Past Events & Activities

Primary Sources


Lesson Plans

Links and Resources


Major Online Collections of Primary Sources

The following is a list of comprehensive sites that offer a broad selection of primary sources for teaching a diverse range of topics. Most of these sites also offer sections of specific use to teachers, such as lesson plans or other student activities.

Ad*Access - Duke University Digital Scriptorium

Ad*Access is one of the collections of Duke University's Digital Scriptorim. It presents images and database information for over 7,000 advertisements printed in U.S. and Canadian newspapers and magazines between 1911 and 1955. Ad*Access concentrates on five main subject areas: Radio, Television, Transportation, Beauty and Hygiene, and World War II, providing a coherent view of a number of major campaigns and companies through images preserved in one particular advertising collection available at Duke University. These specific topics correlate with not only areas of popular interest, but also proven areas of interest among students, teachers and researchers. The ads can be viewed by subject or searched by either keyword (in headlines, product names etc.) or a set number of special features such as the presence of children or minorities or even coupons. Ads can, under fair use laws, be downloaded, printed and used for teaching or research. The site also includes a useful timeline of major historical events and facts to help contextualize the ads in the collection.

American Centuries - Memorial Hall Museum

This highly-acclaimed website makes available digital versions of over 1,800 historical objects and documents from the collection of the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, MA. Although the focus of the collections is on New England, the materials tell broad and significant stories about American History more broadly conceived. The sources are searchable in a number of ways and all are annotated. There is also a feature "My Collection" which allows visitors to create their own online collection of objects and documents. The site also includes two exceptional online exhibits: 1) "Turns of the Centuries" presents information and materials related to a consistent set of historical themes at three points in time-the turns of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries; 2) "Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704" presents a range of sources and supplementary materials (including maps and timelines) focused on the events and meanings of the 1704 event.

The Avalon Project at Yale Law School: Documents in Law, History and Government

The Avalon Project is dedicated to providing access via the World Wide Web to primary source materials in the fields of Law, History, Economics, Politics, Diplomacy and Government. The site offers over 3,500 full-text documents divided into five time periods-pre 18th century, 18th century, 19th century, 20th century and 21st century. Documents include colonial charters, state and federal constitutional and legal documents, treaties, and some presidential papers. Documents are also organized into groups focused on such topics as The American Revolution, Native Americans, Slavery, Cold War, and Soviet-American Diplomacy. Also includes some material related to European, medieval and Renaissance diplomatic history. Searching can be done by keyword or by category, making the search process quire simple.

American Memory: Historical Collections for the National Digital Library- Library of Congress

A first-stop for finding American History primary source material on the web! American Memory, a major component of the Library of Congress' National Digital Library Program, is an online archive of over 8 million sources related to American history and culture from 1490 to the 20th century. Sources on American Memory are organized into over 120 multimedia collections and 150 specific websites, which include digitized documents, photographs, recorded sound, moving pictures, and text from the Library's rich American collections and, in some cases, from archives and libraries around the world. Identifying useable material is fairly easy because searching can be done by either collection or by keyword.

Digital Archive of American Architecture

Here you will find approximately 1,500 drawings and other images of nearly 300 architecturally significant American buildings from the colonial times to the present. A wide variety of building types are represented: churches, public buildings, houses. Material from three World's Fairs can be found here as well, along with some European works for comparative purposes. Portions of 19th century design books have been included on this site. Materials are searchable by location, period, architect, building type and style.

Digital Classroom - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

An important resource. The Digital Classroom portion the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) site offers a wide range of source and resources for teachers and students of American history. On the "Teaching With Documents" area of the site researchers will find reproducible copies of primary sources (along with teaching activities)- from the NARA collection- on topics correlated to the National History Standards and the National Standards for Civics and Government. Document sets are grouped by topic and are easy to access and use. NARA is an independent Federal agency that preserves United States history and oversees the management of all Federal records-a wide category which includes records of prison systems, infrastructure initiatives, immigration centers, taxes, and courts, among others. In addition to this wide set of materials, the collections also include the cornerstone documents of the government, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights.

Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920 - Duke University Digital Scriptorium

One of the collections of Duke University's Digital Scriptorium, this site presents over 9,000 images drawn from the Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collection Library at Duke University. All relate to the emergence of advertising in America. Providing evidence of the emergence and evolution of advertising, the items on this site are organized into eleven categories, but are also searchable across categories. Also included is a timeline of advertising history and developments during the period covered by the collections.

Famous Trials

Offers a wide range of materials related to 35 prominent American trials including the Salem Witch Trials, the Boston Massacre, Amistad, Johnson's impeachment, Sacco and Vanzetti and the My Lai courts martial. Each trial includes background information and a range of primary source documents related to it. On this site too, are biographies of some of America's most well-known attorneys and ideas for discussing Constitutional issues in classrooms. Links and bibliographies also available.

History Matters: The History Survey Course on the Web

A superb and highly-respected resource for teachers and students in U.S. History survey courses; offers not only primary sources but source analysis tutorials and a rich set of links. Includes three centrally important sections: WWW. History offers a searchable list of and annotations for over 700 high quality websites; Many Pasts which contains over 1,000 primary sources covering the broad sweep of American History and represents a range of source types and Making Sense of Evidence which offers detailed, in depth, and interactive explorations into how historians analyze, interpret, and various types of sources including maps, letters, films and oral history. The final section of the three mentioned here is an unparalleled source for learning and teaching about primary source analysis and use! Each "tutorial" guides students-through readings, questions and examples- through the process of analyzing the source type at hand. Also in this section are audio interviews with leading scholars who share their own process of source analysis and interpretation.

Map Collections: 1500-2003 - Library of Congress

One of the many online collections of the Library of Congress's American Memory project, this interactive site, The collections is divided into 7 thematic categories including: Discovery and Exploration; Cities and Towns and Military Battles and Campaigns. Site offers and zooming option for looking at the maps upclose and, in addition to exploring the maps thematically, the collection can be searched by geographic location or keyword.

Our Documents

As a cooperative effort among the National Archives and Records Administration, National History Day, and USA Freedom Corps, the Our Documents initiative explores and makes available the original versions of 100 milestone documents of American History. As a whole, the documents (which include such items as the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Louisiana Purchase Treaty (1803), Plessey v. Ferguson (1896), the Social Security Act ( 1935) and Aerial Photograph of Missiles in Cuba (1962), among others) aim to "reflect the diversity and unity" of the United States. Each of the documents is accompanied by an introductory/contextualizing essay and a transcript of the document. Digital technology allows site visitors to look closely at and move around the document simply by moving the mouse across it. Documents can be downloaded.

U.S. Historical Census Data Browser

A wonderful resource for finding state and county data. Useful for tracking the population and economic history of the United States. Data is provided for the years 1790 - 1960 and is searchable by a wide range of variables. Some data sets can be displayed in map form, and information can be compared across years. Also valuable as a window into the changes in census data categories. A link to information on the history of the census is included on this website. Note: this site does not provide information about individuals.

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