History -- United States: Primary Sources

About Primary Sources

Letters, interviews, photographs, and diary/blog entries are all examples of primary sources. Primary sources provide first-hand evidence of an event or subject, and they can be unpublished or published.  PCC Library's collection incudes published primary sources including autobiographies and personal journals. The Internet provides a wealth of access to primary sources through websites of historical societies, museums, organizations, educational institutions, and governmental entities. Consult Using Primary Sources on the Web, published by the American Library Association.

American Memory

The Library of Congress Digital Collection presents thousands of primary sources, including photographs, recordings, pamphlets, and personal papers, that document the history of the United States. There is a subject guide on the left to help you narrow your results.

The Library of Congress search site is not very good. A better way to search is to type site:loc.gov and then your search terms.  But if the Library of Congress has a collection that fits your topic, it will be very good.

Another excellent collection is the Gilder Lehrman digital archive.  It has over 60,000 primary source documents, including letters written by Ulysses Grant from West Point (complete with a nice painting he made) and much else.   

Primary Documents in American History

Primary Documents in American History contains primary documents from the years 1763 to 1877.  Documents from the 20th century will be added in the future.

100 Milestone Documents chronicles U.S. history beginning with the Lee Resolution of June 7, 1776 and ending with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.Bill of Rights

Presidents of the United States: Resource Guides created by the Library of Congress.

Cross Search many Presidential Collections using Connecting Presidential Collections from the University of Virginia.

Valley of the Shadows

Valley of the Shadows

Learn about daily life in two communities, one Northern and one Southern, during the American Civil War. Primary documents include diaries, letters, newspapers, and official records.

Oral Histories

Pacific University has digitalized over 600 oral histories gathered in Washington County on a variety of topics.  One of the richest parts of this is the Japanese American History stories, but there are also stories on farming, forestry, Latino immigration, and High Tech.

Miller Center on "The Presidency" from the University of Virginia.  It includes speeches, secret White House Tapes, and information on the Presidents.  If nothing else, listen to "LBJ Orders Some New Haggar Pants." to get an idea of the President whom Bill Moyers said "Was the ten most interesting people I ever met."


Lyndon Johnson on Telephone

Salem Witchcraft Trials

Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive
From the University of Virginia, this website contains court transcripts, record books, and other primary source material.

Salem Witchcraft Trials - Famous American Trials
Documents, images, maps, and other primary source material are included.  From the University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Law.

Revolutionary War and Early Republic

Founders Online.  Letters and publications of the creators of the American Republic.  Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, Abigail Adams, and others.  Organized by correspondent or era.

The Massachusetts Historical Society's online collections include digital editions of the Adams and Winthrop family papers, images from the antislavery movement, and historical maps of the French and Indian War.

American History: A Documentary Record

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation provides access to U.S. congressional documents and debates from 1774-1875.

The Chronology of American History 1492 - Present, sponsored by the Avalon Project at Yale Law School, presents hundreds of primary documents relating to U.S. history.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1841-1955. Brooklyn would be the 5th largest city in the United States if it wasn't part of NYC.  The Daily Eagle was a fine paper (Walt Whitman wrote for it) and this allows keyword searching of National and Brooklyn events.

Harper's Weekly 1861-1865.  The major news magazine of the United States during the Civil War.  Full of beautiful illustrations.

Secession Era Newspaper Editorials. (1850s)  As the Nation neared division, newspapers gave their opinions on what was happening with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the attack on Senator Sumner in Congress, John Brown's Raid, the Dred Scott decision and others. Great stuff to see what people were thinking and saying.

Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement. The Bancroft Library of the University of California has assembled a digital archive of 250,000 pages and photographs on the concentration camps for people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.  It is well organized, and easily searchable by keyword.

Uniformed soldier with his daughter.


Use OAIster, a catalog of digital resources to search for primary documents.

Historical Maps

Historical maps of the United States online from the Perry-Castaneda Library at the University of Texas.