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Digital primary source and archive collections

The University has access to an extensive range of online primary source and archival collections. These databases contain digitised copies of documents, letters, books, photographs and other primary source material.

This libguide will help you identify the best databases for your research.
Search for primary sources by time period, country/region or theme

Don't forget that we also have a wide range of physical primary source materials located on campus, both in the library and in the Centre for Research Collections (CRC).

Image shows detail from a page of the Celtic Psalter, 11th C. © The University of Edinburgh.

*New* ProQuest Access 350

Did you know the Library now has access to almost all available ProQuest primary source databases until 31 July 2024? 

These databases allow you to explore 600 years worth of world history and, along with the wide and varied range of digital primary source databases the Library already gives you access to, can help enrich your learning, teaching and research.

What are primary sources?

A primary source has been created during the time period being studied or was created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied e.g. a memoir. Primary sources reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. They enable you to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period.

Primary sources can include:

  • Books and manuscripts
  • Diaries
  • Correspondence
  • Historical and legal documents (government documents, parliamentary documents, census data, business records, etc.)
  • Eyewitness accounts
  • Newspapers, broadsheets, magazines, pamphlets, etc.
  • Speeches and interviews
  • Ephemera (posters, postcards, tickets, greetings cards, etc.)
  • Audio and video recordings
  • Images, photographs and original artwork
  • Maps
  • And more

Using DiscoverEd to find primary sources

You can use DiscoverEd to find some primary source material at the University Library. 
Click on the tabs for tips on how to do this.


The material you will find in DiscoverEd will primarily be primary sources published in books, University of Edinburgh theses and some of the rare books held in our Centre for Research Collections. You will also be able to find some digital primary source material but you are best to access the primary source databases to properly search for these.

Use the Advanced Search option to search for relevant keywords or subject headings plus terms like:

  • Diaries
  • Correspondence
  • Letters
  • Personal narrative
  • Memoir
  • Sources
  • Oral history


To find the writings of an individual, do an Author/Creator search in Advanced Search. You can also use this to find publications or records of organisations e.g. House of Commons.

To find works published or produced during a particular period, or at a particular time and place, use the Refine My Results options in the left-hand menu next to search results.

You can use the options in here to limit your search by date, language, resource type, library, etc. 

E.g. You are looking for books written in the 18th century about slavery. Type slavery into the DiscoverEd search box and click the search button. When the search results come up scroll down the left-hand menu to 'Publication Date' and limit this to 1700-1800. Then under 'Resource Type' limit to Books


To search for primary source material available to you digitally then use the primary source databases.

To search archives, manuscripts, personal papers, University of Edinburgh Archives, Lothian Health Services Archives (LHSA), art collections, etc., you will need to search different catalogues.

To search for archives, manuscripts, personal papers, etc., held at other libraries, archives, museums, etc., you can use some of these search tools.

Centre for Research Collections

Yi Jing (Book of Changes), 1440. © The University of Edinburgh.

Yi Jing (Book of Changes), 1440. © The University of Edinburgh.

The Centre for Research Collections (CRC) is the main space for anyone using the University of Edinburgh's historic and special collections, including rare books and manuscripts, University of Edinburgh archives, personal and institutional archives, Lothian Health Services Archives, University of Edinburgh PhD theses, art collection, musical instrument collection and more.

You can access this varied primary source material via the CRC on the 6th floor, Main Library. 


If you require further help then contact your Academic Support Librarian:

Or contact Library Help: