American history: Primary historical sources guide

Language advisory

Materials in archival collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; religion; occupation and economic status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 

Successfully searching digital archives may require that you use search terms that match words used in the context, place, and time of their original writing or publication -- even if those historical words may disgust you.

Primary source collections vary a lot

The creators of digital collections don't follow many common rules about what they will include.  Like conventional archivists, they must work within the limits of what sources are actually available, even though they -- and you -- may really want sources to fall into neat geographical or chronological packages.  This page reflects the rough distinctions in use between archival collections that try to capture whole historical eras and those that organize sources by format, place, or theme.  Use them as broad starting points.  Then use the filters built into each database to locate sources that best fit your needs.

Cross-search within major providers' collections

All-at-once searching gives a good idea of what your search terms my pull up, but at the cost of giving you too much information to process at a sitting.  Think of these tools as aids of planning where, how -- and when -- you'll search within each vendor's many offerings.

Help with historical methods

Collections broadly covering periods

Place-centered collections: Americas

US (and UK) materials predominate in most topical primary-source collections listed in other boxes.

Virginia and its region
Other American regions and countries

Place-centered collections: Europe and UK

Place-centered collections: Asia and Africa

See also the "Colonization, globalization, international encounters" section.

Colonization, globalization, international encounters

British foreign and colonial affairs
Travel and tourism

Race, ethnicity, and other "others"

Slavery

War and security

College Librarian for Social Sciences & History | Assistant Director for Collection Management

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Bruce Pencek
Contact:
Newman Library (MC 0434)
Office #3050
560 Drillfield Dr
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Email is the best way to contact me with questions or appointment requests.

Office hours (walk-in and/or Zoom): T 1-3:00 pm, W-Th 2-4:00 pm (Eastern time), and by appointment.
- virginiatech.zoom.us/j/95623507981
(540) 231-2140

Families, oral history

Artistic and literary cultures

Popular culture and consumerism

Food, health, technology

Gender, sexuality, and children

Public documents

Find more in physical archives

Temporary, trial access only -- use while you can

The University Libraries at Virginia Tech regularly secure short-term, trial access to online resources in order to gauge their appropriateness to our university's teaching and research missions. These trials run in October, February, and sometimes April.  Most trials run 30 days.

Trials are listed in a sidebar in the main Databases A-Z directory

Each entry includes a link to a user survey. I and other subject librarians invite you to email us your detailed assessments of resources. Responses from the Virginia Tech community are vital to the library's deliberations about whether and when to acquire or enhance databases and the like.

As appropriate I will list trials and user survey links a resource trials tab in this and my other libguides.  Entries for trials I may include in the body of my libguides will go away when the trial period ends.