What is a primary source?

Primary sources come in a wide variety of formats, but they all have one thing in common: they are original, unfiltered sources that describe people, places and events. While museums, archives, and libraries preserve primary sources in their original form, reproductions may be widely available and accessible in a variety of formats including print books, digital archives, websites, and microfilm.

Primary Sources in the Library's Collection and Elsewhere

Use the Library's catalog and WorldCat to discover primary sources related to your topic. Visit the history subject guide for advice on finding primary sources in the catalog or contact your librarian for assistance. Looking for newspaper and magazine archives? Go to the Newspapers & Magazines section of this guide.

Falvey Library Catalog
The Library's catalog enables patrons to search & browse Falvey Library’s collection of books, journals, audio/video materials, electronic resources and more.

WorldCat (FirstSearch)
Presents a combined catalog of the catalogs of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide. WorldCat highlights publications available at Villanova University. Other items can be requested via an inter-library loan request form.

Selected Digital Archives

African American Communities (Adam Matthew Digital)
Documents African American community life from the second half of the 19th century through a wide variety of material types including pamphlets, newspapers, scrapbooks, letters, official records, posters, photographs, and oral histories. Key themes are desegregation, urban renewal and housing, the civil rights movement, race relations, and African American culture with a focus on communities in Atlanta, Chicago, Brooklyn, and towns and cities in North Carolina. Essays by subject experts, community case studies, thematic guides, and image galleries facilitate research. Sourced from the collections of the Atlanta History Center, the Newberry Library in Chicago, and the libraries at the University of Illinois and the University of North Carolina.

American Slavery Collection (Readex)
Delivers more than 3,600 primary sources dealing with slavery in the United States between 1820-1922. Materials include books, pamphlets, graphic materials, and ephemera.

Apartheid South Africa 1948-1980 (Adam Matthew Digital)
Features British Government documents from the Foreign, Colonial, Dominion and Foreign, and Commonwealth Offices chronicling the inception and implementation of Apartheid rule in South Africa and the resistance to it. Digitized documents comprise diplomatic dispatches, newspaper cuttings, transcriptions and translations of press reports, reports, correspondence, political and economic analyses, maps, and published leaflets and propaganda. Sourced from the originals in the collections of The National Archives in Kew.

Black Abolitionist Papers (ProQuest)
Features newspapers articles, manuscripts, letters, pamphlets, proceedings, and books written by African Americans actively involved in the movement to end slavery in the United States between 1830 and 1865.

Black Authors, 1556-1922 (Readex)
Provides online access to the print archives of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Features works by authors of African and African-American descent.

Black Drama, 3rd Edition (Alexander Street Press)
Contains the full text of works by playwrights from North America, English-speaking Africa, the Caribbean, and other African diaspora countries together with detailed information about productions, theaters, production companies, and other ephemera related to the plays. Many of the works are rare, hard-to-find, or out of print. Includes a large number of previously unpublished plays by writers such as Langston Hughes, Derek Walcott, Alice Childress, Amiri Baraka, Zora Neale Hurston, and many others. Coverage goes back to the middle of the 19th century.

Black Women's Suffrage (Digital Public Library of America)
Explores linkages between women's suffrage and other social issues of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries including slavery, lynching, education reform, and civil rights, as well as racism within the Suffrage Movement.

Civil Rights and Social Justice (HeinOnline)
Offers a wide range of publications covering civil rights in the United States including hearings and committee prints, legislative histories, Supreme Court case briefs, and publications from the Commission on Civil Rights. Also features scholarly articles and books on civil rights topics.
Access courtesy of the Charles Widger School of Law.

Civil Rights Digital Library (Digital Library of Georgia)
Offers links to items relating to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in the United States, including primary source documents, videos, images, and instructional materials. Provides direct access to digitized items from the holdings of more than 90 libraries and organizations. Search or browse by event, place, person name, topic, media type, contributing institution, and more.

Confidential Print: Africa, 1834-1966 (Adam Matthew Digital)  Tutorial
Offers digital access to the Confidential Print series issued by the British Government for distribution to members of the Foreign Office, Cabinet, and British diplomatic missions abroad. The series encompasses essential documents issued or received by the British Foreign and Colonial Offices. Files include reports, correspondence, political summaries, economic analyses, dispatches, descriptions of leading personalities, and maps. The collection spans the modern colonial era, documenting watershed moments such as the Berlin Conference of 1884 and the scramble for Africa, events in the Congo Free State, and the assertion of independence across the continent, all from the perspective of British government officials. Sourced from the originals in the collections of The National Archives in Kew.

Slavery, Abolition & Social Justice (Adam Matthew Digital)
Provides access to original manuscripts, court documents, pamphlets, books, paintings, maps, and some secondary sources on the topic from 1490 to 2007.

Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law (HeinOnline)
Offers essential legal materials on slavery in the United States and the English-speaking world including slavery statutes, state and federal cases, legal commentary, pamphlets, books, and scholarly articles.
Access courtesy of the Charles Widger School of Law.