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HIST 101: Historical Writing

Some Remarkable Web Resources

You can find an ever-growing number of collections of primary sources on the web.  Below are just a few examples of what's available. You need to be very careful when you use primary sources you found on the open web.  Be sure to evaluate the site to see if it's reliable. Guidance in searching the web for primary sources is in the box below this one.

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1938

"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.  These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project (FWP) of the Works Progress Administration, later renamed Work Projects Administration (WPA).  At the conclusion of the Slave Narrative project, a set of edited transcripts was assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. In 2000-2001, with major support from the Citigroup Foundation, the Library digitized the narratives from the microfilm edition and scanned from the originals 500 photographs, including more than 200 that had never been microfilmed or made publicly available.  This online collection is a joint presentation of the Manuscript and Prints and Photographs divisions of the Library of Congress." (from ABOUT)


The Cold War International History Project

The Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) was established at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., in 1991 in support of the full and prompt release of historical materials by governments on all sides of the Cold War. It includes an unprecedented collection of documents accessible through the Wilson Center's Digital Archive.

DENSHO:   the Japanese American Legacy Project
This site preserves the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II.

This archive contains 110,903 documents related to the study of the Presidency.
"The Hathi Trust provides long-term preservation and access services for public domain and in copyright content from a variety of sources, including Google, the Internet Archive, Microsoft, and in-house partner institution initiatives."
"Gateway to California’s remarkable digital collections. Calisphere provides free access to unique and historically important artifacts for research, teaching, and curious exploration. Discover over 650,000 photographs, documents, letters, artwork, diaries, oral histories, films, advertisements, musical recordings, and more."

Finding Amazing Archives of Primary Sources

Start your search for buried digitized treasure (print, video, audio, etc.) on the internet at the Digital Public Library of America, a truly noble effort to "Make millions of materials from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions across the country available to all in a one-stop discovery experience."


In reading the fine print and the footnotes and references in your secondary sources, you may get names of organizations and resources that are housing primary sources. These kinds of resources are constantly being digitized and made available over the internet. So, you can use Google to see what is available from any particular group.

Another great way to identify digitized primary sources with a particular geographic focus is to the visit the website of the main public library in that area. Local university libraries will also often have research guides that will identify what can end up being real treasure troves of digitized information.


TIPS for efficiently searching Google:

You can find primary sources through a Google search attaching words or phrases ("primary sources" or documents to a search:

navajo code talkers "primary sources"

navajo code talkers documents


The various museums and collections that comprise the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, and the Library of Congress have created some marvelous internet tools, exhibitions, collections and databases. A quick way to "get in" is to construct complex Boolean search statements to use in a Google search following these three patterns:

word (or phrase enclosed in " ")

word (or phrase enclosed in " ")

word (or phrase enclosed in " ")

For example, if I wanted to see what was available about the Navajo code talkers during World War II, remembering that "less is often better searching", I would do these three separate searches in Google:

"code talkers"

"code talkers"

"code talkers"

and I would find some incredible primary resources!


SPECIAL NOTE: If your research has a California focus, you have a truly unique resource available to you in the Online Archive of California which includes primary source collections from over 200 institutions, libraries, archives, historical societies, museums, including the Bancroft Library at Berkeley. It's growing all the time, too!