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

Age of Exploration (Adam Matthew Digital)
Documents the history of European maritime exploration from 1420 to 1920. Features digital copies of rare manuscripts and early printed materials, government documents and reports, scientific papers and surveys, logbooks, maps, diaries, letters, personal accounts, artwork, film footage, photographs, and objects. Thematic areas introduce key documents. Search directories index people, places, expeditions, and ships. Companion essays by and video interviews with experts provide historical context. Sourced from libraries, museums, and archives in the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, and France.

China, America and the Pacific: Trade & Cultural Exchange (Adam Matthew Digital)
Presents selected primary sources that elucidate relationships between China, America, and the Pacific region from the 18th to the early 20th centuries. Experts in the field contributed historical background through contextual essays. The collection includes rare books and newspapers, personal accounts, diaries, correspondence, shipping papers, travel posters, historic maps, artwork, and images of material objects among others. Sourced from historical societies, museums, and libraries.

China: Culture and Society (Adam Matthew Digital)
Presents selected primary sources, mostly in English, on Chinese culture and society spanning three centuries (c1750-1929). The collection consists primarily of pamphlets. Additional materials include annual reports, diaries, correspondence, tourist guides, lecture notes, and magazine articles. Scholarly essays and a series of brief introductions to key topics add historical context. Sourced from the pamphlet collection of Cornell University Library’s Charles W. Wason Collection on East Asia.

China: Trade, Politics & Culture, 1793-1980 (Adam Matthew Digital)
Features selected primary sources on China’s relationship with the West dating back to the earliest English embassy and covering most of the 20th century. Essays by recognized scholars put the ensemble of primary sources in its historical context. The collection includes rare books, personal accounts, correspondence, maps, photographs, and illustrations among others. Sourced from the collections at the School of Oriental and African Studies and the British Library and seven other libraries and archives.

East India Company (Adam Matthew Digital)  Tutorial
Features India Office Records held at the British Library in London. These are the archives of the London administration of the East India Company and the pre-1947 government of India. Containing digital copies of royal charters, correspondence, trading journals, proceedings and minutes of councils and boards, and personnel lists, among other document types, this resource charts the history of British trade and rule in the Indian subcontinent and beyond from 1599 to 1947. Companion essays by experts provide historical context. The University has access to two out of three modules: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1946 and Factory Records for South Asia and Southeast Asia, 1595-1830.

Eighteenth Century Collections Online: Parts I&II (Gale)
Offers full text access to nearly every English-language and foreign-language title printed in the United Kingdom, alongside thousands of works published in the Americas, between 1701 and 1800. Consists of books, pamphlets, broadsides, and ephemera. Multiple editions of individual works are offered where they add scholarly value or contain important differences.

Eighteenth Century Journals (Adam Matthew Digital)  Limitations on Use
Features journals and newspapers published between 1685 and 1815 in England, Scotland, Ireland, Jamaica, and British India. Topics covered are wide-ranging and include colonial life, provincial and rural affairs, the French and American revolutions, reviews of literature and fashion, political debates, and London coffee house gossip.

Foreign Office Files for China, 1919-1980 (Adam Matthew Digital)  Tutorial
Contains British Foreign Office files dealing with China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Digitized documents comprise dispatches, reports, correspondence, political summaries, economic analyses, newspaper cuttings and translations of press reports, maps, and profiles of leading personalities. Topics covered include the Kuomintang, the Chinese Communist Party, the Long March and civil war, the Manchurian crisis, the communist revolution, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. Sourced from the originals in the collections of The National Archives in Kew.

Foreign Office Files for India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, 1947-1980 (Adam Matthew Digital)  Tutorial
Contains British Foreign Office files dealing with India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Digitized documents comprise dispatches, reports, correspondence, political and economic analyses, newspaper cuttings, maps, and photographs. Topics covered include India’s independence and partition, the Nehru era, the Indo-Pakistani war, military rule in Pakistan, the independence of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and the Cold War, and the development of nuclear weapons in the region. Sourced from the originals in the collections of The National Archives in Kew.

Foreign Office Files for Japan, 1919-1952 (Adam Matthew Digital)  Tutorial
Contains British Foreign Office files dealing with Japan. Digitized documents include memoranda, reports, correspondence, maps, newspaper cuttings, and printed materials. Japan and great power status, Japanese imperialism, the War in the Pacific, and the occupation of Japan are some of the subjects covered. Sourced from the originals in the collections of The National Archives in Kew.

Global Commodities (Adam Matthew Digital)
Presents documents and digitized artifacts and art works related to the trade, use, prices and marketing of 15 commodities that have been transformative from ancient times to modern era such as tea, gold, opium, sugar and spices. The primary sources are enhanced by an interactive chronology, data tables, visualizations and maps. Sourced from over twenty libraries, museums and trade associations.

India, Raj and Empire (Adam Matthew Digital)
Documents the history of South Asia from the foundation of the East India Company in 1615 to the granting of independence to India and Pakistan in 1947 with digital copies of papers archived at the National Library of Scotland. Includes diaries and journals, official and private papers, letters, artwork, and Indian sources containing histories and literary works. Thematic areas introduce key documents. Search directories index keywords, names, and places.

Making of the Modern World, Part I, 1450-1850 (Gale)
Provides access to digital copies of books, serials, and various other works of economic literature published between 1450 and 1850. Presents critical primary sources on European economic history including economic theory, imperialism, wealth creation, and trade. Most of the titles are in English but works in other European languages are also included.

Meiji Japan (Adam Matthew Digital)
Presents digital copies of the papers Edward Sylvester Morse, one of the first Americans to live and work in Japan. The originals are held by the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum and include diaries, letters, research files, drawings, lecture notes, publications, scrapbooks, and manuscripts from the years 1856 to 1925. Short biographies of Morse’s correspondents and contemporaries, mostly Westerners, facilitate research.

Socialism on Film, 1918-1988 (Adam Matthew Digital)
Presents documentaries, feature films, and newsreels produced by Soviet, Chinese, Vietnamese, Eastern European, British, and Latin American filmmakers. Films in the collection range from the early twentieth century to the 1980s and examine all aspects of socialist life. Sourced from the archives of the British Film Institute, this collection features the films gathered by British communist Stanley Forman. All films were versioned into English for distribution in the West.