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Special Collections and Archives

Tips and tools for researching primary sources in Special Collections and Archives and online

Link to Research Notebook

We've developed a form to walk you through the research process:

Primary Sources Online - Overview

Primary sources are available online in two different ways:

  • freely available on the Internet (examples: American Memory from the Library of Congress, or The David Rumsey Map Collection). It is important to carefully consider how you find and evaluate primary sources on the Internet.
  • available via library databases (example: Tribune Archives, Historical Sanborn Maps) that may be used from any computer with access to the campus network.. Off-campus access is limited to Cal Poly students, faculty, and staff.

Primary Sources - California - Selected


University of California’s free gateway to a world of primary sources that reveal the diverse history and culture of California and its role in national and world history. A variety of digitized primary sources are collected into sets that support the California Content Standards for use in K-12 classrooms. Themed collections are specifically designed to help educators quickly find primary sources for classroom use, based on time periods and themes.

Online Archive of California

Digital information resource that facilitates and provides access to primary source materials held in institutions across California.

California Digital Newspaper Collection

Freely accessible and searchable repository of digitized California newspapers from 1846 to the present.

Digital Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Digitized historic maps of US cities and towns. Cal Poly users have access to a subscription database of California Sanborn maps, which are frequently used for historical research and preservation and restoration efforts.

Social Explorer

Data-driven research by location (ethnicity, race, marital status, occupation, and more)

Primary Sources - San Luis Obispo County History

History Center of San Luis Obispo

Search across California Archives at the Online Archive of California

  • Tip: Try keyword searching by city, county, family name, organization name

National Register of Historic Places ( to find historical buildings around the county

Mission History: Early California Population Project (

Maps of Private Land Grant Cases of California, ca. 1840 – ca.1892


Adjudication of Private Land Claims in California, 1852-1892  

San Luis Obispo Historic Newspapers Online

San Luis Obispo Tribune archives (Cal Poly log-in required)

San Luis Obispo Tribune 1869-1925 (open access)

Primary Sources - US History - Selected

Primary source and archival materials covering topics such as art and architecture, performing arts, technology, and applied sciences.

DPLA connects people to the riches held within America’s libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions. All of the materials found through DPLA—photographs, books, maps, news footage, oral histories, personal letters, museum objects, artwork, government documents, and so much more—are free and immediately available in digital format.

Search and view newspapers from 1880-1922 and find information about American newspapers published from 1960 - present.

Search thousands of documents related to historical and current U.S. presidencies, such as speeches, official papers, executive orders, proclamations, news conferences, and press briefings. Contains all major publications of the U.S. Office of the President, including: Public Papers of the President, Inaugural Addresses, Executive Orders, Signing Statements, and other information such as radio addresses, party platforms, videos of debates, and popularity polling data. This project was developed by two political science professors at UCSB.
Digitized images including photographs, documents, newspaper pages, political cartoons, works of art, diaries, transcribed oral histories, advertising, and other unique cultural artifacts that reveal the diverse history and culture of California and its role in national and world history.


The Cornell University Library Making of America Collection is a digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology. This site provides access to 267 monograph volumes and over 100,000 journal articles with 19th century imprints. The project represents a major collaborative endeavor in preservation and electronic access to historical texts.


A thematically-related digital library documenting American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction located at the University of Michigan. (MOA) [19th century]. Access to 9,500 books and almost 2500 digitized issues of 12 journals published in the 19th century. The collection is particularly strong in the areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology. Making of America is a collaboration between the libraries of Cornell University and the University of Michigan to document American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction by drawing upon unique primary materials held at each institution. 

Free public access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly three million public-domain books.

A gateway to primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the United States. Includes a sampling of early American films, including works by the Edison Company, recordings of vaudeville and other popular entertainments, early animated films; recordings of early 20th Century presidents, and scenes of American work and leisure.