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 often requires that your search terms match words used in the context, place, and time of their original writing or publication -- even though 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.

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 inequalities

Slavery

War and security

College Librarian for Social Sciences & History

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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, medicine, technology

Gender, sexuality, and children

Law and governance

Find more in physical archives