American History


Your assignments at university are an invitation to join a scholarly conversation by exploring topics in depth, weighing the evidence, and drawing your own conclusions.  A good research topic is one that sparks your interest and allows you to ask new questions. This guide is intended to help you get started.

Pick a research topic

  • Read your assignment instructions carefully
  • Pick a topic that interests you and meets the criteria of the assignment
  • Identify key concepts of your research topic
  • Do some background reading on your topic using Wikipedia

Use dictionaries, encyclopedias and handbooks to find definitions, introductions and overviews of your topic

Consult writing guides for help

Begin with the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources web guide overview.

How to search for primary sources:

Search your topic (or historical person of interest) using the library's main search box to find primary sources (or reproductions) in our collection. Keyword searches that include the following terms will identify primary materials most of the time.

  • Diar* (for diary or diaries)
  • Correspondence
  • Letters
  • Memoir
  • Personal narrative
  • Recollections
  • Reminiscences
  • Journal
  • Sources

 Other search tips:

Primary Sources on the web

Civil Rights

Civil War


Medicine and Science

  • Expeditions and Discoveries (Harvard Open Collections Program)
  • Images from the History of Medicine - From the National Library of Medicine (U.S.), includes a wide variety of formats. The collection includes portraits, photographs, caricatures, genre scenes, posters, and graphic art illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine dated from the 15th to 21st century.

Military and War


  • National Jukebox (Library of Congress) - thousands of rare, historic recordings and special features available through this free site. It includes early jazz, dance music and opera.

Native/Aboriginal History

News Media


Social History

  • Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition and History (HEARTH) (Cornell University Library) - HEARTH is a core electronic collection of books and journals in Home Economics and related disciplines. Titles were published between 1850 and 1950.  Excellent primary sources such as Good Housekeeping and Harper's Bazaar among many others.

The South


Government Information

Other Media


Audio Interviews


Kanopy - provides streaming for educational video products from the arts, humanities, health, business, education and more.

General Gateways


Special Topics in American History

African American History

American Revolution

The Civil War

Civil War letters and diary entries include transcriptions and digital images of the manuscripts.  A valuable source of primary documents. Note that the newspaper collection is available to students at the University of Virginia only.

Collection of 23,000 vintage civil war photographs from the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United Stats from the Massachusetts Commandery.

The Cold War

Colonial Period

An online magazine devoted to colonial America. Site can be searched by keyword.

Government and Politics

Biographical dictionary of all present and former members of the United States Congress as well as its predecessor, the Continental Congress. Also included are Delegates from territories and the District of Columbia and Resident Commissioners from the Philippines and Puerto Rico.

Guilded Age


Maps & Altases

This site includes U.S. territorial maps from 1775 to 1920 and links to a number of useful exhibits and collections.

The historical map collection has over 30,000 maps and images online. The collection focuses on rare 18th and 19th century North American and South American maps and other cartographic materials. Historic maps of the World, Europe, Asia, and Africa are also represented.

A collection of digital maps from the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress.

Social History

Women's History

The ViVa database provides citations to over 8,000 articles on the subject of women's and gender history published between 1975 and 2004 in historical and women's studies journals.

Content last updated: November 7, 2019