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RUSA Guide to Using Primary Sources
Follow this link to a thorough guide - with good links - to intelligent searching for and use of primary sources. It was produced by the Reference and User Services section of the American Library Association.
Tips for Searching
A few tips:
- Use the same "marker" words you would while using the catalog (e.g., "diaries," "letters OR correspondence")
- Limit your search to sites affiliated with educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and governmental organizations
- add "site:.edu (or, .org, .gov, etc.)" to your Google searches to restrict the domain
- use a clustering search engine like Yippy, and examine the cluster by domain
- Try looking for local historical societies close to your subject's place (e.g. "johnson county historical society" AND "civil war")
Primary Source Repositories Online
There are many good collections of primary source material available online. Try some of those listed below, but remember that there are always more for you to find.
American Memory - Library of Congress
American Memory provides free and open access through the Internet 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.
Library of Congress Databases
While not all of these resources are available to the hoi-polloi, there are several very rich search possibilities. You can browse for databases here by subject or title.
Of all documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the United States Federal government, only 1%-3% are so important for legal or historical reasons that they are kept forever. Those valuable records are preserved in the National Archives and are available to you, whether you want to see if they contain clues about your family's history, need to prove a veteran's military service, or are researching an historical topic that interests you.
Catalog of U.S. Government Publications
The CGP is the finding tool for federal publications that includes descriptive records for historical and current publications and provides direct links to those that are available online. Users can search by authoring agency, title, subject, and general key word, or click on "Advanced Search" for more options.
A substantial portion of our cultural heritage from the 20th century is recorded in enormous collections of spoken-word materials. Yet much of it may be lost or remain hidden away in archives and private collections, making the voices inaccessible to students, teachers, scholars, and the general public. The purpose of Historical Voices is to create a significant, fully searchable online database of spoken word collections spanning the 20th century - the first large-scale repository of its kind.
Historical Text Archive
Originally grown and nurtured by Donald Mabry, professor at Mississippi state University, this growing collection of primary source material, ongoing discussions, and useful links now has its own domain.
Designed for high school and college teachers and students of U.S. history survey courses, this site serves as a gateway to web resources and offers unique teaching materials, first-person primary documents, and guides to analyzing historical evidence.
Making of America
MoA, brought to you by - woot! - the University of Michigan, is 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.
The Avalon Project, from Yale University, presents digital documents relevant to the fields of Law, History, Economics, Politics, Diplomacy and Government.
According to them:
"The Avalon Project will no doubt contain controversial documents. Their inclusion does not indicate endorsement of their contents nor sympathy with the ideology, doctrines, or means employed by their authors. They are included for the sake of completeness and balance and because in many cases they are by our definition a supporting document."
Documenting the American South
Documenting the American South (DocSouth) is a digital publishing initiative that provides Internet access to texts, images, and audio files related to southern history, literature, and culture. Currently DocSouth includes sixteen thematic collections of books, diaries, posters, artifacts, letters, oral history interviews, and songs.
The University Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sponsors Documenting the American South, and the texts and materials come primarily from its southern holdings. The UNC University Library is committed to the long-term availability of these collections and their online records. An editorial board guides development of this digital library.
Calisphere is the University of California's free public gateway to a world of primary sources. More than 200,000 digitized items — including photographs, documents, newspaper pages, political cartoons, works of art, diaries, transcribed oral histories, advertising, and other unique cultural artifacts — reveal the diverse history and culture of California and its role in national and world history.
The mission of The Constitutional Sources Project is to increase understanding, facilitate research, and encourage discussion of the U.S. Constitution by connecting individuals — including students, teachers, lawyers and judges — with the documentary history of its creation, ratification, and amendment.
A wiki-style compendium of primary source materials for Western European history.
Internet History Sourcebooks
The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted historical texts presented cleanly (without advertising or excessive layout) for educational use.
Google: Primary Source Search Engine
Try this instead of plain old Google to do a focused search in selected educational and non-profit domains.