Browse Primary Sources

Locate primary sources, including images, objects, media, and texts. Annotations by scholars contextualize sources.

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Excerpt from Travels in Africa

Imperialism is one of the most pertinent topics in relation to travel and exploration. By the end of the 19th century, the spread of European imperialism had made many areas of the world “safe” for women travelers. As a result the volume of women’s writing increased significantly, so there is a wide range of texts to choose from.

Drawing of two men working to create a large timeline

Salisbury Crags

Before about 1800, most people in the Christian world assumed that the earth was just a few thousand years old. But growing interest in fossils and strange geological formations made some people think the earth must actually be much older.

Geologic clock with events and time periods noting the formation of earth and development of life.

History of the Earth in a Cycle

Our sense of time has been extended into the deep past in the last two centuries or so, and particularly since the 1950s, when Willard Libby showed that you could use the breakdown of radioactive molecules such as Carbon-14 to date events thousands of years before there were any written documents.

Map of the world with colors indicating the level of judicial independence in each state's constitution.

Grid Map of Judicial Independence

Comparisons across world history can be productive if done with care. For example, the Constitute Project from the University of Texas-Austin has created a database of world constitutions that includes a feature for comparing various nations' constitutions to look for similarities and differences. The Constitute website lets users pin and export relevant passages for comparison.

Excerpt from the Asokavadana

The Asokavadana is a text written in Sanskrit that brings together oral traditions about Ashoka’s reign that did not die out when the Mauryan Empire collapsed, but spread throughout India
and beyond its borders. This section relates an incident from Ashoka’s life after he converted to Buddhism. Oral traditions about Ashoka grew up without reference to his actual edicts; people

Ashokan Pillar with a Single-Lion Capital at Vaishali, India

This is a photograph of one of the Ashokan pillars, topped with a single lion. (Other pillars are topped with three lions, an emblem that is now on the state seal of India and Indian coins,
or lions and the Buddhist wheel of law, an emblem reproduced on India’s flag.) Each of these pillars—more than thirty have been discovered—was transported hundreds of miles from

Selections from Ashoka, Rock and Pillar Edicts

The “rock and pillar edicts,” inscriptions that King Ashoka ordered carved in stone on large rocks in prominent places or on tall pillars that he had erected for this purpose, are the best record we have of Ashoka’s reign. The edicts are found in a number of different locations

From John Bartholomew, Literary and historical atlas of America

This unusual map appeared in a 1911 atlas of America by John George Bartholomew, a prestigious Scottish cartographer and geographer. In this map Bartholomew dramatized the provincialism of European cartography three centuries earlier. He did so by superimposing the Americas on a reconstruction of a 1474 map of Italian cartographer Paolo Toscanelli.

Cantino planisphere

The famous Cantino planisphere was made in 1502 by an anonymous Portuguese official at the request of Alberto Cantino, an Italian agent in Lisbon of Ercole d’Este, Duke of Ferrara. It is the earliest map showing the recent discoveries by the explorer Vasco da Gama, who, using a new portable version of astronomers’ astrolabe, charted Brazil, Newfoundland, Greenland, Africa, and India.

World map by Henricus Martellus

Henricus Martellus was a German geographer and cartographer who worked in the Italian city of Florence from 1480 to 1496. His book of 1490, Insularium Illustratum ("Illustrated Book of Islands"), in which this map appeared, was widely circulated for two reasons.

Close-up image of an early modern Ottoman sajjadah rug

Early Modern Ottoman Carpet at the Walters Art Museum

This carpet is a specific type of carpet woven in the Islamic world called a sajjadah or prayer rug. Typically, these carpets will have one or more arches decorating its center field representing early mosque architecture or the mihrab a niche in a wall that directs the worshipper towards the holy site of Mecca.

Close-up image of an early modern Ottoman sajjadah rug

Islamic Carpet made in Ottoman Turkey at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This carpet is a specific type of carpet woven in the Islamic world called a sajjadah or prayer rug. Typically, these carpets will have one or more arches decorating its center field representing early mosque architecture or the mihrab a niche in a wall that directs the worshipper towards the holy site of Mecca.

Image of a sixteenth-century Ottoman carpet showing a portion of the carpet's main design field that contains a triple arch design with slender double columns and a hanging lamp in the central archway

Islamic Carpet made in Safavid Iran

This carpet called the Qazvin Carpet (also known as the "Salting Carpet") was made in late-sixteenth century Safavid Iran likely in a royal atelier.

Close-up image of an early modern Islami Carpet

Islamic Carpets

These three carpets made in the period between the 16th and 18th centuries show two distinct types of carpets produced in the Islamic World for particular culture-specific uses.

Brooklyn's Panorama Competition

The Panorama is one of the biggest events for steel bands in Brooklyn. Originating in Trinidad, it is tied to the Carnival season and is best understood as a music competition embedded in a series of festive activities and performances.

Neolithic Bone Flutes

The use of musical instruments, such as clay flutes and bone whistles, has been traced back to the earliest documented historical period in China (Shang dynasty, 1765-1121 BCE).

Javanese Gamelan

Here, a Javanese gamelan (court orchestra) performs at a traditional wedding ceremony in Indonesia. A gamelan relies on intricate music played on expensive, exquisite bronze instruments to convey their community's values, ideals, and self-image. What the gamelan performs depends on context. In a private, intimate court setting, the gamelan displays the elegance and largesse of its patrons.

Shiva as the Lord of Dance

This manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva depicts the deity holding a small drum, which symbolizes the audible space that fills the universe, the sound of creative energy. Here, rhythm, drum, and music are manifestations of fundamental Hindu beliefs. At concerts of Indian music, audiences listen to drummers raptly and follow their complex rhythms in cycles.

Huun-Huur-Tu Throat Singers

Huun-Huur-Tu is a musical group from Tuva, which is situated along the Mongolia-Russia border, that is known for their traditional throat singing. Throat singing is when performers sing both a note and its overtones simultaneously, resulting in a rich and complex timbre, or the sound quality and texture of instruments and voices performing the music.

Javanese Shadow Puppets

Music and dramatized storytelling are the tools of memory in places like the Indonesian island of Java. Here, a traditional Wayang, or Javanese, performance depicts Hindu epics or popular cultural legends through the use of leather puppets whose shadow is cast upon a thin fabric. Traditionally, the performance is backed by a Gamelan orchestra and usually lasts all night.