of all the treaties. The US National Archives holds 374 of the treaties, where they are known as the Ratified Indian Treaties. Here you can view them for the first time with key historic works that provide context to the agreements made and the histories of our shared lands.”
Regions: United States
Dates: 1722-1930

Peel's Prairie Provinces (University of Alberta Libraries and many other partners)
“Peel’s Prairie Provinces is a resource dedicated to assisting scholars, students, and researchers of all types in their exploration of western Canadian history and the culture of the Canadian prairies. This website contains both an online bibliography of books, pamphlets, and other materials related to the development of the Prairies, as well as a searchable full-text collection of many of these items. As of Summer 2013, after 10 years’ worth of additions, Peel contains approximately 7,500 digitized books, over 66,000 newspaper issues (4.8 million articles!), 16,000 postcards, and 1,000 maps. These materials are extremely varied—rich in both text and images, providing an extraordinarily diverse picture of the Prairie experience. Many of the items date back to the earliest days of exploration in the region and include a vast range of material dealing with every aspect of the settlement and development of the Canadian West. Materials selected for Peel are highly diverse in regard to the cultural experiences that they reflect. Although English-language titles predominate the collection, Peel also contains a very substantial body of materials in French, Ukrainian, and numerous other languages.”
Regions: Canada
Dates: 1744-2013

The Ancestor Hunt (Kenneth R. Marks)
The Ancestor Hunt website offers resources for visitors interested in genealogy, notably here a research section with links to freely available historical newspapers (especially in the U.S. and Canada). With approximately thirty thousand links, the site categorizes newspapers by region or by topic, and individual summaries guide visitors to collections held online in various repositories or websites.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1750-present

Digital Library on American Slavery (University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Various repositories)
“The Digital Library on American Slavery is an expanding resource compiling various independent online collections focused upon race and slavery in the American South, made searchable through a single, simple interface. Although the current focus of DLAS is sources associated with North Carolina, there is considerable data contained herein relating to all 15 slave states and Washington, D.C., including detailed personal information about slaves, slaveholders, and free people of color.”
Regions: United States; North Carolina
Dates: 1751-1867

Adams Family Papers (Massachusetts Historical Society)
"The Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive presents selections from the most important manuscript collection held by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Digital images of the letters exchanged between John and Abigail Adams, John Adams’s diary, and John Adams’s autobiography are presented alongside transcriptions."
Regions: United States
Dates: 1760-1804

The Chung Collection (University of British Columbia)
“The Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung Collection is an outstanding collection of archival documents, photographs, books and artifacts related to three broad themes: British Columbia History, Immigration and Settlement and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. Donated in 1999 by Drs. Wallace and Madeline Chung, the Chung Collection is held at [the University of British Columbia] Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections.”
Regions: Canada; British Columbia
Dates: 1761-1996

Georgia Historic Newspapers (Digital Library of Georgia)
“The Georgia Historic Newspapers Archive is a project of the Digital Library of Georgia (DLG), a part of Georgia’s Virtual Library GALILEO and is based at the University of Georgia Libraries. Since 2007, the DLG has partnered with universities, archives, public libraries, historical societies, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions to digitize historical newspapers from around the state. The archive is free and open for public use and includes over one million Georgia newspaper pages between 1786 and 1986.”
Regions: United States; Georgia
Dates: 1763-2017

Canadian Pamphlets and Broadsides (University of Toronto)
“This collection provides access to the pre-1930 Canadian pamphlet and broadside holdings of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library by supplying both page images in full colour, and full searchability of the contents of each item. To date the site consists of 597 broadsides (single sheets, printed on one or both sides) and 2,062 pamphlet titles which amounts to 71,508 page images. The collection includes items printed in Canada, by Canadian authors, or about Canadian subjects, mainly of a non-literary nature.”
Regions: Canada
Dates: 1764-1935

Theodore Roosevelt Center (Dickinson State University)
Contains various forms of Roosevelt-related archival material, including correspondence, diary entries, notes, political cartoons, photographs, and audio recordings.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1780-present

Disability History Museum (Disability History Museum)
The collection contains documents and visuals on the cultural and social history of people with disabilities.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1794-present

American Prison Newspapers (Reveal Digital)
“On March 24, 1800, Forlorn Hope became the first newspaper published within a prison by an incarcerated person. In the intervening 200 years, over 500 prison newspapers have been published from U.S. prisons. American Prison Newspapers will bring together hundreds of these periodicals from across the country into one collection that will represent penal institutions of all kinds, with special attention paid to women-only institutions.”
Regions: United States
Dates: 1800-2020

Seward Family Digital Archive (University of Rochester)
This archive contains comprehensive records of the correspondence of the Seward family, consisting of letters, bound volumes, photographs, and other miscellaneous material.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1801-1866

W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (University of Massachusetts)
"Over 100,000 items of correspondence (more than three quarters of the papers), speeches, articles, newspaper columns, nonfiction books, research materials, book reviews, pamphlets and leaflets, petitions, novels, essays," and much more.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1803-1999

HBCU Library Alliance Digital Collection (Historically Black College and University Library Alliance)
“A Digital Collection Celebrating the Founding of the Historically Black College and University is a collection of primary resources from HBCU libraries and archives. It includes several thousand scanned pages and represents HBCU libraries first collaborative effort to make a historic collection digitally available. Collections are contributed from member libraries of the Historically Black College and University Library Alliance . . . The collection includes photographs, university correspondence, manuscripts, images of campus buildings, alumni letters, memorabilia, and programs from campus events.”
Regions: United States
Dates: early 1800s-present

Post Family Papers Project (University of Rochester)
Scans of correspondence, financial records, legal documents, and printed ephemera from Amy and Isaac Post, Rochester Quakers who were deeply involved in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements of their day.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1817-1918

Blackwell Family Papers Digital Collection (Harvard University Library)
Approximately 120,000 digitized items providing access to five generations of family diaries, correspondence, sermons, lectures, orations, and political speeches. These sources highlight the Blackwell family’s involvement in issues such as women’s suffrage, abolition, temperance, public health, and education reform movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Additionally, the site contains a digitized version of The Woman’s Journal, which was published by members of the family.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1821-1973

California Revealed (California State Library)
“California Revealed is a State Library initiative to help California’s public libraries, in partnership with other local heritage groups, digitize, preserve, and provide online access to archival materials—books, newspapers, photographs, audiovisual recordings, and more—that tell the incredible stories of the Golden State.”
Regions: California
Dates: 1822-present

Colored Conventions (University of Delaware)
“From 1830 until the 1890s, already free and once captive Black people came together in state and national political meetings called ‘Colored Conventions’ . . . The delegates to these meetings included the most well-known, if mostly male, writers, organizers, church leaders, newspaper editors, and entrepreneurs in the canon of early African-American leadership.” The website offers “rare proceedings, newspaper coverage, and petitions that have never before been collected in one place,” documenting the work of both the men and the women involved in these conventions.
Regions: United States; Canada
Dates: 1830-1899

The Liberator Files (Boston Public Library)
Scanned images of all 1,803 issues of William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, along with a photo gallery and a site directory that links to thematically grouped material.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1831-1865

The Walt Whitman Archive (Ed Folsom; Kenneth M. Price)
Digital images and searchable transcriptions of Whitman’s published works, including the six editions of Leaves of Grass, as well as fragments, essays, letters, marginalia, and more.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1838-1919

Hunt's Merchant's Magazine (Michael J. Gagnon)
Hunt’s Merchants’ Magazine, of New York City, was the foremost national business newspaper of its day. While Google Books digitized the documents, its search engine is nearly impossible to use. This website organizes the links to the series in chronological order so they may be found easily.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1839-1870

Thomas A. Edison Papers (Rutgers University)
“Provides powerful search capabilities enabling users to search for over 25,000 individual and organizational names in a database of more than 140,000 documents. These documents encompass a period of rapid industrialization and growth in the scale of enterprise from the Civil War to the onset of the Great Depression. In addition to Edison’s well-known contributions to the development of electric light and power, sound recording, and motion pictures, they also document his contributions to many other industries; including telecommunications (telegraph and telephone), electric batteries, mining, chemical production, cement manufacture, and office and home appliances . . . In addition they provide extensive documentation of his family and of his role as a symbol of American ingenuity. Most of the documents come from the extensive archives of the Thomas Edison National Historical Park . . . In addition, there are documents from nearly 150 other repositories and private collections. The edition will eventually include Edison’s 1,093 U.S. Patents and over 500 motion picture catalogs produced by American producers and distributors between 1894 and 1908.”
Regions: United States
Dates: 1842-2005

New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives (New York Philharmonic Shelby White & Leon Levy Digital Archives)
“The New York Philharmonic Leon Levy Digital Archives was launched in February 2011, and currently comprises more than four million pages, including printed programs, marked conducting scores, business documents, and photographs. Growing continually, the scope of the online collection is every document in the New York Philharmonic Archives from 1842 through 1970.”
Regions: New York
Dates: 1842-present

The Voice of Industry (Public Domain)
Digitized full issues of the U.S. labor newspaper Voice of Industry in scanned image format, plus transcribed material, as well as additional resource links related to labor history.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1845-1848

California Digital Newspaper Collection (Center for the Bibliographical Studies and Research at the University of California, Riverside)
“Contains over 1,500,000 pages of significant historical California newspapers published from 1846–present . . . It also contains issues of several current California newspapers that are part of a project to preserve and provide access to contemporary papers.”
Regions: United States; California
Dates: 1846-present

Digitizing Immigrant Letters (Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota)
Document scans of approximately one hundred handwritten letters written and received by immigrants to the U.S.
Regions: United States; Europe
Dates: 1850-1970

PRISM: Political, Rights Issues, and Social Movements Collection (Floriday Atlantic University)
More than 1,500 documents, mostly in English and mostly pamphlets, covering labor unionism, socialism, and communism in the Americas during the twentieth century. The collection is hosted by Florida Atlantic University.
Regions: United States; Latin America
Dates: 1850-1997

Sounding Spirit Digital Library (Emory Center for Digital Scholarship)
“This Sounding Spirit pilot digital library features songbooks and hymnals published across the southern United States from 1850 to 1925. Spanning holdings from four partner archives, the digital library’s twenty-two books include words-only hymnals, gospel songbooks, spiritual collections, and shape-note tunebooks, demonstrating the wide variety of form, content, and presentation in southern vernacular sacred songbooks. These songbooks employ competing notation systems and vary in musical style from dispersed harmony fuging tunes and plain tunes of the shape-note repertoire, to antiphonal gospel, to classically inspired arrangements of African American spirituals, to words-only hymns in Muskokee sung in unison, to tunes in oral tradition shared among southern black and white congregations. Organized into collections that highlight texts’ associated places, populations, genres, and denominational affiliations, the digital library allows for rich engagement with songbooks and hymnals seminal in their respective eras, but historically underrepresented in both archival holdings and scholarship. These works and collections illustrate the primacy of songbooks to the dynamic encounters among white, black, and native communities navigating modernizing forces across the US South and beyond.”
Regions: Southern United States
Dates: 1850-1925

The Michael Steck Papers (University of New Mexico)
Hosted by the University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections, “the Michael Steck Papers consists of monthly correspondence and business records relative to Steck’s tenure as Indian Agent (1852–1863) and as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for New Mexico (1863–1865). Correspondence and papers also relate to his involvements with the New Mexico Mining Company (1865–1880), and Muncy Creek Railroad (Pennsylvania, 1873–1877), as well as personal and family correspondence and papers.”
Regions: New Mexico
Dates: 1853-1880

Francis Willard Digital Journals (Frances E. Willard Memorial Library and Archives)
Digitized transcriptions of journal entries.
Regions: United States
Dates: 1855-1896

Historic Mexican and Mexican American Press (The University of Arizona Libraries)
Document scans of printed material from twenty historic Mexican and Mexican American publications in English and Spanish.
Regions: United States; Mexico
Dates: 1855-1970

The British Colonist (University of Victoria)
Digital scans of all the issues of The British Colonist.
Regions: British Columbia
Dates: 1858-1950