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Primary Source Research

Digital Primary Sources

Digital primary sources consist of materials that have been digitized or that are born digital, such as digital photography, illustrations, or documents. Below is a list of collections that have been made publicly accessible through the web. This list is continuously growing so the sources listed below are just a sampling of what is actually available. Remember to check permissions before using an image downloaded from any digital repositories. 

Biodiversity Heritage Library 

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections and to make that literature available for open access and responsible use as a part of a global “biodiversity commons."

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The Brooklyn Public Library has digitized and indexed this newspaper which provides insight into the social, economic and political life of Brooklyn as well as New York City.

Caselaw Access Project 

The Caselaw Access Project (“CAP”) has published U.S. court decisions freely available to the public online, in a consistent format, digitized from the collection of the Harvard Law Library. CAP includes all official, book-published United States case law — every volume designated as an official report of decisions by a court within the United States

Cities and Towns

This collection includes 215 digital maps of cities and towns in New York State including all of the five boroughs of New York City.

David Rumsey Map Collection Database

This is a historical collection with over 38,000 maps and images online. The collection focuses on rare 18th and 19th entury North American and South American maps and other cartographic materials.

Densho Digital Repository 

This repository has collections of historic photographs, documents, newspapers, letters and other primary source materials from Japanese immigration to the WWII incarceration and its aftermath.

Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) 

The Digital Public Library of America brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world. It strives to contain the full breadth of human expression, from the written word to works of art and culture, to records of America’s heritage, to the efforts and data of science.

Examination Days: The New York African Free School Collection

The New York African Free School was opened in 1787 by the New York Manumission Society. It was absorbed into the New York City Public School system in 1835.


HathiTrust is a digital repository and research management tool for the United States' great research libraries, focused on providing scholars in the digital age with the largest collection of electronic research material this side of Google Book Search, large-scale full-text searching and archiving tools.

Historic American Newspapers 

Library of Congress searchable and full-text newspapers from 1836 to 1922 in selected states. Directory of newspapers from 1690 to present.

Internet Archive

Over 2.5 million full-text books online. The Internet Archive Text Archive contains a wide range of fiction, popular books, children's books, historical texts, and academic books.

Internet Archive: Moving Image Archive

Moving Image Archive is a public online database that archives films and film criticism.

Library of Congress Digital Collections

Searches across and provides access to the more than 300 digital collections created by the Library of Congress. Includes photos, prints, drawings, maps, books, manuscripts, audio recordings, films, music, newspapers, and archived websites.

Making of America - Cornell University Library

The Cornell University Library Making of America Collection is a digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction.

Manuscript Collections Relating to Slavery

This collection includes abolitionist organizations as well as school records and the records of the New York Manumission Society.

New York City Department of Records--Municipal Archives

The Municipal Archives have records dated back to the earliest days of the European colonial settlement.

New York City Directories

This site provides free access to some New York City directories. Use "New York City Directory" to search for directories.

New York Public Library: Public Domain Collections 

Over 180,000 digital items are available to view for free in the NYPL Digital Collection database.

U.S. Census Bureau

Online access to a wide array of population statistics in the U.S. related to the Census. 

WGBH Open Vault

Open Vault is the home of WGBH Media Library and Archives, providing online access to unique and historically important content produced by the public television and radio station WGBH. 

Witness to the Early American Experience

This site includes eye-witness reports about the American Revolution in and around New York City.

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