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What is a Primary Source?
Primary sources are firsthand accounts of history. Some examples of primary sources include:
- Government Documents
- Diaries and Journals
- Oral Histories
- Other Historical Records
Finding Primary Sources
Primary source materials in American history. Discover eyewitness accounts of historical events, vivid descriptions of daily life, editorial observations, commerce as seen through advertisements, and genealogical records through electronic versions of historical newspapers and books.
American Antiquarian Society Historial Periodicals Collection, 1691 - 1877 ( all parts )
The American Antiquarian Society (AAS), the premier library documenting the life of America's people from the Colonial Era through the Civil War and Reconstruction. Digitized images of American magazines and journals from 7,600+ periodicals with 7 million images.
American Memory Project
American Memory provides free and open access to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience. It is a digital record of American history and creativity. These materials, from the collections of the Library of Congress and other institutions, chronicle historical events, people, places, and ideas that continue to shape America, serving the public as a resource for education and lifelong learning.
American State Papers ( 1789 - 1838 )
The American State Papers contain the legislative and executive documents of Congress during the period 1789 to 1838. The collection includes documents that cover the critical historical gap from 1789 to the printing of the first volume of the U.S. Serial Set in 1817.
Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy (ancient through 21st century).
Born in Slavery
Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves.
Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation consists of a linked set of published congressional records of the United States of America from the Continental Congress through the 43rd Congress, 1774-1875. It includes materials related to the proceedings of the Continental Congress, the federal and state conventions related to the framing and adoption of the Constitution, and the proceedings of the House of Representatives and the Senate. It also includes the Statutes at Large for 1789 to 1875; the American State Papers for 1789 to 1838; and congressional bills and resolutions for selected sessions beginning with the 6th Congress (1799) in the House of Representatives and the 16th Congress (1819) in the Senate.
Civil War Newspapers
Contains major articles gleaned from over 2,500 issues of The New York Herald, The Charleston Mercury and the Richmond Enquirer, published between November 1, 1860 and April 15, 1865.
Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)
Contains links to a wide range of multimedia objects form libraries, archives and museums around the United States (so not international).
The copyright status of items vary because it is collected from many sources. However, many items are public domain or available for re-use, and there is information in a "rights" field for each item.
Documenting the American South
A publishing initiative that provides access to texts, images, and audio files related to southern history, literature, and culture.
Early American Imprints, Series I : Evans, 1639 - 1800
Full text of books, pamphlets, broadsides and other imprints. With subjects ranging from captivity narratives to playbills to atlases to sermons to juvenile literature, this collection provides information about all aspects of American life and culture in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Correspondence and other writings of six major shapers of the United States: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams (and family), Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Over 178,000 searchable documents, fully annotated, from the authoritative Founding Fathers Papers projects.
Historic Government Publications from World War II
Contains 343 Informational pamphlets, government reports, instructions, regulations, declarations, speeches, and propaganda materials distributed by the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) during the Second World War. Digital Collection from Southern Methodist University.
Lancaster County Digitization Project
Digital collections relating to the Lancaster region from local colleges and universities, libraries, and historical societies.
Salem Witch Trials
Documentary archive and transcription project, hosted by University of Virginia.
Slavery & Abolition in the US: Selected Publications from the 1800s
A digital collection of books and pamphlets that demonstrate the varying ideas and beliefs about slavery in the United States as expressed by Americans throughout the nineteenth century, created by Dickinson College and Millersville University. Funded through LSTA grants.
Teaching with Documents (National Archives)
Teaching with primary documents encourages a varied learning environment for teachers and students alike. Lectures, demonstrations, analysis of documents, independent research, and group work become a gateway for research with historical records in ways that sharpen students' skills and enthusiasm for history, social studies, and the humanities.
Transatlantic Slave Trade Database
Information on more than 35,000 slave voyages
that forcibly embarked over 12 million Africans for transport to the Americas between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.
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