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National History Day: Finding Primary Resources

Some resources to help you prepare your NHD project

What is a primary source?

A primary source is original data or evidence that answers your historical questions, as opposed to another scholar’s interpretation of that same data. Typical primary sources are documents produced by witnesses to an event. Here are some examples:

  • Autobiography, memoir, diary
  • Photograph, Artwork
  • Interview, Lecture
  • Original research

When defining primary sources, it can be helpful to distinguish the content of a work from its physical format.  An original handwritten letter from the 1700s is obviously a primary source, but if the same letter is reproduced this year in a printed collection of historical documents or an electronic database, it is still a primary source.


Historic Newspapers

University of Georgia NHD Site


ArchiveGrid is a search engines that helps users find information about historical materials in over 1,000a rchives, libraries, museums and historical societies around the United States.  if you are looking for primary sources  related to your project topic, this a great place to start your search.  (Remember, this site will provide information about the sources and where they are located, but may does not provide direct access to digitized versions of the materials)

Search ArchiveGrid
Find archival collections and primary source materials

Local Digital Archives

Tennessee State Library and Archives: Users can search through numerous digital collections, including the photograph and image search and the Tennessee Virtual Archive, which include collections about the Tennessee School for the Deaf and the Civil War.

Volunteer Voices: Volunteer Voices is a statewide digitization program that provides online access to sources that document Tennessee’s rich history and culture. This program involves the collaborative efforts of Tennessee archives, historical societies, libraries, museums, and schools.

Digital Library of Georgia: Based at the University of Georgia, the Digital Library of Georgia connects users to 500,000 digital objects in 90 collections from 60 institutions and 100 government agencies. This resource is part of GALILEO, a resource for Georgia citizens.

Georgia State University Digital Collections: Designed for the interests of scholarly communities as well as the general public, this site houses more than 21,000 items of digital collections. Visitors should be sure to check out the Planning Atlanta collection.

Georgia’s Virtual Vault: View colonial wills, confederate pension applications, Georgia Power Photograph Collection, and more. Historical context for many of the records found in the Virtual Vault may be found in the articles of the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

The Virtual Library: Sponsored by Emory University, this list of resources includes the Lewis H. Beck Center among many other online collections and initiatives.


Some Recommended Internet Sites

·         250+ Killer Digital Libraries and Archives

"Hundreds of libraries and archives exist online, from university-supported sites to accredited online schools to individual efforts. Each one has something to offer to researchers, students, and teachers. This list contains over 250 libraries and archives that focus mainly on localized, regional, and U.S. history, but it also includes larger collections, eText and eBook repositories, and a short list of directories to help you continue your research efforts." --- Open Education Database

·         American Memory Project

"American Memory provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience. It is a digital record of American history and creativity. These materials, from the collections of the Library of Congress and other institutions, chronicle historical events, people, places, and ideas that continue to shape America, serving the public as a resource for education and lifelong learning." --- Library of Congress

·         Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates

Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention - includes: Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 - Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789 -Elliot's Debates, 1787-1788 - Farrand's Records, 1787

Journals of Congress - includes House Journal - Senate Journal - Senate Executive Journal - Maclay's Journal

Debates of Congress - includes Annals of Congress, 1789-1824 - Register of Debates, 1824-1837 - Congressional Globe, 1833-1873 - Congressional Record, 1873-1875

Statutes and Documents - includes Bills and Resolutions - Statutes at Large - American State Papers - U.S. Serial Set

·         DPLA: Digital Public Library of America

"The Digital Public Library of America brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world. It strives to contain the full breadth of human expression, from the written word, to works of art and culture, to records of America’s heritage, to the efforts and data of science. DPLA aims to expand this crucial realm of openly available materials, and make those riches more easily discovered and more widely usable and used ..." --- DPLA

·         Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920

"The Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850 - 1920 (EAA) presents over 9,000 images, with database information, relating to the early history of advertising in the United States. The materials, drawn from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University, provide a significant and informative perspective on the early evolution of this most ubiquitous feature of modern American business and culture." --- Duke University Libraries

·         Google Books Advanced Book Search

Google Books is one of the truly remarkable free portals to historical of literature of books (and to a lesser degree magazines). Google has now digitized over 15 million books. Though only those books published prior to the copyright boundary of 1923 can be viewed in their entirety - Google Books is also able to provide partial views of many books published after 1923. Click on the Google Books tab above for more details on using the Advanced Search.

·         HathiTrust

HathiTrust provides access to books published before 1923. Unlike Google Books, HathiTrust provides online access to both historic and current U.S. Government Documents. For more details about the Advanced Search click on the HathiTrust tab above.

·         Internet Archive - ebooks and Texts

Large historic book and pamphlet portal. Contains over six million works and features many special collections such as Project Gutenberg, the Million Books Project, the Children's Library, American Libraries, Canadian Libraries, and the Community Books Collection. Use the Advanced Search feature to focus your searches.

·         OAIster

OAIster is an online catalog for locating more than 30 million online records and hundreds of thousands of online books.

·         Primary Sources: 17th & 18th Century America (University of Washington)

A portal to roughly three dozen digital archives focusing on aspects of 17th & 18th century American history.

·         Primary Sources: 19th Century America (University of Washington)

A portal to nearly one hundred digital archives focusing on 19th century American History.

·         Primary Sources: 20th Century America (University of Washington)

A portal to over one hundred different digital archives providing primary source materials from 20th century America.

·         State Digital Resources: Memory Projects, Online Encyclopedias, Historical & Cultural Materials Collections

Provides access to over 100 different digital iniitiatives and archives and online libraries.