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.

Confidential Print: Latin America, 1833-1969 (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 dispatches, reports, correspondence, political summaries, economic analyses, maps, and profiles of leading personalities. The collection comprises documents on the countries of Central and South America and the French- and Spanish-speaking Caribbean (see Confidential Print: North America, 1824-1961 for coverage of the English-speaking Caribbean). Topics covered include slavery and slave trade in Cuba and Brazil, British emigrants, British business and financial interests, political developments, and the building of the Panama Canal, all from the perspective of British government officials. Sourced from the originals in the collections of The National Archives in Kew.

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.

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.

Sabin Americana, 1500-1926 (Gale)
Offers digital access to books, pamphlets, serials, and other sources published worldwide from 1500 to the early 20th century and documenting the history of the Americas. Titles were selected based on Joseph Sabin's Bibliotheca Americana.

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.

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.

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.