Learn and Generate Bibliographies, Citations, and Works Cited

6 Free Primary Source Websites for Student Research

As you start your research for your humanities or social studies project, you will need sources for primary documents. These may include original letters, interviews, images, and art. Understanding copyright law terms will help you avoid plagiarism.

Even though most items are copyrighted by their owners, there are several places you can find archived items. Many institutions, such as libraries and museums, have extensive digital archives of historical documents, books, diaries, maps, sheet music and recordings.

Citation generator

Primary Source Website to Explore

Europeana Pro contains “57,642,199 artworks, artefacts, books, films and music from European museums, galleries, libraries and archives.”

Its extensive archive allows you to explore primary sources in geography, history, art, fashion and many other areas. This digital archive provides open access to European works, such as:

  • Books and manuscripts
  • Photos and paintings
  • Television and film
  • Sculpture and crafts
  • Diaries
  • Maps
  • Sheet music
  • Recordings

All content on the site is free to download, print, use, save, and/or share. For example, here is an illustration available as a free download from Europeana Pro:

Illustration of two women in dresses from a primary sources website

Anaïs Toudouze. White lace ballgown and a Spanish fancy dress costume. Le Conseiller des Dames, Paris, c.1850. (Source: https://www.europeana.eu/portal/en)

Other Useful Primary Source Archives

Students finding primary sources for essay

HathiTrust is a digital library that has partnered with institutions around the word. This digital library contains millions of digitized works. Although you have to be affiliated with one of their partner universities to have full access, there are some limited guest abilities. So, as a student, you may have full access through your school or college.

Explore on Your Own

Looking for more websites to explore?

  • Internet Archive offers permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format. Browse the amazing number of resources; you will spend hours exploring this website.
  • The website of the Digital Public Library of America boasts an impressive amount of resources. This includes links to Smithsonian Institution public domain images.
  • The New York Times Public Domain Archives is a wiki that contains public domain images and items from The New York Times.
  • Project Gutenberg provides access to a collection of almost 60,000 e-books in the public domain.

Start researching for your history, social studies or humanities Chicago style format school project by using these sources to search for primary sources. These websites are just a few of the free digitized collections available online. Remember to always cite your sources to avoid plagiarism. Have fun exploring history!

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