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History: Primary sources

A guide to finding information in history. Includes links to key resources and sources of help.

Primary sources are written sources or artefacts created by first-hand witnesses and/or those alive when a particular historical event took place, including ancient texts, diaries, correspondence, art, architecture and other objects. You will need to access primary sources as part of your research for projects or your dissertation. Many different types of primary source materials are available online, either via online archives to which the Library subscribes, or websites which provide free online access.  In addition, the University holds various physical primary source materials, ranging from the Record Society publications to the University of Reading's Special Collections Service. These sources are described in more detail on this page.

Online primary source material - subscribed content (University login required)

Online primary source material - freely available content

University of Reading Special Collections - archives, rare books and more...

Two students looking at a rare bookThe University’s Special Collections are available to all students in the University. The collections include rare books, manuscripts, records, letters, photographs, maps and drawings. Use the search box below to find specific items on the Enterprise catalogue.


The Special Collections Service is based on the London Road campus, in the same building as the Museum of English Rural Life. Items from the Special Collections cannot be borrowed, but they can be consulted in the reading room. You’re advised to plan ahead and contact Special Collections prior to your visit, so that the material is ready for you for when you arrive.

The following collections are relevant to students of History:

The following collections are relevant to History of Art students:

If you would like to use Special Collections for your dissertation, see the Dissertation Subject explorer for your subject for example topics.

Locating archives elsewhere: UK

When searching beyond our Library, the following online sources may be useful.

Locating archives elsewhere: overseas

If you are looking for records kept overseas, try the following sites.