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World Civilization

Evaluating Websites

All of the websites listed on this page are reliable sources of information.  However, this list is not exhaustive, and you may find websites not listed on this page that you want to use for your research.  Keep in mind that it can be difficult to determine the credibility and accuracy of information on the web. When deciding whether or not to cite a website in your research paper, you will want to apply some of the same general rules that you would use when determining the credibility and appropriateness of any information source.  Here are some links to sources that discuss this topic in depth:

Primary Sources for World Civilization

Ancient Persian stonework of a colorful roaring lion, engraved in a stone wall.

The following websites are excellent resources on a variety of historical topics. Included in this list are sites that offer access to primary source materials, and also those that provide general summaries of historical periods and events. This list is not comprehensive, and you may find other websites that are useful. If you are uncertain about the reliability or appropriateness of a website, please refer to the Evaluating Websites section above.



Image credit: Roaring

About Primary Sources

Primary sources are at the heart of historical research. As a student of history, it is important to understand the role of primary sources in history as an academic discipline. You will likely be required to use primary sources in research at some point in your college career. The following are answers to common questions about primary sources:

Definition of a primary source 

According to Yale University's page on primary sources, a primary source is any first-hand documentation of a historical event. The term can be applied to many things, including personal journals, radio recordings, artwork, maps, and even clothing from the time period in question. (And this list just scratches the surface!) John and Abigail Adams' letters to one another, for example, are frequently used as primary sources in studies of Colonial America and the American Revolution.

Primary sources vs. secondary sources

While primary sources are first hand testimonies, secondary sources are interpretations of these testimonies. Scholarly publications are frequently used as secondary sources in historical research. John and Abigail Adams' letters are primary sources; Joseph J. Ellis's First Family, a nonfiction work about the Adams' political and family life based on their letters, is a secondary source. Think of primary sources as raw data; their significance is not always self-evident, and it is up to researchers to interpret their meaning responsibly.

Finding primary sources  

Traditionally, primary source materials have been housed in specialized libraries, museums, and archives. Web technology has enabled these institutions to digitize or transcribe their holdings and make them available online. The websites listed on this page represent a tiny fraction of institutions that have digitized their collections. Even if sources are not available in digital format, many institutions will mail photocopies of materials for a small fee. You may find primary sources from institutions not listed on this page that you want to use for your assignments. If you do, make sure the institution is a known and credible one; original documents should always be available to view in physical form at the housing institution.