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HIST 11A and 12A: The Imperial West (MacGiollabhui): Primary Sources

Start by Exploring:

A collection of primary documents on colonial history, politics, culture, and society. The type od documents includes letters, periodicals, exploration journals, government documents, travel writings, maps, exhibition catalogs, etc.  The collection is organized around five thematic sections introduced by scholars in the field. 

Empire and Slavery

If your topic relates to slavery and empire, this database could be a great way to explore primary sources:

Slavery, Abolition, and Social Justice

Designed for teaching and research, this resource brings together documents and collections from libraries and archives across the Atlantic world, covering an extensive time period from 1490. Topics covered include the varieties of slavery, the legacy of slavery, the social justice perspective and the continued existence of slavery today.


A word of caution about primary sources on the web

Would you use these web sites for your research paper?

Yes? No?  Why?

The Conquest of New Spain

The Conquest of Mexico (look at the letters from Hernan Cortez)


Web Evaluation ABCs:

Authority:  Is the website from an authoritative source?  Check "About Us."

Biais:  Is the website trying to sell you goods or an idea?

Currency:  Is the information current?

Finding Primary Sources

What Are Primary Sources:

"Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research."
(American Library Association, Reference and User Services, History Section)

Using OSCAR to Find Primary Sources:

You can  use the library online catalog, OSCAR, to find  published primary sources or books including primary documents    If you are interesting in the writings of a specific individual, just do an author search.  If you are looking for primary sources on a specific topic, just enter your keywords and add one of the following words, depending on what you are looking for:  correspondence, papers, speeches, memoirs, personal narratives, documents, sources.  
For example: Crusades and sources


Newspapers and Magazines

Articles from the time period of the events you are researching are also primary sources.  If you are researching a topic related to the British Empire, you may wnat to look at the following newspaper archives:

The Times of London Digital Archives, 1789-2009

APS Periodicals Series
American Periodicals Series Online (APS Online) includes digitized images of the pages of American magazines and journals published from colonial days to the dawn of the 20th century. Titles range from Benjamin Franklin's General Magazine and America's first scientific journal, Medical Repository; popular magazines such as Vanity Fair and Ladies' Home Journal; regional and niche publications; and groundbreaking journals like The Dial, Puck, and McClure's.

American Antiquarian Society Historical Periodicals Collection
A collection of books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, periodicals, music, and graphic arts material printed through 1876 in what is now the United States, as well as manuscripts and a collection of secondary texts, bibliographies, and digital resources and reference works related to all aspects of American history and culture before the twentieth century.

Nineteenth Century Newspapers
With digital facsimile images of both full pages and clipped articles for hundreds of 19th century U.S. newspapers and advanced searching capabilities, researchers will be able to research history in ways previously unavailable. For each issue, the newspaper is captured from cover-to-cover, providing access to every article, advertisement and illustration.

New York Times Archives (1851-2017)

Primary Sources on the Web

Many primary sources have been digitized and made available on the web. You have to be careful, though, because often the source of the document is not provided.  You need to evaluate each web site carefully to determine if it is reliable.  In general, you can just add the words "primary sources" to your search to locate such documents on the web. The following sites are examples of what you can find on the web.

Colonial North America
Primary Sources from the Fordham History Sourcebook

Colonial Latin America
Primary sources from the Fordham History Sourcebook

Internet Medieval Sourcebook
Primary Sources from the Fordham History Sourcebook

European History Primary Sources
The purpose of EHPS is to provide an easily searchable index of scholarly digital repositories that contain primary sources for the history of Europe.

Primary sources related to Imperialism from the Fordham History Source Book

Images of Colonialism
"this collection of more than 700 images offers insight into European perspectives on varying aspects of colonial experience by documenting how popular perceptions of Asia and Africa were created and disseminated"

Digital Colonial Documents (India)

The Cabinet Papers 1915-1986
"Digitized  UK  Cabinet Papers for 1915-1977. Papers can be downloaded for free from the National Archives."  

South Asian Literature:  The Colonial Period (Primary Sources)


Gallica is a digital library of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.  It  "provides access to all media: print (monographs, periodicals and newspapers) in image mode and text mode, manuscripts, sound recordings, graphic materials, maps and plans".

East Asia Image Collections
Digitized photographs, postcards, and slides of imperial Japan (1868-1945), its Asian empire (1895-1945);  and occupied Japan (1947-1952)

Taiwan Documents Project
150 English-Language documents dealing with the status of Taiwan


Texts: Ancient Greece and Rome

If your topic relates to the Greek or Roman Empires, you can use the Loeb Classical Library database.  It includes all the written works surviving from the ancient Greek and Roman world. It provides fully searchable, high-quality online editions of the original texts in Greek and Latin, with English translations facing them.  

Loeb Classical Library Database