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Rare Books and Special Collections Instructional Support Guide

UBC Special Collections Databases: Humanities

In addition to the digital primary sources and special collections available through Open Collections, UBC Library also subscribes to a number of databases featuring digital collections of primary sources and special collections. You can browse these subscription collections, as well as some free, open source collections at the Primary Sources Research Guide.

Below is a sample of UBC subscription databases featuring digital collections of primary sources and special collections, but be sure to visit the Primary Sources Research Guide or the relevant Library Research Guide to find more digital primary sources related to your area of interest.


  • Digital National Security Archive - Collection of significant primary documents central to U.S. foreign and military policy since 1945.
  • Early American Imprints 1639-1800 - Regarded as the definitive resource for researching every aspect of 17th- and 18th-century America.
  • Early American Imprints 1801-1819 - Covers every aspect of American life during the early decades of the United States.
  • Early Encounters in North America - Documents the relationships among peoples in North America from 1534 to 1850. The collection focuses on personal accounts from traders, slaves, missionaries, explorers, soldiers, native peoples, and officials, both men and women.
  • Oral History Online - Important oral histories available either on the Web or hidden away in archives, in English. Though there is content from around the world, e.g., South Africa, Cuba, the majority of coverage is from the USA. Includes an impressive collection of oral histories from immigrants at Ellis Island, interviews with Pennsylvania miners and Black Panther Party narratives.
  • Sabin Americana - Based on Joseph Sabin's landmark bibliography, this collection contains works about the Americas published throughout the world from 1500 to the early 1900's. Included are books, pamphlets, serials and other documents that provide original accounts of exploration, trade, colonialism, slavery and abolition, the western movement, First Nations, military actions and much more.
  • The Sixties - A collection of diaries, letters, autobiographies and other memoirs, written and oral histories, manifestos, government documents covering the history, culture and politics of the decade.
  • U.S. Serial Set - A collection of U.S. government publications compiled under the direction of Congress, capturing every aspect of American life from the early 19th century onward.
  • European Views of the Americas - This is a bibliography which lists printed records about the Americas written in Europe before 1750. A wide range of subject areas are covered; from natural disasters to disease outbreaks and slavery.
  • Early English Books Online - Digital facsimile page images in their original printed editions of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1700.
  • Eighteenth Century Collections Online - Every significant English-language and foreign-language title printed in Great Britain during the eighteenth century, along with thousands of important works from the Americas.
  • Eighteenth Century Journals 1685-1815 - Rare journals printed between c1685 and 1815, illuminating all aspects of eighteenth-century social, political and literary life.
  • House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (U.K.) 1715-present - Detailed primary source for the past two centuries, for Britain, its colonies and the wider world. They are the working documents of government for all areas.
  • Medieval Travel Writings - Extensive collection of manuscript materials for the study of medieval travel writing in fact and in fantasy. The main focus is accounts of journeys to the Holy Land, India and China from the 13th - 16th centuries.
  • Nineteenth Century Index - A comprehensive source for discovering nineteenth-century books, periodicals, official documents, newspapers and archives.
  • China: Trade, Politics, and Culture 1793-1980 - Wide variety of original source material detailing China's interaction with the West from Macarthey's first Embassy to China in 1793, through to the Nixon/Heath visits to China in 1972-74.
  • India, Raj and Empire - Manuscripts related to the history of South Asia between the foundation of the East India Company in 1615 and the granting of independence to India and Pakistan in 1947.
  • Times of India - Full text access to the English daily newspaper founded in 1838 to serve British residents of West India. Today this historical newspaper serves researchers interested in studying colonialism and post-colonialism, British and world history, class and gender issues, international relations, comparative religion, international economics, terrorism, and more.
  • British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries - Contains personal writings of women from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, spanning more than 400 years from 1500 to World War II.
  • Everyday Life & Women in America, 1800-1920 - Collections addressing 19th and early 20th century political, social and gender issues, religion, race, education, employment, marriage, sexuality, home and family life, health, and pastimes.
  • North American Women's Letters and Diaries - Letters and diaries from Colonial times to 1950. The largest electronic collection of women's diaries and correspondence ever assembled.
  • Women and Social Movements in the United States - 1600 to 2000 Includes tens of thousands of primary documents providing perspectives on women's social movements and reform organizations from colonial times to the present.
  • North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories - Composed of contemporaneous letters and diaries, oral histories, interviews, and other personal narratives, provides a unique and personal view of what it meant to immigrate to America and Canada between 1800 and 1950.
  • Empire Online - Primary documents relating to colonial history, politics, culture and society. Sources span five centuries: from a translation of Columbus's 1492 voyage to 21st Century works on imperialism. Full list of topics.
  • Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice, 1490-2007 - Portal for slavery and abolition studies, bringing together documents and collections from libraries and archives across the Atlantic world.

UBC Special Collections Databases: Social Sciences

  • Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War - From the Canadian War Museum, this online database contains "more than 144,000 newspaper articles, manually clipped, stamped with the date, and arranged by subject, (and) includes news stories and editorials from newspapers, mostly Canadian, documenting every aspect of the war." Content chiefly comes from the ''Hamilton Spectator'' but also includes clips from the ''Globe & Mail'', ''Toronto Daily Star'', ''Toronto Telegram'', and some international papers such as the ''New York Times'' and the ''Times (London)''. Note, the collection is almost exclusively limited to English language content.
  • Early Canadiana Online - This online collection contains the full-text of books and pamphlets published in Canada before 1920, and government publications to 1900. The government content continues ''CIHM'', the 'Early Canadiana research collection' located in microfiche at Koerner Library, floor 2. Other thematic sub-collections cover topics including Women's history, English-Canadian literature, History of French Canada, History of the Hudson's Bay company, and Native studies along with Colonial government journals and the 'Jesuit relations'.
  • Early Encounters in North America - Documents the relationships among peoples in North America from 1534 to 1850. The collection focuses on personal accounts from traders, slaves, missionaries, explorers, soldiers, native peoples, and officials, both men and women.
  • Globe and Mail: Canada's Heritage from 1844 - Electronic, full-page scans of all the editions and versions of The Globe from June 1844 to The Globe and Mail until December 2005....Coverage includes all the stories, plus thousands of images, advertisements, classifieds, political cartoons, births and deaths from more than 1.4 million pages of Canada's national newspaper, dating back to the pre-confederation era.
  • Library and Archives Canada - Website for Library and Archives Canada. Contains online exhibits on topics relevant to various aspects of Canadian history, culture and society.
  • Official Report of Debates, House of Common - These are the transcripts of debates in the House of Commons in Canada. Older content available in print at UBC Library.
  • Colonial Despatches - This digital archive contains the original correspondence between the British Colonial Office and the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. This project aims to digitize and publish online a complete archive of the correspondence covering the period from 1846 leading to the founding of Vancouver Island in 1849, the founding of British Columbia in 1858, the annexation of Vancouver Island by British Columbia in 1866, and up to the incorporation of B.C. into the Canadian Federation in 1871.
  • Debates of the Legislative Assembly (Hansard, British Columbia) - Transcripts of debates in the legislature of British Columbia from 1972 to present. Also available in print at UBC Library.
  • Major Matthews' Early Vancouver - Compiled between 1931 and 1956, and totalling seven volumes...''Early Vancouver'' is" a unique information source which chronicles "the very early beginnings of Vancouver and the stories of its residents." The original books were written by the first City Archivist for Vancouver after conducting personal interviews with "everyone he could find who had lived in Vancouver before 1886, the year the City was incorporated and the year it burned in the Great Fire.
  • Defining Gender - 1450-1910 - Collection of original rare primary documents relating to Gender Studies, sourced from libraries and archives around the world. List of topics.
  • LGBTQ History and Culture since 1940 (Part II) - Rare and unique documentation of LGBTQ history through fully-searchable newsletters, government documents, manuscripts, pamphlets, and other primary sources.
  • Independent Voices - These periodicals were produced by feminists, dissident GIs, campus radicals, Native Americans, anti-war activists, Black Power advocates, Hispanics, LGBT activists, the extreme right-wing press and alternative literary magazines during the latter half of the 20th century.
  • B.C. Gay and Lesbian Archives - The B .C. Gay and Lesbian Archives was founded in 1976 with the task of collecting, preserving and making accessible research materials about the lives of British Columbia gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and intersexual persons.
  • Gay and Lesbian Emergence: Out in Canada - A video collection from the early 1960s, 70s, and 80s from the CBC outlining the struggle for homosexual equality under the law.
  • Transgender Archives at University of Victoria - The University of Victoria has committed itself to the preservation of the history of pioneering activists, community leaders, and researchers who have contributed to the betterment of transgender people. The UVic Archives have been actively acquiring documents, rare publications, and memorabilia of persons and organizations associated with transgender activism since 2007.
  • Mass Observation Online - Sexual Behavior 1939-1950 - Mass Observation was a pioneering social research organization whose papers provide insights into the cultural and social history of Britain from 1937 to 1965. The material in the Mass Observation Archive, and now on Mass Observation Online, offers an unparalleled insight into everyday life in the 1930s and 1940s.
  • Queer Zine Archive Project - "The mission of the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) is to establish a "living history" archive of past and present queer zines and to encourage current and emerging zine publishers to continue to create. In curating such a unique aspect of culture, we value a collectivist approach that respects the diversity of experiences that fall under the heading "queer."
  • ACTUP Oral History Project - A collection of interviews with surviving members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power formed in 1987 in New York.
  • Gay Peoples Union Collection - The Gay Peoples Union Collection presents digital copies of primary source materials documenting the Gay Peoples Union, the most important gay and lesbian rights organization in Milwaukee during the 1970s.