Primary Sources


Typically, a primary source is a document produced within the historical environment that is the main focus of your study.

It could be a literary work; a magazine or newspaper article; a letter, diary, or autobiography; an advertisement or  business contract; a prayer book, poster, pamphlet, playbill, etc. Many different kinds of primary sources can be searched and accessed through the resources below.

Resources marked with this symbol   are restricted to Columbia affiliates.

Major Full-Text Collections Online

  • Alexander Street Literature
    Alexander Street Literature is a cross-searchable package of collections covering literatures of place, race, and gender. The eight collections currently included are: Black Short Fiction and Folklore; Black Women Writers; Caribbean Literature; Irish Women Poets of the Romantic Period; Latin American Women Writers; Latino Literature;Scottish Women Poets of the Romantic Period; and South and Southeast Asian Literature
  • America's historical imprints
    "Searchable monographs, pamphlets, broadsides, and ephemera enable researchers to explore America's distant and not so distant past." Includes: American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1; Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800; Early American Imprints, Series I: Supplement from the Library Company of Philadelphia, 1670-1800; Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819; Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement from the Library Company of Philadelphia, 1801-1819.
  • Arte público Hispanic historical collection (Series I)
    "Series 1 presents a digital collection of historical content pertaining to U.S. Hispanic history, literature and culture. "Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project" -- from which the collections draws its content, is the largest national project ever to locate, preserve and disseminate Hispanic culture of the United States in its written form from colonial times until 1960." (publisher's decription)
  • Black Drama 1850 to Present
    A collection of Black drama from Africa, North America, the Caribbean, and other African Diaspora countries. Includes selected playbills, production photographs, and ephemera.
  • British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries
    "Includes approximately 100,000 pages of published letters and diaries from individuals writing from 1500 to 1900, including several thousand pages of previously unpublished materials. Drawn from 290 sources, including journal articles, pamphlets, newsletters, monographs, and conference proceedings, much of the material is in copyright. Represented are all age groups and life stages, all ethnicities, many geographical regions, the famous and the not so famous."
  • Early American Imprints, Series II. Shaw-Shoemaker (1801-1819)
    Provides full-text access to 36,000 American books pamphlets, broadsides, and other print genres published 1801-1819. This is a full digitization of the microform set Early American Imprints, Series II, 1801-1819, which was itself based on the American Bibliography of Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker.
  • Early English books online (EEBO)   
    "Contains digital facsimile page images of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1700." Of the more than 128,000 titles represented in page-image format, more than 40,000 are currently keyword searchable.
  • Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership (EEBO TCP)
    A marked-up, full-text subset of texts from Early English Books Online, created by a consortium of academic libraries. While the full text is eventually added to the main Proquest EEBO database, at any given time this database is likely to contain slightly more of that material.
  • Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)
    Provides full-text and full-page-image access to a vast range of English-language and foreign-language titles printed in the United Kingdom between 1701 and 1800, along with thousands of important works from the Americas. Includes books, pamphlets, broadsides, and ephemera..
  • Electronic Text Center: English Online Resources (University of Virginia)
    A searchable full text library containing thousands of English-language texts. Many manuscript, book, and newspaper illustrations are also included.
  • Gale Artemis : primary sources
    Provides an interactive research environment that allows researchers to cross-search: Eighteenth Century Collections Online;Nineteenth Century Collections Online;Indigenous Peoples: North America;Sabin Americana, 1500-1926; The Making of the Modern World;The Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises, 1800-1926;The Making of Modern Law: Trials, 1600-1926; and Associated Press Collections Online.
  • India, Raj & Empire   (Adam Matthew Digital)
    Drawing upon the manuscript collections of the National Library of Scotland, this searchable online resource provides access to digital facsimiles of diaries and journals, official and private papers, letters, sketches, paintings and original Indian documents containing histories and literary works. The collection documents the relationship between Britain and India in an empire where the Scots played a central role as traders, generals, missionaries, viceroys, governor-generals and East India Company officials. The dates of the documents range from 1710 to 1937.
  • Literary manuscripts : 17th and 18th century poetry from the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds  (Adam Matthew Publications)
    Complete facsimile images of 190 manuscripts of 17th and 18th century verse held in the celebrated Brotherton Collection at the University of Leeds.
  • Literature Online (LION)
    A fully searchable collection of more than 350,000 works of English-language poetry, drama and prose from various nations and regions spanning a range of time from 600 A.D. to the present. Also includes key resources for reference and literary criticism.
  • London low life : street culture, social reform and the Victorian underworld  (Adam Matthew Digital)
    Full-text searchable resource, containing colour digital images of rare books, ephemera, maps and other materials relating to 19th and early 20th century London.
  • Making of America (University of Michigan)
    “A digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology. The collection currently contains approximately 8,500 books and 50,000 journal articles with 19th century imprints.”
  • Medieval and Early Modern Sources Online
    A collection of digitized editions of texts concerning economic, political, legal, and ecclesiastical history, such as treasury accounts, chronicles, papal registers, etc. Most are from England, Ireland, and Scotland, although some are from Milan and the New World.
  • Nineteenth Century collections online
    A multi-year global digitization and publishing program focusing on primary source collections of the nineteenth century; will be comprised of numerous collections to be released over many years, including a variety of material types--monographs, newspapers, pamphlets, manuscripts, ephemera, maps, statistics, and more--in one cross-searchable location. Currently includes modules on literature, theatre, women, international relations, science, photography, etc.
  • Past Masters
    Provides fully searchable authoritative editions of philosophical, literary, scientific, personal, political, and theological writings by a wide range of British, American, and continental authors. Included among the British and American texts are: collected editions of the letters of Thomas Becket, Thomas Hobbes, Jane Austen, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens and many others; the journals of Frances Burney, John Henry Newman and others; the works of Aphra Behn, Robert Boyle, Charles Darwin, John Dewey, Eliza Haywood, John Locke, Charles Sanders Pierce, Mary Shelley, Herbert Spencer, Mary Wollstonecraft, and others.
  • Perdita manuscripts : women writers, 1500-1700  (Adam Matthew Digital)
    Complete facsimile images of over 230 manuscripts written or compiled by women living in the British Isle during the 16th and 17th centuries. Contents include account books, advice, culinary writing, meditation, travel writing, and verse. Perdita manuscripts can be indexed by name, place, genre, and first lines of both poetry and prose.
  • The Shakespeare Collection : featuring the Arden Shakespeare Complete Works
    Shakespeare Collection brings together general reference information, full-text scholarly periodicals (including Shakespeare Studies, Shakespeare Bulletin, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, and Early Modern Literary Studies), reprinted criticism, primary source material, and the full-text annotated works from The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works.
  • Twentieth-century drama
    "Published plays from throughout the English-speaking world, covering the history of modern drama from the 1890s to the present day. The collection's contents range from canonical authors such as George Bernard Shaw, Langston Hughes, Sean O'Casey, Noël Coward, Eugene O'Neill, Harold Pinter, Neil Simon, Tom Stoppard and Thornton Wilder, to off-Broadway experimentation and South African township theatre." (publisher's description, from 10/3/2013)
  • Twentieth century North American drama
    "This edition of Twentieth Century North American Drama contains 2,059 plays by 434 playwrights, together with detailed, fielded information on related productions, theaters, production companies, and more. The database also includes selected playbills, production photographs and other ephemera related to the plays." (publisher's description, from 10/3/2013)
  • Victorian popular culture   (Adam Matthew Digital)
    An essential resource for the study of popular entertainment in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Consists of four components: Spiritualism, Sensation and Magic; Circuses, Sideshows and Freaks;  Music Hall, Theatre and Popular Entertainment; and Moving Pictures, Optical Entertainments & the Advent of Cinema. Includes full-text, full-color reproductions of books, ephemera, handbills, pamphlets, photos, posters, programs, scripts, and other types of materials. Coverage is most extensive for Great Britain; but there is also a fair range of materials for the U.S.A.
  • Women Writers Online
    More than two hundred full-text works in English, or in English translation, by women, covering a period from 1400 to 1850.
  • Wright American Fiction 1851-1875 (Indiana University)
    A searchable full-text collection of 19th-century American fiction, as listed in Lyle Wright's bibliography American Fiction 1851-1875.