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History: an introduction: Primary Sources

Research help : Timeline of records kept in British National Archives about Singapore/Malaysia


Archives Made Easy :

"Online guide about archives around the world, including U.S.". Practical advice about location of archives, procedures, cost, ...

If you are embarking on history research on China, this article Researching the History of the People's Republic of China by Charles Kraus is a useful read


Image: Ian Kahn

“Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented.” (from Yale University, Primary Sources at Yale).



South East Asia

  • Contemporary Wayang Archive
    • The Contemporary Wayang Archive (CWA) is a collection of re-elaborations of Java's oldest performance tradition. All of the performances were recorded in 21st century Java. This archive includes translations, notes and explanations of how the performances were received in their original context.
  • Rare Books on Burma (18th to 19th Century)
    • Titles published in English during the 18th and 19th centuries; covering a wide area on history, cultural anthropology, archaeology, religious studies, art history, political science and musicology.
  • Special Panels for Serious Crimes, East Timor (SPSC)
    • In 1999, the UN established investigation and trials in Dili, East Timor. Known as the Special Panels for Serious Crimes (SPSC), these were intended to address the human rights violations occurring prior to the independence of East Timor. the Center monitored trials in 2001, and published reports on the proceedings. Since 2002, David Cohen has authored two critical reports about the SPSC, both published by the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. The first of these, Seeking Justice on the Cheap: Is the East Timor Tribunal Really a Model for the Future?, was published in August of 2002. This was followed in May of 2006 with an even more critical retrospective account of the tribunal’s shortcomings, 'Justice on the Cheap' Revisited: The Failure of the Serious Crimes Trials in East Timor.'

East Asia (China, Taiwan, Japan)

South Asia (incl. India)

  • Foreign Office files for India, Pakistan and Afghanistan
    These three collections consist of the British Government's files on the countries of South Asia from shortly before Indian partition and independence up to 1980.
  • India, Raj & Empire, 1710 to 1937
    Manuscript collections of the National Library of Scotland. Documents the relationship between Britain and India in an empire where the Scots played a central role as traders, generals, missionaries, viceroys, governor-generals and East India Company officials.
  • The Long Emergency. Media and Democracy in India
    The Long Emergency Collection was primarily conceived as a series of oral history interviews documenting journalistic praxis around the time of the Indian emergency (1975-1977).
    To convey a sense of the “spirit of the times,” the collection also includes a selection of material from this period such as films, cartoons, news clippings, government documents, and court judgements.

  • South Asia Archives (1700s - 1953)
    The South Asia Archive is a fully searchable digital archive encompassing millions of pages of valuable research and teaching materials, providing online access to documents ranging from 1700 through to 1953. The Archive covers the Indian subcontinent and contains both serial and non-serial materials, including reports, rare books, and journal runs from noteworthy, rare publications. The documents in the Archive are interdisciplinary, reflecting the varied range of knowledge production in colonial and early post-colonial India in fields such as culture & society, industry & economy, science, technology & medicine, urban planning & administration, and politics & law. Most of the material is in English, about 30% of the documents are in vernacular languages, including Bengali and Sanskrit
  • India during the Raj: eyewitness accounts : diaries and related records held in the British Library, London (Microfilm) This set of microfilms reproduces diaries and records with eyewitness insight into life in India during the early period of the Raj. Includes military diaries, diaries of engineers, surveyors and medical staff of East India Company, civil servants and those sent on official missions, travelers diaries and diaries of wives of East India Company officials and soldiers.

The papers of Lee Kuan Yew : speeches, interviews and dialogues.

The papers of Lee Kuan Yew [electronic resource] : speeches, interviews and dialogues. Singapore : Gale Asia, c2012.

Gale Virtual Reference Library  v1- v10

UK, USA and Australia


  • Colonial discourses. Series one: Women, travel & empire, 1660-1914 (Microfilm)
    • Contains travel writings and diaries by women from the United Kingdom when they traveled to India, Africa, Australasia, and Canada
  • Colonial Film - Moving Images of the British Empire
    • This website holds detailed information on over 6000 films showing images of life in the British colonies. Over 150 films are available for viewing online. You can search or browse for films by country, date, topic, or keyword. Over 350 of the most important films in the catalogue are presented with extensive critical notes written by our academic research team.
  • Digitized Manuscripts from the Archives of the British Library
    • The British Library has digitized numerous manuscripts that were collected over the years. These digitized manuscripts include Greek manuscripts, Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta, Malay manuscripts collected by Sir Stamford Raffles and Thai manuscripts from Thailand.
  • East India Company Factory Records (Microfilm)
    • This set of microfilm has 6 parts and it hold EIC documents about the following locales:
    • Pt. 1. China and Japan.-- Pt. 2. China.-- Pt. 3. Fort St George (Madras).-- Pt. 4. Fort St George (Madras), 1669-1758.-- Pt. 5. Calcutta, 1690-1708.-- Pt. 6. Bombay, 1669-1704.
  • East meets West: original records of western traders, travellers, missionaries and diplomats to 1852 (Microfilm)
    • Issued in two parts. Part 1 is arranged broadly under six separate themes: The Christian Century in Japan, Jesuit editions, Early travels to Japan, The English and Dutch East India Companies, Images of Japan and expeditions to Japan in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Part 2 covers the vitally important records of Englebert Kaempfer, the German physician who worked for the Dutch East India Company in Nagasaki between 1690 and 1692, and who has been described as the first interpreter of Japan.
  • Empire Online, 15th – 20th C.
    • Original documents relating to Empire Studies (from British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and German points of view, and from indigenous peoples from Africa, India and North America).
    • From various institutions' collections, "with a particularly strong core of documents and images from the British Library" (-- Nature and Scope page).
  • Nineteenth Century collections online (NCCO)
    • Library has access to "Asia and the West: Diplomacy and Cultural Exchange", "British politics and society".
    • 19th century primary sources.
    • Documents from The National Archives, Kew, U.K. and United States.
  • East India Company Company Records (Online)
    • Offers access to a unique collection of India Office Records from the British Library, London. Containing royal charters, correspondence, trading diaries, minutes of council meetings and reports of expeditions, among other document types, this resource charts the history of British trade and rule in the Indian subcontinent and beyond from 1600 to 1947.
    • From 16th-century origins as a trading venture to the East Indies, through to its rise as the world’s most powerful company and de facto ruler of India, to its demise amid allegations of greed and corruption – the East India Company was an extraordinary force in global history for three centuries. This digital resource allows students and researchers to access a vast and remarkable collection of primary source documents from the India Office Records held by the British Library, the single most important archive for the study of the East India Company. From the Company’s charter in 1600 to Indian independence in 1947, East India Company tells the story of trade with the East; politics; and the rise and fall of the British Empire. It records the challenges of a globalising world and sheds light on many contrasting narratives – from records of powerful political figures, through to the lives of native populations and the individual traders who lived and worked at the edge of Empire. This incredible story is told through the manuscript records of the period, with over 1.2 million pages of content digitised.
  • Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) 
    • Includes English-language and foreign-language titles printed in the United Kingdom, and important works from the Americas, between 1701 and 1800. Consists of books, pamphlets, broadsides, ephemera.
  • Early English Books Online (EEBO) 
    • It "contains digital facsimile page images of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1700 - from the first book printed in English by William Caxton, through the age of Spenser and Shakespeare and the tumult of the English Civil War." (Publisher's Website)
  • Oxford Scholarly Edition Online (ESEO) 
    • "The launch content (as at September 2012) includes the complete text of more than 170 scholarly editions of material written between 1485 and 1660, including all of Shakespeare's plays and the poetry of John Donne." (-- About page)
    • Content of particular interest to historian: the Diary of John Evelyn (see his account of the great fire of London - 17th c.) 
  • Cabinet Papers
  • Macmillan Cabinet Papers 1957-1963
    • Full-text documents from the Macmillan administration. Source for world and British politics history. They touch upon issues of African Independence, Anglo-American Relations, Asian Affairs, the Cold War, Commonwealth Development, European Integration, Race and the World Economy.
  • Foreign Offices files (see above under "China", "India and South Asia" and below under "USA").
  • Documents on British policy overseas : diplomacy in the twentieth century
    • "primary source documents from Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office [...] Selected and edited by the official historians of the FCO, Documents on British Policy Overseas includes many documents specifically de-classified for inclusion in the series."--About page.
  • House of Commons parliamentary papers
    • Library has access to :
      • 19th century (1801-1900)
      • 20th century (1901-2003/04 session)


  • Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) daily reports
    • FBIS Daily Reports issued by the U.S. Government. Translations of broadcasts, news agency transmissions, newspapers, periodicals, and government statements from nations around the world
  • US Declassified Documents System Online (DDSO) 
    • Selection of U.S. government documents obtained from presidential libraries. The database ranges from the years after World War II, when declassified documents were first made widely available, through the 1970s.
  • Digital National Security Archive (DNSA)
    • Primary documents central to U.S. foreign and military policy since 1945. Declassified government documents obtained through extensive use of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
  • Foreign relations of the United States (FRUS)
    • "Official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity. The series [is] produced by the State Department’s Office of the Historian".-- Heinonline website
  • Meet The Press
    • Meet the Press is a hourlong Sunday morning public affairs program that has featured interviews with countless U.S. and world leaders, and has reviewed, analyzed and discussed the news of the week -- all while looking toward the week ahead. The collection begins from the 1940s and ends in 2012.
  • The Nixon years, 1969-1974
    • This project provides complete FCO 7 and FCO 82  (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) files from The National Archives, Kew (UK) for the entire period of the Nixon administration.
  • U.S. intelligence on the Middle East, 1945-2009
    • This comprehensive document set sheds light on the U.S. intelligence community's spying and analytic efforts in the Arab world, including the Middle East, the Near East, and North Africa. It covers the time period from the end of World War II to the present day, up until the 2002-2003 Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) assessments, the Global War on Terror, the Iraq War, and Iran's nuclear program. Topics covered include U.S. recognition of Israel and the 1948 Middle East war, overthrowing Mohammed Mossadeq in Iran (1953), 1956 Middle East war, 1967 Middle East war, Israel and the atomic bomb, Muammar Qadhafi's 1969 coup in Libya, 1973 Middle East war, 1973-1974 OPEC oil embargo, the fall of the shah of Iran and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini (1978-1979), Iran-Iraq war (September 1980-August 1988), Lebanon (1982-1984), the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (1990), the Iraqi WMD intelligence assessments (2002-2003), the abortive Syrian nuclear program (2006-2007), the Iranian nuclear program (1970s-present), the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the U.S.-Israeli intelligence relationship, and spying on Israel."
  • US Government Documents in Hein Online Database
    • Various Presidential, Congressional, Departmental documents held across several collections : Code of Federal Regulations, Federal Register Library, Pentagon Papers, US Attorney General & Department of Justice Collection, US Code, US Federal Legislative History Library, US Presidential Library, US Statutes at Large, US Supreme Court Library, US Treaties and Agreements Library.
  • U.S. intelligence on Europe, 1945-1995
    • This collection of over 4,000 formerly classified U.S. government documents provides a comprehensive survey of the U.S. intelligence community's activities in Europe, including Eastern Europe, Turkey and Cyprus, covering the time period from the end of World War II to the fall of the Iron Curtain and beyond.
  • Vogue Archive (1892 to present) - Please use the ProQuest Link
    • The Vogue Archive contains the backfile of Vogue magazine (US edition), spanning the first issue in 1892 to the current month, reproduced in high-resolution color page images.* Issues are scanned from cover to cover, with article/page feature pages, advertisements, covers and fold-outs included, with rich indexing enabling users to find images by garment type, designer and brand names. The Vogue Archive preserves the work of the world's greatest fashion designers, stylists and photographers and is a unique record of American and international fashion, culture and society from the dawn of the modern era to the present day.

  • Free online resource:
    • PlusD: Public Library of US diplomacy (by Wikileaks) New!
    • US Government Publishing Office's FDsys (Federal Digital System) Database (From 1994 onwards)
      • FDsys provides free online access to official US Federal Government publications such as public papers of the Presidents of the United States, Journal of the House of Representatives, various congressional documents (Hearings, Records, Reports) and many others.
    • CIA: CIA Records Search Tool
      • Since 2000, CIA has installed and maintained an electronic full-text searchable system named CREST (the CIA Records Search Tool), at NARA II in College Park, Maryland. The CREST system is the publicly accessible repository of the subset of CIA records reviewed under the 25-year program in electronic format (manually reviewed and released records are accessioned directly into the National Archives in their original format). Over 11 million pages have been released in electronic format and reside on the CREST database, from which researchers have printed about 1.1 million pages.






  • Archive Explorer (by Adam Matthew publisher)
    • Search across all the archives collections from the publisher Adam Matthew and subscribed by NUS Libraries.
    • Contains:
      • China: Culture and Society,
      • China: Trade, Politics and Culture (1793-1980),
      • Eighteenth Century Journals (1685-1835),
      • Empire Online,
      • Foreign Office Files for China (1949-1980),
      • Foreign Office Files India, Pakistan and Afghanistan (1947-1980),
      • India, Raj and Empire, Macmillan Cabinet Papers (1957-1963),
      • The Nixon Years (1969-1974).
    • For detailed description of each collection see above under Asia, UK and USA
  • Audio-visual materials
  • For newspapers : see separate tab.

Free online primary sources


Databases for Images

You may need to use images as both primary and secondary sources. To find out more about finding and using images, including information about copyright and creative commons, see the Finding and Using Images research guide. These are some recommended resources for images:

  • ArtStor
    • The Artstor Digital Libary has close to 2 million art, architecture, humanities, and science digital images. You can search and browse in Artstor for images from museums, libraries, archives, and estates.
  • East Asia Image Collection
    • The East Asia Image Collection (EAIC) is an open-access archive of digitized photographs, negatives, postcards, rare books and slides under the general editorship of Paul D. Barclay, Associate Professor of History, Lafayette College and the direction of Eric Luhrs, Director of Digital Scholarship Services, Lafayette College Library.  The EAIC documents the history of imperial Japan (1868-1945), its Asian empire (1895-1945) and occupied Japan (1947-52). Images of Taiwan 台湾, Japan 日本, China 中国, Korea 朝鮮, Manchuria 満洲国, and Indonesia are included. The Collection is built around a core of visual materials donated to Skillman Library Special Collections by the family of Gerald and Rella Warner. Images unique to this collection include the Warners' unpublished slides and negatives , made from snapshots taken during their years of US State Department service in Asia (1932-1952). Rare materials include prewar picture postcards, high-quality commercial prints, and colonial era picture books. Each record in the East Asia Image Collection has been assigned subject headings, hyper-linked metadata, and, to the fullest extent possible, historiographical, bibliographical and technical data.
  • David Rumsey Map Collection
    • The historical map collection has over 75,000 maps and images online. The collection includes rare 16th through 21st century maps of America, North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Pacific and the World. 
    • Popular collection categories are celestial, antique atlas, globe, school geography, maritime chart, state, county, city, pocket, wall & case, children's, and manuscript maps. Search examples: Pictorial maps, United States maps, Geology maps, California map, Afghanistan map, America map, New York City map, Chicago map, and U.S. Civil War maps. Browse  map categories: What, Where, Who, When. The collection is used to study history, art, genealogy, explorations, and family history.
  • George Eastman Collection
    • The photography collection at the George Eastman Museum, among the oldest and best in the world, comprises more than 400,000 photographic objects dating from the introduction of the medium in 1839 through to the present day. It encompasses works made in all major photographic processes, from daguerreotype to digital, includes work by more than eight thousand photographers, and continues to expand.
  • Oxford Art Online
    • Oxford Art Online is not an image database; it consists of Oxford's art reference materials as well as articles and bibliographies. However, all the images availabe in the Oxford art reference works are available through this database.
  • PJ Mode Collection
    • This is a collection of “persuasive” cartography: ​more than 800 ​ maps intended primarily to influence opinions or beliefs - to send a message - rather than to communicate geographic information. The collection reflects a variety of persuasive tools ​, including​ allegorical, satirical and pictorial mapping; selective inclusion; unusual use of projections, color, graphics and text; and intentional deception. Maps in the collection address a wide range of messages: religious, political, military, commercial, moral and social.
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
    • The Metropolitan Museum of Art has made 400,000 digital images in the public domain available and free to use. Images labeled with 'OASC' can be downloaded in high-res.
  • Rijksmuseum
    • The Rijksmuseum has put 150,000 images online, including those of european masterpieces. If you sign up for a free account and create your own 'Rijkstudio' you can download and use these images.
  • The British Museum Images
    • The British Museum Images collection provides images depicting world culture and history including ceramics, sculpture, prints, drawings, and paintings
  • World Digital Library
    • The World Digital Library provides free access to manuscripts, rare books, maps, photographs, and other important cultural documents from all countries and cultures, in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

Resource Librarian

Ming Guang Han's picture
Ming Guang Han
NUS Central Library
+65 6516 3127

Resource Librarian

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Yap Fuan Tim
NUS Central Library

+65 6516 2866

Subjects:Area Studies

Resource Librarian

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Winnifred Wong
NUS Central Library
+65 65162029