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HIST 2220: From the New Deal to the Reagan Revolution (Spring 2018): Primary Sources

A guide to library research


What makes a source primary?

In theory, primary sources are original documents and objects which were created at the time being studied. Typical examples include letters, diaries, photos, newspaper articles, eyewitness accounts, autobiographies, government reports, paintings, maps, etc. In actuality, it can be more complicated and can depend on format and the topic/time period and discipline.

Useful Tips

Browse footnotes and bibliographies of books, encyclopedias, and articles for information about primary sources.



Archival Primary Sources (2)

Kroch Rare and Manuscript Collections
The Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC) is Cornell's principal repository of rare books, manuscripts and archival materials in history, literature, music, the arts, science, natural history, and technology more info). These collections can be searched for using the Library Catalog. Some collections have finding aids. Visit or email RMC to discuss your research interests with archivists who typically have extensive familiarity with the collections.

Published guides to collections, archives, and libraries help identify and locate manuscripts. Print and online examples are listed below.

Use the Library Catalog to identify archival collections at Cornell RMC.
Use Worldcat or ArchiveGrid to idenfity archival materials or guides to archives Cornell does not own.

Techniques for browsing before you go to RMC

Search the Library Catalog with a term or two related to your topic, then apply either or both of these facets which will appear in the left of your search results:

Official Documents

Official Primary Sources

U.S. Congressional serial set (Online) 1817-1980
Full text of all the reports, documents, and journals of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

ProQuest Congressional
Indexes information produced by or pertaining to the United States Congress from 1789 to the present. Provides full text for many titles, generally from the early 1990’s to the present. Includes bills, laws, legislative histories, committee prints, House and Senate documents and reports, the Congressional Record, Code of Federal Regulations, and Federal Register. Includes full text of Congressional Research Service reports, 1916-present; full text of Congressional hearings, 1824-2003; full text of Committee Prints, 1830-2003; and full text of the Serial Set Collection with Maps, 1789-1969. For a complete description of contents, coverage, and update frequency, consult the online Help section.

Technically not the primary sources themselves, however  CQ Electronic Library can help lead you to Congressional primary sources.

The American Presidency Project
Lots of full text sources for many presidents.

Hein Online: the modern link to legal history -- U.S. Presidential Library
Includes: -- Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789 - 1929, -- Public Papers of the Presidents, 1929 - the current volume, -- CFR Title 3 (compilation of Presidential documents and a codification of regulations issued by the Executive Office of the President.) -- Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, 1965 - 2009 (became Daily 2009) and more.

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States
Beginning with the 41st President, George H.W. Bush, available online from the GPO. Complete online coverage, from 1929 - , available in HeinOnline above. Print volumes back to 1929 in Olin Library, J80 .A2 +.


A Guide to American Government and Politics

Historical Newspapers

Primary Source Newspaper Articles

ProQuest historical newspapers.
The New York Times (1851-2003), the Wall Street Journal (1889-1989), the Washington Post (1877-1990), every page from every issue in PDF files.

Lexis Nexis Academic US news as of 1980.
Includes The Hotline - a National Journal  and a great Washington insider publication. The archive is available in LexisNexis Academic in the "Newswires & press releases" section of the News category.

AltPress Index Indexes journals covering cultural, economic, political, and social change. Coverage is international and interdisciplinary, with citations drawn from alternative, radical, and left periodicals, newspapers and magazines.

Ethnic NewsWatch Full-text newspapers, magazines and journals of the ethnic, minority and native press

More American Historical Newspapers Online...

Historical Magazines & Periodicals

Primary Source Magazine(Periodical) Articles

Readers' Guide Retrospective
Popular general-interest periodicals published in the United States 1890 through 1982. Does not include full text. Use "Get it Cornell" links to find the periodical.

Women's Magazine Archive. ProQuest. (Online full color and full text PDFs of articles and advertisements) The full text online of the following women's magazines and years: Better Homes and Gardens (7/1/1925 - 12/1/2005. missing 1981); Chatelaine (1928 - 12/1/2005. missing 1941, 1945, 1948, 1952, 1956, 1959); Good Housekeeping (1885 - 12/1/2005. missing 1997); Ladies' Home Journal (1885 - 12/1/2005); Parents (10/01/1926 - 12/1/2005. missing 1981); Redbook (11/01/1903 - 12/01/2005. missing 1925, 1982, 1983, 1989, 1990). Holdings as of mid-November 2017. Missing years will be available in the future.

AltPress Index
Indexes journals covering cultural, economic, political, and social change. Coverage is international and interdisciplinary, with citations drawn from alternative, radical, and left periodicals, newspapers and magazines.

Black Studies Center
Both older materials (primary sources) and more current secondary articles.

SocIndex with Full Text
Indexes articles back to the 1895 (primary sources) as well as the current scholarly literature for sociology.

This link takes you to Google Books' "About This Magazine" page for Life. Scroll down a bit for the "Browse All Issues" section, which allows you to select individual issues. Use Google Books' Advanced search page to do specific keyword searches. Here is a brief (and somewhat informal) screencast you might find helpful in navigating this resource.

Online Collections

Additional Primary Source Online Collections

The Sixties: primary documents and personal narratives 1960-1974
Diaries, letters, autobiographies and other memoirs, written and oral histories, manifestos, government documents, memorabilia, and scholarly commentary. The database covers subjects in arts, music, and leisure, civil rights, counter-culture, law and government, mass media, new left and emerging neo-conservative movement, student activism, Vietnam War, women's movement, etc.

Meet the Press. Alexander Street Press.
"...over 1,500 hours of footage--the full surviving broadcast run from 1947 to present day--available online in one cross-searchable interface. Network television's longest running program--with its thousands of interviews, panels, and debates--is available via streaming online video." [home page] For more streaming video of television news including the commercials, see Television News Archive, below.

Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975: Rock and Roll, Counterculture, Peace and Protest.
Adam Matthew Digital.
"Topics include student protests, civil rights, consumerism, and the Vietnam War. The collection includes pamphlets, letters, government files, eye witness accounts, underground magazines, visual and video materials and ephemera and memorabilia. Part II contains additional material, such as music, press kits, mail order catalogues, advertising proofs, additional photos from the Mirrorpix archives, and documents on student unrest and the Troubles in Northern Ireland." [home page]

Women and social movements in the United States, 1600-2000
Includes 102 document projects and archives with more than 4,050 documents, and 145,000 pages of additional full-text documents, written by some 2,200 primary authors. It includes book, film and website reviews, notes from the archives, and teaching tools.

North American women's letters and diaries : Colonial to 1950
Full-text database of letters and diaries of women who lived in North America before 1950. Browsing and searching of both the bibliographic and full-text elements provided by PhiloLogic software.


HistoryMakers is an online video oral history database dedicated to preserving African American history. 


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