Finding Primary Sources for Your Digital Project

As you’re putting together your digital timeline this week, remember that each event should “[incorporate] evidence from relevant primary sources — e.g., as a background image, an embedded video, a quotation from a diary or government document, a link to archived materials, etc.” (And that each source should be cited properly, using Turabian’s footnote format.) Given the impact of digitization on the preservation and accessibility of historical evidence in virtually every field, I think it’s reasonable for me to expect any timeline to feature a diverse array of sources.

So where can you find primary sources that are fair use for educational purposes? A few suggestions…

Bethel library research guides

A great place to start is our own library website. In addition to searching using Summon and other databases (and always try adding “primary sources” or “documents” to a search string), our research librarians have been working with faculty for several years to develop Research Guides for different subjects and specific courses. Click here and look under History. Each guide will have links to secondary and primary source collections. (Thanks to Earleen Warner for all her help on these!)

Bethel Library research guide for HIS354 Modern Europe

For example, here’s the top of the Online Primary Sources section of the research guide I put together with Earleen for HIS354 Modern Europe


It’s perfectly fine to use Wikipedia to help facilitate your work. (Again: this is not meant to be a research-intensive project.) Be sure to check any relevant Wikipedia page for a section on “Primary Sources” and “External Links.” To go back to the example I used in our research tutorial, here’s what that looks like for Charles Lindbergh:

Screenshot of Primary Sources and External Links sections for Charles Lindbergh page on Wikipedia

Notice also that, in addition to whatever images are already incorporated into that Wikipedia page, there’s a link for all Lindbergh-related images and other media at the companion Wikimedia Commons. Generally, if such images appear on Wikimedia, you can treat them as fair use for educational purposes. Sometimes you’ll also see a link here to Wikisource, which is an archive of digitized historical documents.


I doubt I’m suggesting anything you haven’t already thought of, but there’s nothing easier than going to Google and typing in a search string that includes your topic and words or phrases like “primary sources,” “documents,” “archives,” “artifacts,” etc.

Also, to find fair use images… Go to Google Images, click on the Tools tab, and limit your search to images “Labeled for noncommercial reuse.”

screen shot of Google Images search for Charles Lindbergh limited to noncommercial use

libraries and museums

Finally, be sure to spend some time browsing the digitized collections of a major library, archive, or museum relevant to your topic. A few that might fit the topics you all are doing for your timelines:


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