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Primary Sources for American History  

Last Updated: Oct 11, 2014 URL: Print Guide

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About this Guide

This guide provides links to important, substantial, and freely available collections of primary sources dealing with American history. Each source has been chosen, evaluated, and annotated by members of RUSA's History Section. Links are organized chronologically:

  • Colonial - from the first settlements of what would become the United States to the Revolution
  • Revolution to Antebellum - from the Revolution through the 1850s, includes coverage of slavery & abolition
  • Civil War - primary source collections dealing with the war
  • Reconstruction to WWI - the post-Civil War era to World War I
  • WWI to WWII - from World War I through the Great Depression
  • World War II - primary source collections dealing with World War II, with focus on the American experience
  • Post World War II - from the postwar years though the early 21st century, includes coverage of civil rights & the Vietnam War

Major Collections of Primary Sources

These collections bring together millions of items ranging from manuscript material to photographs, from books to film. The collections are strongest in pre-1925 material due to copyright considerations.

  • American Memory
    Historic photographs, presidential papers and more from the Library of Congress
  • Digital Public Library of America
    A portal that brings together millions of digitized sources from "America’s libraries, archives, and museums,"
  • NYPL Digital Library
    More than 800,000 historic photographs, posters, maps and other images from the collections of New York Public Library

Other Directories to Primary Sources

    Reviews of American history-related websites by the National History Education Clearinghouse.
  • History Matters
    An "annotated guide to the most useful websites for teaching U.S. history and social studies." Latest updates appear to be from 2009.

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