As a college librarian, I often hear stressed-out students searching for primary sources say, "I'll take anything." Don't settle for just anything. There is a treasury of primary source material available electronically. Peruse my selection of 200-plus primary source sites by conducting a keyword search, exploring the tag cloud at left, or browsing by historical era. You can also visit my Delicious and Diigo sites to review my bookmarks. Here's hoping you find what you're looking for.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

An environmental crisis threatens the Gulf Coast

As the huge oil slick caused by last week’s oil rig explosion approaches the Gulf Coast, federal officials are grappling with ways to contain the spill and lessen the potential environmental damage. On Thursday, federal officials said they feared the oil is leaking underwater at the rate of 210,000 gallons per day. While the exact toll of this spill remains to be seen, it calls to mind thoughts of the Exxon Valdez disaster. In March 1989 the Exxon Valdez ran around in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Damage Assessment and Restoration provides digital access to a wealth of primary source documents relating to that environmental disaster including: photographs, copies of environmental impact statements and documents pertaining to civil settlements related to the spill. As the current situation in the Gulf continues to unfold, you can visit NOAA’s website to keep track of remediation efforts. The photo at right of an oil-covered duck on Alaska’s shore comes from NOAA and was provided by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Malcom X's killer paroled

Thomas Hagan, the only man to admit shooting Malcolm X, was released on parole Tuesday, 45 years after the civil rights leader was slain. The Malcolm X Project at Columbia University features a collection of digital media items that create a portrait of Malcolm X’s life and lasting impact. Among the items you’ll find there are interviews with Malcolm X’s contemporaries, news reports detailing his life’s work and describing his assassination, F.B.I. agents’ reports of their investigation of the slaying and sound recordings of Malcolm X's speeches. The photograph of Malcolm X at left comes from the Library of Congress.

Friday, April 23, 2010

American Indians of the Pacific Northwest Collection

This morning I came across a news story on CNN about threats to the future of the Hoh people. That Pacific Northwest Native American tribe has for centuries lived along the westernmost coast of Washington State. There, where the Hoh River meets the Pacific, the tribe’s one-square mile reservation is located. Due to increased incidents of flooding in the region, the reservation is threatened. The CNN story spells out what options are being considered for the tribe’s future. After reading the article, I was more interested in the tribe’s past. I was able to find an impressive collection of primary source material relating to the Hoh tribe at the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest collection at the
University of Washington Libraries. The image at top comes from that collection. That photo was taken in 1905 and depicts a village in the reservation. The image below it shows drift logs at the Hoh River. That modern image comes from the National Park Service.

The Virtual Vietnam Archive

Many history students are working on research papers about the Vietnam War. Their topics are quite varied. Among the issues being explored are: the impact of news coverage on the public’s opinion about the war, the My Lai massacre, drug use among American soldiers in Vietnam and the prevalence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among Vietnam-era veterans. While the writers of these papers have chosen varied topics, they can all likely benefit from one common source of information. The Virtual Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech University currently has more than three million pages of digitized material pertaining to the Vietnam War. The collection includes digitized manuscripts, oral histories, photographs, slides, audio files and moving images. Users can conduct a simple keyword search or use the advanced search function to limit by collection, date, media type or language. The image above is from the archive's My Lai collection.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy April 15th (or maybe not)

I'd like to wish everyone a happy Tax Day. Did you know the Internal Revenue Service’s online forms and instructions database has 1,132 files? It might take you as long to find the appropriate paperwork as it does to prepare your return. Things weren’t so complicated back in the day. The United States Congress passed the 16th amendment in July of 1909. It wasn’t until February of 1913 that it was ratified by the necessary three-quarters majority of states needed to amend the Constitution. In the first year of the levy, less than one percent of the population paid income tax, due to generous exemptions and deductions. Those who paid the tax did so at the rate of just one percent of their net income. You can find that information and more at Our Documents, a digital library compiled by the National Archives and Records Administration. That site provides visitors with digital access to 100 milestone documents in United States history. Those instruments span the centuries, beginning with the Lee Resolution of 1776 (a proposal introduced to the Second Continental Congress calling for independence for the colonies) to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (legislation outlawing the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states following the Civil War). In addition to providing electronic access to those materials, Our Documents also provides background information to help students place those documents in historical context. The site also provides resources for educators and librarians. The image at right shows the original 1040 form, distributed in 1913. It comes from the National Archives and Records Administration. Oh, and if you’re reading this and realize that you’ve forgotten to file your tax return, you might want to check out Form 4868, , the Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Income Tax Return.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Revisiting the Katyn Tragedy of 1940

Investigators are trying to determine what caused Saturday’s plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski. A total of 96 people, including many high-ranking Polish military and political leaders, perished in that crash. The delegation was traveling to a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, which was carried out in the spring of 1940 by the Russain Army. More than 10,000 Polish military personnel, along with university lecturers, surgeons, lawyers and others, were executed in that mass slaughter. Documents pertaining to the massacre can be found at The Internet Archive. If you do a simple keyword search for "Katyn", you’ll find the text of hearings held in 1952 before the Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre. Some of the testimony is horrifying, as are the pictures included as exhibits. Those resources exemplify the type of primary source material you can find at the Internet Archive - a non-profit corporation created to create a digital library. The Internet Archive's electronic holdings include texts, audio files, moving images, software and archived web pages. It is able to amass such a collection by partnering with others, including well over 150 libraries, to make materials freely accessible. The text mentioned above, for example, was contributed by the Boston Public Library. The picture above left shows a mass grave at the Katyn forest. That image comes from the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Star Wars in Perspective (I mean the SDI, not Lucas’s masterpiece.)

On Thursday President Obama and Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev signed a nuclear arms reduction pact. That agreement is expected to trim the two countries’ strategic nuclear arsenals to their lowest levels in 50 years. Today’s students weren’t around when growing stockpiles of nuclear weapons were front-page news. My guess is that some of those students know of Star Wars only as a series of sci-fi flicks, and not the strategic defense initiative proposed by President Reagan. The Cold War History Project, a digital archive created at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, contains a wide array of primary source documentation to help students better understand the Cold War. Among the items you’ll find are a letter sent by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to President Jimmy Carter. Written in 1977, shortly after President Carter assumed office, it reads in part…"under conditions when it is still not possible yet to achieve a halt to the arms race in the world, we cannot but take care about security of our country and our allies. Our defensive potential must be sufficient so that nobody will risk to attack us or threaten us with attack.” You can also find President Carter’s response, in which he wrote:
“How can we start a process which could widen our cooperation and simultaneously restrain and finally limit our rivalry. This rivalry--it is real, extremely expensive, and undeniable--can at any moment become very dangerous, which is why we must not allow it to develop without restraint. In my opinion, this demands, at least, first, work to widen where possible our coordinated efforts, especially in the area of limitation of nuclear weapons….”
This archive is searchable by keyword or you can browse by collection. The photo at right, showing presidents Obama and Medvedev at Thursday’s signing ceremony comes from DIPNOTE, the U.S. State Department's official blog.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

President Obama takes heat for his lack of same.

Television commentators and sportswriters had a field day with President Obama’s ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ home opener earlier this week. If you search The American Presidency Project, you can learn about how some of the other leaders of the free world fared during their turns on the mound. I searched that site for “first pitch” and turned up the transcript of an April 3, 2006 press briefing aboard Air Force One during which White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan detailed President Bush’s plans to toss out the first pitch at that evening’s Cincinnati Reds’ home opener. I also found remarks from President Bill Clinton, expressing gratitude that Secretary of State Madeline Albright filled in for him at a 1997 Orioles game at Camden Yards. While such a search provides a few minutes of amusement at the reference desk, The American Presidency Project is an exceptional resource for more scholarly pursuits. This digital collection was created in 1999 through a collaboration between John Woolley and Gerhard Peters at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It contains almost 90,000 documents spanning a period from 1789 to the present. Among the items you’ll find are executive orders, State of the Union addresses, inaugural addresses, Saturday radio addresses, addresses to Congress, and much more. The search interface is exceptionally easy to use, allowing you to limit your search to a particular president, date, document category or document number. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to find a reference President Obama’s much-maligned toss. The picture above left, from the White House, shows President Obama autographing a baseball at Monday’s game.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Springtime Romance

In the spring of 1762, while he was in Boston undergoing inoculation against smallpox, John Adams courted Abigail Smith through a series of letters. The future first lady was an equally enthusiastic correspondent. Those letters, along with scores of others that span a period of almost four decades, are available at the Massachusetts Historical Society's Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. There, in addition to the correspondence between John and Abigail, you will find the diaries of John Adams and the full text of his autobiography. The images above are of artist Gilbert Stuart's portraits of the couple and come from the National Gallery of Art.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Trial(s) of the Century(ies)

On April 5, 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. You'll find a wealth of primary source material about that case at Famous Trials . That site, compiled by Douglas O. Linder at the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law, features a copy of the indictment handed down against the Rosenbergs, excerpts of the trial transcript, the judge's sentencing statement, and the couple's heartbreaking letter to their two young sons, written on the day of their execution - June 19, 1953. Linder's site has similarly rich collections for more than four dozen landmark criminal proceedings - from the trial of Socrates to the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th September 11 hijacker. Ethel Rosenberg's arrest photo (above) comes from the National Archives and Records Administration.