Primary source material—such as journals, speeches, letters, contemporary news reports, government documents, photographs, artifacts and maps—is an invaluable resource in understanding history.
“Primary sources provide a window into the past—unfiltered access to the record of artistic, social, scientific and political thought and achievement during the specific period under study, produced by people who lived during that period,” writes the Library of Congress.
Digitized archives make it possible for students or amateur researchers to access and search primary source collections. Much of the material is not easily accessed through search engines.
Searching for a specific Civil War battle, for example, will lead you to plenty of secondary sources and a few primary sources. However, you are not likely to find battle reports and letters sent between Union and Confederate leaders and their respective War and Naval Departments, which are available in the Official Records. Similarly, you will probably miss first-hand accounts written by those leaders after the war, which have been collected in the Battles & Leaders of the Civil War and the Southern Historical Society Papers.
Our goal at findingDulcinea is to direct you to collections like these. As we develop our history section, each guide will have sections devoted to primary source archives. Currently, the guides on Native Americans, the American Revolution, the Civil War and World War II all have these sections. Most of our On This Day features link to primary sources either in tables at the end of a section or in a separate Reference section at the end of the article.
For help in learning how to use primary sources, visit the Library of Congress’ Primary Source Sets section and the National Archives’ Teaching With Documents section. Both provide lesson plans on a wide variety of topics.