Primary Sources by Type

The Library has over 1000 collections of digital resources, organized in the Electronic Resource Finder (ERF) by type and subject. The links below will bring you to those collections designated as most useful for research in history, but your research may require a review of the ERF that doesn't limit by subject.

Archival Collections and Primary Source Databases
These collections are often organized by theme or historical period and may include multiple types of primary source documents. There is some overlap between the resources listed here and those in the following lists.

Atlases, Maps and Gazetteers
The most extensive collection of maps owned by the Library are housed in the Earth Sciences & Maps Library, located in 50 McCone Hall.

The collections listed here are primarily in English. To locate early books in other languages, check the ERF listings by subject for the specific language (ex: Spanish & Portuguese).

Government Information Sources - California/Regional
Some state and local government documents are located in the Gardner Stacks, but the largest collection can be found in the Institute of Governmental Studies Library located in 109 Moses Hall.

Government Information Sources - United States/Federal
Use these to find publications and other information by and about the federal and/or US government. The Government Documents Librarian has created an extensive guide to finding publications created by different agencies and branches of government.

Government Information Sources - Foreign/International
Use these to find publications and other government information by and about individual foreign countries, the global community collectively, and international bodies. The government documents librarian provides more information directing you to documents produced by international organizations or governments in different regions.

Image and Sound Databases
Use these to find photographs, paintings, films and other materials in audio or visual format. The Media Resources Center, located on the first floor of Moffitt Library, is the UC Berkeley Library's primary collection of materials in audio and visual formats. These formats include videocassettes, DVDs, compact audio discs, audiocassettes, and online (streamed) audio and video.

Use these to find newspaper articles, broadcast transcripts, wire service stories, etc. The International Coalition on Newspapers (iCON) Project, housed at the Center for Research Libraries, provides a database of more than 20,000 newspaper titles from over 150 countries dating back over 350 years. This is a useful source for identifying the titles of newspapers from a region during a given time period. As a member of CRL, UC Berkeley Library can borrow microfilm copies of these newspapers for you through Interlibrary Loan.

Use these to find statistical tables, numeric data, demographic information, public opinion polls, etc. The Data Lab in Doe Library offers assistance to UC Berkeley students, staff, and faculty in locating and using numeric data. In addition, the Lab and maintains workstations with Stata, SAS, SPSS, R, Stat/Transfer and ArcGIS software. Hours, contact information, and guides to finding data are found on the Lab website.

Locating Primary Sources

There are many access points to the vast collections of primary sources available to you.

Certain words and phrases will find primary sources in library catalogs.  You can use these in OskiCat or Melvyl:

advanced keyword search -correspondence
-personal narratives
-early works to 1800

For specific search strategies, see the Library's guide to Finding Historical Primary Sources.

Your searches will be more successful if, in your preliminary research, you identify specific:

  • names of relevant individuals and organizations
  • dates of events
  • places
  • what terminology was used at the time by participants and observers? (ex:  negro or colored instead of african american)


  • Online Archive of California (OAC)
    A searchable and browseable resource that brings together historical materials from a variety of California institutions, including museums, historical societies, and archives. Contains over 120,000 images; 50,000 pages of documents, letters, and oral histories; and 8,000 guides to collections. Images are organized into thematic and institutional collections, such as historical topics, nature, places, and technology.
  • ArchiveGrid
    Searchable descriptions of nearly a million historical documents, personal papers, and family histories kept in libraries, museums, and archives worldwide. Includes information on how to examine and order copies.
  • Archive Finder (including ArchivesUSA and NIDS UK/Ireland)
    Directory which describes tens of thousands of collections of primary source material housed in thousands of repositories across the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
  • Center for Research Libraries Online Catalog
    CRL acquires and preserves newspapers, journals, documents, archives, and other traditional and digital resources from a global network of sources. UC Berkeley Library students, faculty, and other researchers have liberal access to these rich source materials through interlibrary loan, electronic delivery, and a growing collection of digitized material.

Online Archive of California & Calisphere

oac home page

Guides to over 20,000 collections housed in 200 libraries, archives, historical societies, special collections and museums across California are searchable at the  Online Archive of California (OAC). Analogous to catalog records for books, collection guides (also known as finding aids) are the descriptive records used to find, understand, and locate archival resources and unique materials. They help users learn more about the scope of a collection so they know if it is likely to meet their research needs.

calisphere home page

Digitized versions of photographs, documents, newspapers, political cartoons, works of art, diaries, transcribed oral histories, and other cultural artifacts that are contributed by these California institutions to the OAC make up the content included in Calisphere.

These two websites exist because they serve two very different user needs. For research-oriented users who want to go beyond what is available online and locate the actual, physical item, the OAC is the best starting point. For users whose primary interest is to view digitized images and documents, Calisphere is a place to explore online content. In addition, Calisphere provides K-12 educators with a subset of content organized and aligned with California Content Standards.

[Content adapted from CDL's Digital Special Collections.]

Last Update: 22 May 13:59