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History: Primary Sources: Digital Collections

Evaluating Primary-Source Sites

Questions to ask when you are assessing online primary-source collections:

  • Who is the author or creator of the page/site? Is there an institution involved? What is the name of the institution?
  • What are the credentials of the author or institution (what qualifies the author or institution to present these sources objectively? Do they represent a university? A library? An individual?)
  • Who sponsors the site? Is there information about funding?

Use Google and other sources to research the authors, organizations, or institutions responsible for the page and for its funding. Don't just trust the About page!

  • What is the purpose of the site - To inform? To entertain?, To sell you something? To argue for a certain point of view?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Are the sources cited? Where did the author(s) get the information?
  • Can the information on the page be verified with other sources? 
  • How current is the information? How recently has the website been updated?**
    (**This question may be less important for historians looking for historical primary sources.

For more information about evaluating websites, see the Evaluating Information tab, above.

Searching for Digital Collections

Many libraries and organizations are making digital materials available online.

To find these collections, use this search string in Google or another search engine, in addition to keywords relevant to your topic, for example:

digital collection library slavery atlantic

You can also try the same search limiting to site:org rather than site:edu BUT:

Be careful!

EDU = educational institution
ORG = organization, which can mean almost ANY kind of noncorporate organization. If you aren't familiar with the organization, do some research on it! Who are they? What do they promote? Are they reliable?

In this era of "fake news," don't just trust the information you see on a website's "About Us" tab or page.
Google the organization and learn more about them
from other sources


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For more information about evaluating websites, see the Evaluating Information tab, above.

Digitized Primary-Source Book Collections

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Curious about the Text Creation Partnership and its projects? Learn more here!

Books Available Online

These online collections include digital versions of many out-of-copyright works including government documents, historical magazines and other periodicals, and books published before 1923. Coverage can be spotty, but these sites are worth searching...  just in case.

Is There a Website for That?

George Mason University's National History Education Clearinghouse has published reviews of over 1000 history-oriented websites.

The National Endowment for the Humanities' Edsitement! site's History/Social Studies section also includes many approved websites featuring historical material.

Browse, or use keywords to search for a website or digital library relevant to your topic.

Looking for Resources on a Particular State?

Many state-based libraries and organizations are digitizing materials relating to the their state.

The Library of Congress has assembled this list of state digital libraries. Search by state, or check out the Multi-State options.

Digital Collections at GSU

Selected database collections. These are GSU subscription resources requiring a campus ID and password for off-campus access.

For a full list of our subscription databases (including primary-source digital collections) see our Databases A-Z list

For historical periodical databases, see the Historical Periodicals tab.

For historical newspaper databases, see the Historical Newspapers tab/guide.

Selected Web collections: US History

Selected Web Collections: World History