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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.