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Senior Essay in History: Primary Sources

Welcome to the YUL guide for the Senior Essay in History! Click on the link below to schedule an appointment with your research librarian, and take a few minutes to look at the resources and tools highlighted on these pages as you start your research.

DATABASES of Primary Sources

The Yale University Library licenses a wide array of digital databases of primary sources for your use. The following are just a few examples, and the specific subject guides created by Yale’s librarians and archivists are a good place to look for others:

If you’re having trouble determining if there are licensed databases of primary sources at Yale in your area of interest, you can also explore the Library’s Databases A-Z guide.

Don’t forget that archives and libraries around the world have been digitizing primary sources for two decades. Many of these resources are freely available on the web, and the following is just a scratch on the surface:​

When in doubt, ask a Yale librarian or archivist for assistance!

Archives at Yale

The search portal for finding archival collections at Yale is Archives at Yale.

Archives at Yale allows you to search thousands of archival collections that are held by several special collections units that are part of the Yale Library. You'll be searching the finding aids to the collections when you use Archives at Yale. The finding aids operate like the table of contents in a book and provide a sense of direction for the collection, but you have to request boxes and examine the materials yourself to see if they are relevant to your topic. Researchers can request up to 5 boxes at a time.

Most of Yale’s archival collections are stored off-site and must be requested at least a day in advance. You can make those requests directly in the finding aid for materials in most Yale University Library special collections. Please note that not all materials you may find in Archives at Yale are open for research. For the latest information on using Yale Library special collections, please consult the Guide to Using Special Collections at the Yale University Library.

Just remember, not all archival material available at Yale is in the Finding Aid Database. If a collection is less than three boxes, there may simply be an Orbis record for it.  You can go to the Advanced Search in Orbis and limit the “Location” to a specific special collection, or limit the “Type” to Archives or Manuscripts. Some archival materials might be recently acquired and not in any catalog or database. If you think that is the case, ask a librarian, curator, or archivist for assistance.

Caveat: If you don’t get keyword search results in an archival finding aid, don't assume that nothing exists on that person or topic in the archival collections. When in doubt: Talk to a librarian or archivist! Explore some boxes to see what you find!

Yale Library Digital Collections

Finding Archives BEYOND Yale

To find archives beyond Yale, you can always check the footnotes and bibliography of books or dissertations related to your subject. Three major databases will also help you locate archival collections:

  • WorldCat is a world catalog that contains records for millions of volumes, including archival materials. After a keyword search, focus on the “Archival” tab. WorldCat can also be used to find certain primary and secondary source materials that can be requested via Interlibrary Loan for use at Yale.
  • ArchiveGrid contains records for over 4 million finding aids from over 1,000 archival institutions. The “Summary View” tab in an ArchiveGrid results list is a good way to start breaking down your search results by people and subject.
  • Archive Finder contains records for over 220,000 collections in the US, UK, and Ireland.  

There are many country- and region-specific archives portals, such Archives Canada, Trove (Australia), LANIC (Latin American Network Information Center), and Archives Portal Europe. 

In addition, many historical newspapers and magazines from around the world are held by the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), of which Yale is a member. Browse or search the CRL Online Catalog for items that can be requested for use at Yale via Interlibrary Loan.