Primary sources are the historian’s paint. Much like how an artist uses a multitude of colors to create a picture, the historian weaves primary sources together to tell the story of the past. Combined with keen analysis, primary sources are provides accounts of the past authenticity.
The journal or diary is often the first thought of primary source. Memorializing an actor’s thoughts, journals are a wonderful tool to provide a first-hand view of historical events. But primary sources extend beyond journals. Newspapers and magazines can serve as primary sources to document how segments of the population viewed their surroundings. Similarly, pictures and songs serve as primary sources as they too delve into the psyche of those who experienced the past.
For much of history, primary sources were only accessible in library, archival, or private collections. However, the internet has made primary sources of all kinds more accessible than ever. The Library of Congress and the National Archives have digitized hundreds of thousands of documents, including the papers of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. Sites such as Project Gutenberg and Archive.org provide access to even more resources.
Culling through the primary sources available on the internet can be challenging. These sources are spread over countless sites with differing search tools. The following Primary Source Resource Guides are designed to increase the accessibility of primary sources by creating general and topical guides over a variety of United States history subjects.