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Primary Sources: America (U.S.A.): General Online
primary sources related to Colonial America and the United States of America
A site designed by the Library of Congress, the center was "created in 1976 by the U.S. Congress to "preserve and present" this great heritage of American folklife through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, publication, and training." Folklife reflects the culturally richness of the ordinary American through everyday life. It covers things from songs and stories to crafts. The Center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, established in the Library of Congress in 1928, which is "one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world." The website provides an introduction to the American Folklife Center and its Archive of Folk Culture and provides information on programs, activities, online presentations, and the variety of other resources available for folklife research.
"This collection of life histories consists of approximately 2,900 documents, compiled and transcribed by more than 300 writers from 24 states, working on the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program that was part of the U.S. Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA) from 1936 to 1940. Typically 2,000-15,000 words in length, the documents vary in form from narratives to dialogues to reports to case histories. They chronicle vivid life stories of Americans who lived at the turn of the century and include tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys out West, grueling factory work, and the immigrant experience. Writers hired by this Depression-era work project included Ralph Ellison, Nelson Algren, May Swenson, and many others. The documents often describe the informant’s physical appearance, family, education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores. Pseudonyms are often substituted for individuals and places named in the narrative texts. The life histories comprise a small part of the larger Manuscript Division collection titled United States Work Projects Administration Records."
"Comprises 253 published narratives by Americans and foreign visitors recounting their travels in the colonies and the United States and their observations and opinions about American peoples, places, and society from about 1750 to 1920. Also included is the thirty-two-volume set of manuscript sources entitled Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, published between 1904 and 1907 after diligent compilation by the distinguished historian and secretary of the Wisconsin Historical Society Reuben Gold Thwaites. Although many of the authors represented in American Notes are not widely known, the collection includes works by major figures such as Matthew Arnold, Fredrika Bremer, William Cullen Bryant, François-René de Chateaubriand, William Cobbett, James Fenimore Cooper, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Sir Charles Lyell, William Lyon Mackenzie, André Michaux, Thomas Nuttall, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The narratives in American Notes therefore range from the unjustly neglected to the justly famous, and from classics of the genre to undiscovered gems. Together, they build a mosaic portrait of a young nation."
"The collection contains, among other materials, posters, playbills, songsheets, notices, invitations, proclamations, petitions, timetables, leaflets, propaganda, manifestos, ballots, tickets, menus, and business cards. There are more than 28,000 items in the collection with 10,172 available online. The material dates from the seventeenth century to the present day and covers innumerable topics."
"... online display approximately ninety representative documents spanning from the fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Included are the papers of presidents, cabinet ministers, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, military officers and diplomats, reformers and political activists, artists and writers, scientists and inventors, and other prominent Americans whose lives reflect our country's evolution. "
A documentary source for 18th and early 19th Century America. Includes an online journal, the Early America Review. Interesting sections of the site include the Famous Obits and Portraits sections, as well as the short films of noteworthy events in American History. The site can be searched or browsed. Note: There is a great deal of advertising to aid in paying for the site which can be somewhat distracting, but if users can get past it they may be able to find useful information.
An online exhibit providing access to a variety of primary source materials related to the changing American culture in the early 1900s. The site was created by The Ohio State University Harvey Goldberg Center for Excellence in Teaching in the Department of History.
Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society contains a variety of letters, diaries and other papers relating to early America and the Revolution; mainly focused on New England colonies, but other colonies are also mentioned.
A website from the University of Houston designed to aid in the teaching of American history in K-12 schools and in colleges. The site includes a history textbook, access to primary source materials, as well as essays and a variety of reference resources. It includes a "Ask the Hyperhistorian" feature which allows users to ask questions of a professional historian.
A website from the University Library at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. This digital project "provides access to digitized primary materials that offer Southern perspectives on American history and culture." Indexes are provided by author, title, subjects, or geographic area. Users may also browse or search collections. Collections include : "First-Person Narratives of the American South" , "Library of Southern Literature" , "North American Slave Narratives" , "The Southern Homefront, 1861-1865" , "The Church in the Southern Black Community" , "The North Carolina Experience, Beginnings to 1940" , and "North Carolinians and the Great War" . The site provides information on citing the documents and lesson plans and activities for classroom use.
a collection of electronic texts and links to texts originally written in or about the Americas from 1492 to approximately 1820. Open to the public for research and teaching purposes, EADA is published and supported by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) under the general editorship of Professor Ralph Bauer, at the University of Maryland at College Park. Description from site
Register for free basic access to historic documents. Some documents require a premium access membership. Free items include U.S. Milestone Documents, UFO reports, papers of the Continental Congress, etc.
"American Journeys contains more than 18,000 pages of eyewitness accounts of North American exploration, from the sagas of Vikings in Canada in AD1000 to the diaries of mountain men in the Rockies 800 years later.
Read the words of explorers, Indians, missionaries, traders and settlers as they lived through the founding moments of American history. View, search, print, or download more than 150 rare books, original manuscripts, and classic travel narratives from the library and archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society."
This website explores different aspects of U.S. History from approximately 1857-1912. It includes political cartoons, lesson plans, excerpts from Harper's Weekly, biographies, bibliographies, reference lists, and more. [For access to the Harper's Weekly subscription database go to the A-Z list of databases.]
"HERB's classroom-ready primary documents and teaching activities engage students with deep historical questions and are designed to support learning at every level. Grounded in decades of work with history teachers in real classrooms, HERB reflects ASHP/CML’s mission of making the past, and the working people and ordinary Americans who shaped it, vivid and meaningful. "
"...is an independently administered and funded center for advanced research in history and the humanities, founded in 1846 and located at Brown University since 1901. Housed within the library's walls is an internationally renowned collection of primary historical sources pertaining to North and South America from the time of its discovery by Europeans (ca. 1492) until the end of the colonial period (ca. 1825)."
Many of these items can be accessed digitally through this collection housed on the Internet Archives.
The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It is also the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections.
From the Library of Congress website
Digital collections available from the Library of Congress that highlight a vast number of resources on various subjects that have been digitized. It is only a small portion of what the LOC has available.
Provides a variety of resources for teachers including: ready-to-use materials that bring the Library’s primary sources into the classroom; a professional development curriculum; presentations; lesson plans; etc.
"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. The collection currently contains approximately 10,000 books and 50,000 journal articles with 19th century imprints."
"This feature contains primary documents in text, image, and audio about the experiences of ordinary Americans throughout U.S. history. All of the documents have been screened by professional historians and are accompanied by annotations that address their larger historical significance and context."
"... holds the largest maritime history collection in the Western Hemisphere." The collection includes over 1,750,000 items ranging from books and magazines, to rare materials, vessel plans, and photographs. The website provides access to the Library's online catalog and finding aids. An image database is also available for searching.
Designed to provide access to some of the information in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. The system gives online access to nearly 50 million historic electronic records from over 20 federal agencies. It is recommended that first time users consult the Getting Started page.
An independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University, the Archive collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The Archive also serves as a repository of government records on a wide range of topics pertaining to the national security, foreign, intelligence, and economic policies of the United States. Some of these items are accessible online for free.
Access a collection of articles on a variety of topics from old magazines. A site that is privately owned and operated by an "old magazine enthusiast."
"All articles are free to read on line, however should you wish to have a version that can be printed, this can be done for the cost of $5.00. Click here to have an article emailed or faxed to you."
Established in August 2004 by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Center conducts its work through six projects: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Stateline.org, Pew Internet & American Life Project, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Pew Hispanic Center, and the Pew Global Attitudes Project. The Center is a non-partisan organization that produces independent research on important issues and trends. Topics include politics, religion, immigration, demography, etc.
"... is a non-governmental Internet-based project that provides reference materials, primary documents, comparative studies and statistical data for countries in the Western Hemisphere." Users can choose to access the database in English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese. Search the database by keyword or select a country to see the available information. Information can also be accessed by topics. Note: Some of the information is provided in the language of the country.
"Smithsonian's History Explorer was developed by the National Museum of American History in partnership with the Verizon Foundation to offer hundreds of free, innovative online resources for teaching and learning American history."
"The Smoking Gun brings you exclusive documents--cool, confidential, quirky--that can't be found elsewhere on the Web. Using material obtained from government and law enforcement sources, via Freedom of Information requests, and from court files nationwide, we guarantee everything here is 100% authentic." The site is owned by Court TV. A search feature is provided. Many items focus on celebrities, but other information is also available.
"The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent Federal agency that preserves our nation's history and defines us as a people by overseeing the management of all Federal records." The website provides information and access to a variety of public documents and other resources available from NARA. Some are accessible in digital formats through the website. Users can search the site by keyword, use the site index, or navigate through the various sections to find what is available.
"... is a resource for scholars, researchers, and journalists that provides links or reproductions of both recent and long-buried journalistic investigations in all media, going back nearly two hundred years." NYU