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History, United States

The goal of this guide is to highlight some key resources for researchers interested in the history of the United States of America from prehistoric times to today.

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

For certain assignments you might be asked to use primary sources. Primary sources are works created at the time of an event, or by a person who directly experienced an event.

It is the content that matters and an on-line source can still be a primary source. For example, an online copy of a newspaper from May 8, 1945, is still a primary source even though the original article has been digitized.

Primary sources can include:

  • Interviews, diaries, letters, journals, speeches, autobiographies, and witness statements
  • Original hand-written manuscripts
  • Government documents and public records
  • Art, photographs, films, maps, fiction, and music
  • Newspaper and magazine clippings
  • Artifacts, buildings, furniture, and clothing

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are works that are written after the original event or experience; they provide criticism or interpretation of the event or experience.

Some examples of secondary sources are:

  • Textbooks
  • Biographies
  • Historical films, music, and art
  • Articles about people and events from the past

Primary vs Secondary Video

Check out University of Victoria’s Library video on Primary vs. Secondary sources. (Closed Captioned)

Finding Primary Sources

To find primary sources in the RULA catalogue

Use keywords for your topic or historic person along with one of the following words:

  • archives
  • charters
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • documents
  • interviews
  • letters
  • manuscripts
  • notebooks
  • oratory
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • pictorial works
  • sources [this term is often used for collections of primary sources]
  • speeches


Additional, Free Sources of American Primary Sources

African-American Odyssey (Library of Congress; American Memory)

American Memory (Library of Congress)

American Presidency Project (John Woolley and Gerhard Peters at USCB)

Congressional Hearings, 85th Congress 1957/58 to Current (US Government Publishing Office)

Congressional Record v23 (1892)-v144 (1998) now available in digital format

Digital Collections (Library of Congress)

Digital Newberry (Newberry Library, Chicago)

DPLA Digital Publicl Library of America (portal)

AMDOCS: Documents for the Study of American History (University of Kansas)

Documenting the American South (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project (George Washington University)

FREE: Federal Resources for Educational Excellence  [THIS MAY NO LONGER WORK]

Foreign Relations of the United States (U.S. Dept. of State. Office of the Historian)

Lesbian Herstory Archives (Brookly, NY); Herstories Audio/Visual Collections

National Archives (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

National Museum of American History (Smithsonian)

National Park Service (U.S. governmental organization)

The National Security Archive (George Washington University) - non-governmental library and archive of declassified U.S. documents

Presidential Libraries and Museums (portal by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Primary Documents in American History (Library of Congress)

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Library of Congress)


United States House of Representatives -- History, Art & Archives (includes oral history)

United States Senate -- Art & History (includes an oral history project)

The Vietnam Center and Archive (Texas Tech University)

100 Milestone Documents

Digital Collections Purchased or Leased by Ryerson that Include Primary Sources

A Sampling of Books on the Use of Primary and Secondary Sources