Free Resources for Primary Sources for Middle School

8 FREE Online Resources for Primary Source Documents

Primary sources are living pieces of history. Photographs, letters, speeches, journal entries, original documents, maps, and charts are all examples of primary sources. Providing students with the opportunity to evaluate primary sources supports the development of critical thinking skills and promotes a deeper understanding of historical events. The websites and databases listed below contain free and age appropriate resources for finding relevant primary sources.

National Archives Primary Sources

National Archives

The National Archives provides teachers with an online tool for teaching with primary source documents called DocsTeach. You can explore primary sources, discover new teaching ideas, or create engaging primary source activities. *Registering with your email address is required if you want to create and share custom primary source activities with your students. 

Digital Public Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America provides primary source collections in history and literature created and reviewed by teachers. Each set includes a variety of primary sources, printable teaching guide with discussion questions and activity ideas, and links to additional resources. Options for sharing the primary sources to Google Classroom are also available.

Digital Public Library of America

Stanford Education Group Primary Sources

Stanford History Education Group

The Reading Like a Historian Curriculum from the Stanford History Education Group provides engaging lessons that revolve around a central historical question and feature primary source documents designed for groups of students with a range of reading skills. Student and teacher materials for all lesson plans are available as free PDF printable downloads. *An initial registration using an email address is required for document access.

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has an extensive collection of primary source documents. In addition to all types of primary sources, you can access teaching tools, lesson plans, analysis worksheets, presentations, and more!

Library of Congress Primary Sources

Avalon Project Primary Sources for Teachers

The Avalon Project

The Avalon Project is a database of primary source documents provided by Yale Law School. The resource catalog focuses on documents in law, history, and diplomacy from ancient times to present-day. A full-text copy of each document is provided with tier-three definitions and an index of clickable terms.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

The Gilder Lehrman collection of American history resources includes more than 70,000 historical items. Resource types include lesson plans, essays, online exhibitions, study guides, videos, and more! Most primary sources include a printable PDF version, complete citation, and questions for discussion. Registration with an active email address, mailing address, and phone number is required for access to most of the Gilder Lehrman library of primary sources. Some resources require an additional subscription fee or school affiliation credential.

Primary Sources for Teachers Gilder Lerhman Institute

Fordham University

The Fordham University primary source database offers teachers and students a collection of public domain and copy-permitted historical texts for educational use. Ancient, medieval, and modern history sources can be accessed directly on the Fordham University website. Links are also provided for sources hosted on sites outside the university.

Fordham University Primary Sources

Hathi Trust

The Hathi Trust Digital Library joins together university research libraries across the United States that are committed to the curation and collection of primary sources. The digital library contains thousands of books, texts, and journal articles designed to support teachers, students, and researchers in their search for relevant primary sources.

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8 Free Online Resources for Primary Source Documents