Primary Sources: Researching Latin America, the Caribbean, Portugal & Spain

An Introduction

What are primary sources?

A primary source is a document or record that allows the researcher to get as close as possible to the historical event or period being studied. It is usually a product of the historical era or environment that you are researching. For example, if you are studying the Mexican Revolution (Official Library of Congress Subject Heading: Mexico > History > Revolution, 1910-1920), articles published in magazines or newspapers at that time, diaries, personal accounts, and government records would all be considered primary sources. Records of organizations and movements and speeches are other examples of primary sources. Literary texts and manuscripts, music sound recordings, photographs, film and video can also serve as  primary sources for certain topics.

Primary sources may be published (government documents, newspapers, journals and magazines) or unpublished (manuscripts, letters etc). Both published and unpublished sources may be in their original form, or they might be reproduced in books, or as microfilm or microfiche, or in digital versions. Many digitized materials are available online and reprinted books and microfilm/fiche may be available via Interlibrary loan. Fragile, rare, and original copies of sources generally do not circulate beyond the libraries or archives where they are held.

Finding Primary Sources - Library of Congress Subject Headings (MIT Libraries)

Some examples of how to arrive directly to books in CLIO using LC Subject Headings are shown below: 

Mexico > History > Revolution, 1910-1920 > Sources

Cuba > History > Invasion, 1961 > Personal narratives.


Libraries & Archives


Biblioteca Nacional de España
Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal
The British Library
The Hispanic Society of America (New York City)

Reference library for the study of the arts and cultures of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America.

Ibero-American Institute (Berlin)

The largest specialized European library on the Caribbean, Latin America, Spain and Portugal.

LANIC (UT-Austin)

Libraries & Reference in Latin America 


Latin American Collections and Libraries (in the US)

MaRLI (Manhattan Research Library Initiative)
New York Public Library
New York University Libraries: Research Guides: Latin American Studies
MetaBase: Bibliografía en Red

Online catalog of materials held in various libraries and centers in Central America, including Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Libraries and Archives (Iberian Studies in SALALM)

Directory of Iberian libraries and archives.



Archival Collections Portal (Columbia University Libraries)
The John Carter Brown Library

Specializes in pre-1825 books from and about the Americas. Checklist of holdings relating to Saint-Domingue and the Haitian Revolution, 1735-1834

Library of Congress Hispanic Reading Room
Princeton University Library Primary Sources & Special Collections

Deep collections of Latin American literary manuscripts.

Stanford University Latin American & Iberian Collections
University of Florida: Rare Books and Manuscripts (Latin American holdings)
University of California-Berkeley, Bancroft Library: Latin Americana
University of Texas-Austin: Benson Latin American Collection
Yale University: Archival and Manuscript Materials (Latin American Collection)
Archivo General de Indias (Seville, Spain)
PARES: Portal de Archivos Españoles
Archivo General de la Nacion (Mexico)
LANIC: Archives (UT-Austin)

Directory of archives and archival resources on and in Latin America and the Caribbean. Also includes archives of diaspora communities.


Latin American and Iberian Studies Microform Collections (Columbia University Libraries)

Consult this detailed research guide to identify major holdings of collections of documents (i.e. not individual books), mostly primary sources, in microfilm. 

Digitized Primary Source Collections

Digitized Primary Sources

Arte Público Hispanic Historical Collection : Series 1 

A vast 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.

Brazil and the United States Expanding Frontiers, Expanding Cultures (Library of Congress, Brazilian National Library)

Joint project of the Library of Congress and Brazilian National Library, providing digital images of books, maps, prints and photographs, manuscripts and other documents.


Brazil Nunca Mais

Um compêndio com mais de 900.000 páginas que provam as torturas praticadas pela ditadura militar (1964-85) no Brasil. A compendium of more than 900,000 pages that demonstrate torture as practiced by the military dictatorship in Brazil between 1964 through 1985. 

Brazilian Government Documents (Center for Research Libraries)

Provincial Presidential Reports, 1830-1930
Presidential Messages, 1889-1993
The Almanak Laemmert, 1844-1889
Federal Ministerial Reports, 1821-1960


Castro Speech Data Base (University of Texas - Austin)

This database includes speeches, interviews, etc., by Fidel Castro from 1959 to 1996. All texts are in English.

Children's Drawings of the Spanish Civil War (Columbia University)

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) children were evacuated from the war zones to "colonies" in the war-free areas of Spain and in the south of France. Drawings by these children – most between the ages of seven and fourteen – were collected from throughout Spain in a concerted effort by the Spanish Board of Education and the Carnegie Institute of Spain. 

Código Brasiliense (John Carter Brown Library)

Digital version of the Brazilian collection of colonial  laws, decrees etc.  Detailed indices and explantions available.

Colecciones Mexicanas (UNAM)

Colecciones Mexicanas es un proyecto que nace con la finalidad de difundir y preservar acervos documentales, fotográficos, videográficos, bibliográficos y hemerográficos sobre la historia de México. Buscamos que las colecciones aquí incluidas sean de relevancia para estudiantes, académicos, investigadores o cualquier interesado en conocer y ampliar su cultura sobre la historia de México

Confidential Print. Latin America, 1833-1969

"The Confidential Print series, issued by the Foreign and Colonial Offices since around 1820, of the most important series produced by the British Government....The documents of Confidential Print: Latin America cover the whole of South and Central America, plus the non-British islands of the Caribbean, from just after the final Spanish withdrawal from mainland America in the 1820s to the height of the Cold War in the 1960s. Covering revolutions, territorial changes and political movements, foreign financial interests, industrial and infrastructural development (including the building of the Panama Canal), wars, slavery, immigration from Europe and relations with indigenous peoples, amongst other topics, the files in this title form a vital resource for any scholar of Latin American history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries."--Introduction

Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive 

Over 10 million scanned images of documents from the National Police Historical Archive of Guatemala.

Digital Collection of Mexican and Argentine Presidential Messages (LANIC and LARRP)

Full text of presidential messages from Argentina (1810-1993) and Mexico (1821-1993)

Digital National Security Archive   

Collection of declassified US government documents covering United States' foreign relations with Latin American countries and other international affairs in the second half of the 20th century. Columbia also owns several sets of NSA document collections on microform. Consult the Research Guide: Latin American & Iberian Studies Microform Collections or search CLIO by the collection title.

The National Security Archive (The George Washington University)

Additional declassified U.S. documents and other materials documenting U.S.-Latin American relations and political events. View the Electronic Briefing Books: Latin America.

Documentos Revelados

Arquivos produzidos pela “comunidade de informações” e pela Resistência à ditadura Militar no Brasil (de 1964 à 1985), quando imperaram no país a censura, violação dos direitos políticos, prisões, tortura e mortes.

Ecclesiastical & Secular Sources For Slave Societies

This portal digitally preserves nearly 300,000 ecclesiastical and secular documents from three countries (Brazil, Colombia and Cuba) and several archives related to Africans and Afro-descended peoples in the Americas. While most of the documents contained here belong to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there are also some Cuban documents from the sixteenth century and Brazilian documents from the seventeenth.

Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO)

A comprehensive digital edition of The Eighteenth Century microfilm set, which has sought to include every significant English-language and foreign-language title printed in the United Kingdom, along with thousands of important works from the Americas, between 1701 and 1800.  Best for English-speaking Caribbean.

Early Encounters in North America: peoples, cultures and the environment

Provides access to letters, diaries, memoirs and accounts concerning events that took place in North America between 1534 and 1860. The focus of the database is on description, travel, and accounts of interactions among various cultural groups.

European Views of the Americas: 1493 to 1750

An index for libraries, scholars and individuals interested in European works that relate to the Americas.

Feminism in Cuba: Nineteenth through Twentieth Century Archival Documents

Works by feminists about feminists and their causes, works by men on the status of women, and literary works by feminist writers. From Cuban sources, mostly in Spanish. An "Archives Unbound" database. Coverage: 1898-1958.

The Making of the Modern World: the Goldsmiths'-Kress Library of Economic Literature, 1450-1850 

This collection documents dynamics of Western trade, economies, and wealth. Includes facsimiles of rare books and primary source materials such as political pamphlets and broadsides, government publications, proclamations, and a wide range of ephemera.

Foreign Relations between Latin America and the Caribbean States, 1930-1944

Organized by country, this collection covers a wide range of viewpoints on political, social, and economic issues. It sheds light on the foreign relations interactions between Central American and South American countries. In the Caribbean, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic are represented. This collection includes cables, memoranda, correspondence, reports and analyzes, and treaties.

Latin American Government Documents Archive (LAGDA)

The Latin American Government Documents Archive (LAGDA) seeks to preserve and facilitate access to a wide range of ministerial and presidential documents from 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries. The Archive contains copies of the Web sites of approximately 300 government ministries and presidencies. Capture of sites began on multiple dates in 2005 and 2006, and will continue with regularly scheduled captures.

Latin American Pamphlet Digital Collection (Harvard University)

Harvard's collections of more than 5,000 scarce and unique 19th century Latin American pamphlets contain political and social commentary.

Latin American Travelogues (Brown University)

The goal of this project is to create a digital collection of Latin American travel accounts written in the 16th-19th centuries.

Legislación Mexicana [1687-1902] (Hathi Trust)

Collection of laws, decrees and other legal documents;  digitized version of this printed compendium.

Full Title: Legislación mexicana, ó, Colección completa de las disposiciones legislativas expedidas desde la independencia de la República / ordenada por los licenciados Manuel Dublán y José Maria Lozano.                                    

Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES)

PARES ofrece un acceso libre y gratuito a los documentos con imágenes digitalizadas de los Archivos Españoles.

Primary Source Periodicals. Classic Mexican Cinema

"The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema is illuminated in this collection of popular movie periodicals. Not only does it include chief magazines such as Cinema Reporter (1943-1965) and Cine Mundial (1954-1955), it also features extremely rare copies of El Cine Gráfico from 1935 and of the weekly El Mundo Ilustrado (1902-1910). The true extent of the popularity of Mexican film is illustrated by Cinelandia (1931-1947), which was published in Hollywood both in Spanish and in English. This collection also includes dozens of film flyers, which were distributed on the streets to lure people into the cinema. Finally, for the first time this collection gives access to the personal scrap books of Fernando de Fuentes (1894-1958), one of the leading Latin-American filmmakers to this day. These volumes contain reviews, movie stills, programs, and advertisements, shedding a unique light on the career of this pioneering director."

Sabin Americana, 1500 - 1926 

"Based on Joseph Sabin's landmark bibliography, this collection contains works about the Americas published throughout the world from 1500 to the early 1900's. Included are books, pamphlets, serials and other documents that provide original accounts of exploration, trade, colonialism, slavery and abolition, the western movement, Native Americans, military actions and much more. With over 6 million pages from 29,000 works, this collection is a cornerstone in the study of the western hemisphere."

Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice 1490-2007

This digital collection documents key aspects of the history of slavery worldwide over six centuries, with 16 key areas of focus: slavery in the early Americas; African coast; the Middle Passage; slavery and agriculture; urban and domestic slavery; slave testimony; spiritualism and religion in slave communities; resistance and revolts; the Underground Railroad; the abolition movement and the slavery debate; legislation and politics; freed slaves, freedmen and free black settlements; education; slavery and the Islamic world; varieties of slave experience; slavery today and the legacy of slavery. The collection also includes case studies from America, the Caribbean, Brazil, and Cuba.

Slavery & Anti-Slavery: A Transnational Archive

Full-text documents from the United States, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. Includes books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, and manuscripts. Currently contains Part 1, "Debates over Slavery and Abolition." Parts 2-4 are scheduled for release between 2011 and 2013.

Center For Research Libraries (CRL)

The Center for Research Libraries (CRL)

Columbia University faculty, staff, and students have free and unlimited use of the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) collections, available via InterLibrary Loan. CRL supports advanced research and teaching in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences by preserving and making available to scholars the primary source material critical to those disciplines.

Use the links below to see all CRL records related to each Latin American country as well as Puerto Rico, Spain, and Portugal.  You can limit/modify the search for specific research needs.

Digital Libraries

Digital Libraries

Biblioteca Digital Andina 

La Biblioteca Digital Andina es un espacio que reúne obras representativas del acervo cultural de los países andinos y constituye, a la vez, un entorno de información, conocimiento y servicios en las distintas áreas de la integración. 

Este Proyecto, originalmente impulsado por la Secretaría General de la Comunidad Andina, se ha desarrollado con la participación de catorce instituciones de la subregión andina - bibliotecas nacionales y de las universidades estatales y privadas- y el apoyo del Instituto Francés de Estudios Andinos (IFEA).

Biblioteca Digital Hispánica (Biblioteca Nacional de España)

Digitized texts, collections, and images from the collections of the Biblioteca Nacional de España.

Biblioteca Digital Mexicana 

La Biblioteca Digital Mexicana, BDMx, es una plataforma digital multi-institucional: El Archivo General de la Nación, La Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), el Centro de Estudios de Historia de México CEHM- Carso, y el Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes.

Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico (Spain)

Digitized manuscripts and rare books held in Spanish libraries and archives.

Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes

Extensive site offering links to full-text collections of major literary authors and historical works

Digital Collections: Cuban Heritage Collection (University of Miami)

Extensive collection documenting Cuban and Cuban-America history and culture. 

dLOC: Digital Library of the Caribbean

A cooperative of partners within the Caribbean and circum-Caribbean, dLOC provides users with access to Caribbean cultural, historical and research materials held in archives, libraries, and private collections.

World Digital Library 

The World Digital Library makes available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world.