Primary Sources




We are so lucky that there are so many repositories of digital primary sources freely available for research, or general gawking. However you’ve got to know where they are and they aren’t always that easy to find. So I have collected together as many as I can and will keeping adding to this over time – if you know of any more good sites let me know! 


General collections

Project Gutenberg US site which boasts a massive 58,000 eBooks, they are free to view and download as copyright has expired (in the US but more than likely wherever you are based too).

The Public Domain Review – Describes itself as ‘curated collections of images, books, audio and film, shining a light on curiosities and wonders from a wide range of online archives. With a leaning toward the surprising, the strange, and the beautiful, we hope to provide an ever-growing cabinet of curiosities for the digital age, a kind of hyperlinked Wunderkammer’

Old Maps Online A free site which indexes over 400,000 maps

British History Online Digital library containing some of the core printed primary and secondary sources for the medieval and modern history of the British Isles (11th-19th Century).

Internet Archive This site does not look very academic but actually contains many useful text which are free to download here’s how they describe themselves: ‘The Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public.’

The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707  A fully searchable database containing the proceedings of the Scottish parliament from the first surviving act of 1235 to the union of 1707.

Medical and Scientific Collections

Medical Heritage Library  Describes itself as ‘a digital curation collaborative among some of the world’s leading medical libraries, promotes free and open access to quality historical resources in medicine.’

Wellcome Collection – images Provides free access to 40,000 medical and scientific images from the Wellcome Trust’s collection.

Science Museum Group Search over 250,000 items from museums within UK based science museums (The Science Museum, Science and Industry Museum, National Science and Media Museum, National Railway Museum and locomotion).

Early Modern Collections

State Papers Online Range of correspondence, reports, parliamentary drafts and more from the 16th – 18th Century (institutional subscription is required but you can view for free if you can get to The National Archives in Kew, England).

LEME Lexcons of Early Modern English, a good reference site- enter your early modern word into ‘Quick Lexicon Search’ and it will search for a definition from contemporary dictionaries and encyclopedias (ranging from 1480-1702). Non subscribers get a limited number of searches per day (about 5 I think).

Early English Books Online (EEBO) You need a password to access content here, if your university is subscribed you will be able to sign in through athens or shiboleth.

English Emblem Book Project  Facsimiles of nine sixteenth and seventeenth century English emblem books held in the Special Collections Library at Pennsylvania State University, together with a bibliography on emblem books in general.

The Grub Street Project describes itself as a ‘digital edition of eighteenth-century London.’ It includes maps of London from the 17th-19th century and some works published and sold in London during this period. This is an ongoing project so more should be added in future.

The 1641 Depositions are witness testimonies mainly by Protestants, but also by some Catholics, from all social backgrounds, concerning their experiences of the 1641 Irish rebellion.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys  also includes letters he sent and in depth articles regarding the famous diarist. 


 ‘In the centuries before there were newspapers and 24-hour news channels, the general public had to rely on street literature to find out what was going on. The most popular form of this for nearly 300 years was ‘broadsides’ – the tabloids of their day. Sometimes pinned up on walls in houses and ale-houses, these single sheets carried public notices, news, speeches and songs that could be read (or sung) aloud.’ 

~ The Word on the Street

The Word on the Street  How Ordinary Scots in Bygone Days Found out what was Happening

English Broadside Ballad Archive Contains 17th C broadside ballads, has high-quality facsimiles of the ballads as well as facsimile transcriptions.

Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads The Bodleian Library holds over 30,000 ballads, contained in several collections. These have been gathered into a single catalogue which is now presented, along with a scanned image of each ballad sheet, in the Broadside Ballads Project.


North Isles Family History A brilliant free site to research Shetland families, also includes people from some of the other counties in Northern Scotland, such as Orkney, Caithness, Moray and Aberdeenshire.


The Art World in Britain 1660 to 1735 A free archive which publishes primary sources and research tools for the study of the arts in late 17th and early 18th century Britain. It contains various sources including newspapers, handbills and trade cards.

The Royal Collection is one of the largest art collections in the world, mainly it includes works from 1660 onward as much of the previous collection was sold off by Oliver Cromwell.