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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Primary Sources: Digital Archival Collections

A guide to finding and using primary sources

Digitally available sources

This is just a small selection of the growing universe of digitally available Primary Sources. The Digital Public Library of America is also recommended, including their browse-able list of primary source sets. The Lloyd Sealy Library subscribes to several primary source databases which are available with a John Jay log-in.  See also An Introduction to Archival Research  and the Lloyd Sealy Library Guide to Special Collections

Digital Special Collections at the Lloyd Sealy Library

Digital Special Collections

Selected portions of our Special Collections are now available digitally.

United States History

The FBI Vault - Electronic Reading Room includes hundreds of FBI files requested by FOIL requests or made publically available for other reasons. You can browse by FBI categories such as Gangs and Extremist Groups Counter-Terrorism, Gangster Era Violent Crime and Unexplained Phenomenon

Govinfo the website of the Government Printing Office (GPO)  Core Documents of Our Democracy  you can also browse and search governmental documents available freely online.

The American Memory Project provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience.The digitized collections are mostly held by the Library of Congress, 23 other institutions have also contributed content to this resource. Search or browse this vast collection for primary materials on American History. There is also a the Digital Rare Books and Special Collections at the Library of Congress

The National Archives (NARA) Digital Vaults web site is  a portal into the heart of the US National Archives, and can be reached from the home page of the National Archives Experience. This new site uses visual records such as documents, photographs, and popular media, and illustrates how these materials can come together.  NARA also has several online exhibits, presents a document of the day links to digital copies of America's Historic Documents and you can search the ARC catalog with the option of restricting your search to documents available as digital copies. There's also a page of NARA record groups that available via 'digital partnerships' some are behind a paywall, others free with member sign up, all are freely available at a NARA facility or, many through Ancestry Library at NYPL   The New York office of the NARA is at the Alexander Hamilton US Customs House, Broadway and Whitehall streets in lower Manhattan.

Founders Online provides the searchable, annotated correspondence and writings of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams (and family), Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. This is another project of the National Archives.

World history

Perseus Digital Library  The flagship collection here consist of Greek and Roman texts in English translation (covering the history, literature and culture of the Greco-Roman world). Additional collections include 19th century American materials, Renaissance materials and an Arabic collection.

The Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition (ncse) is a free, online edition of six nineteenth-century periodicals and newspapers, published in England. 

Second World War in Europe - primary resources - listed by Hunter College Librarian Clay Williams.

Science Primary Resources

Science History Institute Digital Collections  Search digitized items: artifacts, photographs, advertisements, letters, rare books, and more. You can also learn more about the rest of their collections.

Smithsonian Institution Digital Collections Search  images, video and sound files, electronic journals and other resources from the Smithsonian's museums, archives & libraries. Click online results only for digitially available materials.  Read the blog The Bigger Picture for the latest digital images available. Check also at the Smithsonian Institution's Photostream on  The Flickr Commons

The Smithsonian also has a guide to Trade Catalogs  in their collections and other repositories.

They also have a guide to Automobile and Transportation Resources in their collections and other repositories.

Slavery and Anti-Slavery related Primary Sources

The Freedmen’s Bureau Transcription Project will allow anyone with internet access to research his or her family’s history online. The Museum began this project in an effort to help African Americans discover their ancestors and help historians better understand the years following the Civil War. (National Museum of African American History & Culture). See also: the NMAAHC other digital initiatives.

The Anti-Slavery Manuscripts Project by the Boston Public Library is currently in a crowd sourced transcription phase to which anyone can contribute.

The Howland Album is a photograph album at the Library of Congress with photograph portraits of Harriet Tubman, John Willis Menard, and other anti-slavery contemporaries. These images are freely available online

New York State Slavery Records Index A searchable compilation of records that identify individual enslaved persons and their owners, beginning as early as 1525 and ending during the Civil War.

Slavery and Anti-Slavery collections on the transatlantic slave trade, the global movement for the abolition of slavery CUNY access

Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law all known legal materials on slavery in the United States and the English-speaking world. (JJay access)

Slavery in New York - an online exhibition following the 2011 exhibit at the New-York Historical Society.

May Anti-Slavery Pamphlets at Cornell - The pamphlets in Samuel J. May's Anti-Slavery library are now available as electronic searchable text.

Library of Congress - American Memory: The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship and Born in Slavery Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1938 and The Frederick Douglas Papers

Slavery Microfiche Collection - this collection of microfiche is arranged by 31 subjects, including sources on anti-slavery, slaves' and slavers' homelands and historical events such as Harper's Ferry and the Dred Scott Case. Some of the content may be digitally available from the above sources. Two boxes of microfiche and a bibliographic guide are shelved next to each other - Special Collections - HT 861 .M52 1983

National Archives of Canada - The Anti-Slavery Movement in Canada
National Geographic - The Underground Railroad
Spartacus Educational (UK)- The Anti-Slavery Society
The Vermont Historical Society - The Underground Railroad Project

New York City History

The New York Historical Society N-YHS Digital Collections include online collections related to their exhibits as well as a growing number of images and documents from their collections on the history of NYC.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) Digital Gallery includes perhaps millions of images and other objects scanned from NYPL's vast collections, which include early real estate maps of NYC there are collection guides and NYPL Blog that feature highlights of the collections.

Early American Manuscripts Project The New York Public Library is currently digitizing upwards of 50,000 pages of historic early American manuscript material.

New York City Municipal Archives Online Gallery.  provides free and open research access to over 800,000 items digitized from the Municipal Archives’ collections, including photographs, maps, motion-pictures and audio recordings.

Historic Brooklyn Photo Galleries from the Brooklyn Public Library historic photographs of Brooklyn neighborhoods and institutions, and explore related resources from the Brooklyn Collection and the Brooklyn Eagle.

Digital METRO NY is a directory of digital projects completed by METRO members in the NYC area.

New York State Collections

The New York State Archives, Library and Museum share a catalog which can be restricted to electronic documents only They also have a digital image library you can also search or browse images from all three institutions.   State library electronic documents which are digitally available  can be browsed or searched here

NY State Library Erie Canal Images Digital Collection

NY Heritage Digital Collections - 200 years on the Erie Canal