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Primary Sources for American History

This guide offers resources for finding primary source material in the area of American history.

About Primary Sources

What are primary sources?

According to the American Library Association:

"Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research."

Learn more about primary sources at these helpful links:

Using Primary Sources (Library of Congress)

Types and Formats of Primary Sources? (Yale University)

Guides to Libraries & Archives Worldwide (Princeton University)

Resources Spotlight!


Navigating the National Archives' Catalog

Did you know the National Archives Catalog contains over 140 million pages of digitized historical records and more than 27 million descriptions of the records in our holdings? And new pages and descriptions are being added to the Catalog each week!  Learn more here!

Chronicling America: History's First Draft

Created through a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of CongressChronicling America offers visitors the ability to search and view newspaper pages from 1690-1963 and to find information about American newspapers published between 1690–present using the National Digital Newspaper Program

Using Digital Public Library of America Primary Source Sets

Interested in using DPLA and the Primary Source Sets for education, but not sure where to start? Use this guide to learn about the project and strategies for classroom implementation.

Visualizing Injustice: Early NAACP Cartographers and Racial Inequality in America

An important moment in the use of the medium for this purpose, and in the history of cartography, came from a small group of Black intellectuals, who began to use spatially relevant demographic data to create maps, in order to visualize both the contributions of former slaves and African Americans to American culture, and also to highlight the persistence of racial injustice in the decades after emancipation.

Films about History & Documentary Film

The CSI Library now has access to Academic Video Online (AVONone of the most comprehensive video streaming databases available, including an Historical Events channel.

Learn more here