Primary Sources for American History – The Full Guide

Primary Sources

Below is a list of great websites for finding historical primary sources, ranging from the Constitution to the Civil War and even WWII.  You will be able to find transcripts, text documents, photos, and other important pieces of history to use in your research papers and assignments. Don’t forget to bookmark this page for easy access!

 

Archives.gov

This resource allows you to browse all primary sources available from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, with topics including America’s founding documents, science and technology, and military records. This is one of the most comprehensive places to find primary sources on for America’s history on the web. Here are some examples of what you will find there:

 

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

This resource provides an enormous collection of American historical documents ranging from letters, diaries, maps, newspapers, and photos.  The sources found here range from the very beginning of American history, the landing of columbus, to Barack Obama’s first inaugural address. Some examples of what you’ll find include:

 

OurDocuments.gov

This resource provides a long list of primary sources that chronicles American history from 1776 to 1965. The documents listed here include:

 

CivilWar.org

This website is dedicated to information about the American Civil War and provides a thorough list of any primary sources available from that period, including speeches, military correspondence, and photos. Here is some of what you’ll find:

 

Famous-Trials.com

Famous-trials.com is a website operated by professor Douglas O. Linder from the UMKC School of Law. The site provides primary documents and information on many very well-known trials throughout history, going all the way back to the Trial of Socrates, and also most recently covering the George Zimmerman case involving Trayvon Martin. Here are some examples of what you can find here:

 

TeachingAmericanHistory.org

Despite the name of the website, this resource is not just for teachers as it does provide access to many primary sources from American history. The page linked to here lists 50 “core documents that tell America’s story” and include the Declaration of Independence and 1944 State of the Union address. Here is some of what you’ll find:

 

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is a major record-keeping entity of the U.S. government and contains many documents of all kinds that are important to American history and culture. The link listed above takes you to a page where you can search, or select from the links on the right side of the page to browse be era. Here are those links, for your convenience:

 

Further Resources

The combination of resources above should do well in meeting any students needs for primary sources on topics relating to American history, but there are still many other resources available to access these kinds of documents. Here is a gigantic list of other websites that can provide a wide variety of primary sources:

 

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MLA 8

The 8th edition of MLA has resulted in changes to the citation format. Correcting the citations on our website will take some time. Until then, please reference the guidelines below to correct the citation format. You will still be using the information provided here, but you may need to adjust the format for MLA 8.

Most MLA citations on our site should follow this format:

Author, A. Title of Source. Publisher, Date, URL. Accessed, 1 Jan 2050.
"Web." removed
  • Medium of publication does not need to be stated if obvious.
  • Listing the "name of the site" is not necessary if it is the same as the name of the publisher.
No brackets around URLs
  • URLs should be placed after the publication date, separated by a comma, and before the date accessed, with a period at the end.

For citing an article in a scholarly journal you will use the journal title instead of publisher, and retain any volume, issue, and page numbers. Use a DOI in place of URL if one is available.

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