Online Primary Sources


The Living Room Candidate: A History of Presidential Campaign Commercials, 1952–2000, American Museum of the Moving Image
This site offers 183 television commercials used since 1952 to sell presidential candidates to the American public and an annotated guide to 21 websites created for the 1996 and 2000 elections. Ads from each election are accessible by year as well as by common themes and strategies used over the years, such as ‘Looking Presidential,’ ‘Attack Ads,’ ‘Family Man,’ and ‘Real People.’ Essays (200-400 words) analyze ad strategies of major party candidates for each election; and a program guide (1,000 words) for high school students presents a history of the usage of TV commercials in campaigns. This site is valuable for students of American political history, consumer culture, and advertising history.
Ad*Access, Duke University Digital Scriptorium
This easily navigated site presents images and database information for more than 7,000 advertisements printed primarily in the United States from 1911 to 1955. It is an excellent archive of primary documents for students of consumer and popular culture.
Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850–1920, Duke University Digital Scriptorium
This site contains images of more than 9,000 advertising items and publications dating from 1850 to 1920. Selected items illustrate the rise of consumer culture in America from the mid-19th century and the development of a professionalized advertising industry. The images are grouped into eleven categories that include: advertising ephemera (trade cards, calendars, almanacs, postcards), broadsides, advertising cookbooks from food companies and appliance manufacturers, early advertising industry promotion publications, Lever Brothers Lux (soap) advertisements, outdoor advertising, and tobacco advertisements. Each category contains a brief (250-word) overview of the subject matter. The site also includes a timeline of the history of the advertising industry from the 1850s to 1920.
Fifty Years of Coca-Cola Television Advertisements, American Memory, Library of Congress
This collection provides highlights of Coca-Cola television advertisements, including 50 commercials, broadcast outtakes, and experimental footage. There are five examples of stop-motion advertisements from the mid-1950s, 18 experiments with color and lighting for television ads from 1964, and well-known commercials, such as the “Hilltop” commercial featuring the song “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” (1971); the “Mean Joe Greene” commercial (1979); the first “Polar Bear” commercial (1993); the “Snowflake” commercial (1999); and “First Experience,” an international commercial filmed in Morocco (1999). While small, this site provides a good resource for studying the history of post-World War II consumer culture in terms of content and technique.


Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film, American Memory, Library of Congress
Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to have his life chronicled through extensive use of film. This site offers 104 films depicting events in Roosevelt’s life, from the Spanish-American War in 1898 to his death in 1919. This site is a good resource for learning about Theodore Roosevelt and early film.
The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale, Library of Congress
This well-designed exhibit is composed of three galleries focused on the cultural impact of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that examine various aspects of the book, including W.W. Denslow’s artwork; the 1902–1903 stage play that became one of Broadway’s greatest successes; the classic 1939 MGM movie, with 16 panels examining the cast, production, and music, including a full-page color advertisement placed in the September 1939 issue of Cosmopolitan; and the varieties of Oz-related novelties that have appeared over the years, including The Wizard of Oz Monopoly game by Hasbro, a Wizard of Oz stamp, and “The Royal Bank of Oz” rebate check from MGM.
The American Variety Stage, 1870–1920, American Memory, Library of Congress
This collection documents the development of vaudeville and other popular entertainment from the 1870s to the 1920s. It includes 334 English- and Yiddish-language play scripts, 146 theater programs and playbills, 61 motion pictures, and 10 sound recordings. This site also features 143 photos and 29 memorabilia items documenting the life of Harry Houdini.


American Shores: Maps of the Middle Atlantic Region to 1850, New York Public Library
This attractive site explores the mid-Atlantic region and history through maps created before 1850. An extensive collection offers more than 840 historical maps of many different types. In addition to numerous regional and state maps, these include land surveys, coast surveys, nautical charts, military maps, ornamental maps, and city maps. An overview provides historical context for reading the maps of the geographic regions. In addition, the site offers several special features. “Basics of Maps” explains cartographic terms and features. “Maps Through History” highlights particular maps and map genres from the collection, including a look at New York Harbor, the Hudson River, nautical charts, maps revealing early transportation routes, and maps of American Revolution battle sites. “Geographical Areas” highlights many kinds of maps and what information they offer.
Panoramic Maps, 1847–1929, American Memory, Library of Congress
More than 1,000 original panoramic maps, a popular cartographic form during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are available through this website. The maps cover the contiguous 48 states and four Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec from 1847 to 1929. Viewers can zoom in to find artists’ renderings of individual streets, buildings, and landscapes. This site is an excellent resource for studying urbanization, cities, growth, and mapmaking.
David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, Cartography Associates
This site consists of more than 4,400 historical maps of North and South America. Most of the maps were made in the 18th and 19th centuries; many are notable for their craftsmanship. It is searchable by country, state, publication author, keyword, date, title, event, subject, and name of engraver or printer. Users may also browse by categories including antique atlases, school geography, wall, children’s, and manuscript maps. This site vividly conveys how certain locations have changed over time.


Blues, Gospel, and the Fort Valley Music Festivals, 1938–1943, American Memory, Library of Congress
This site is a collection of 104 sound recordings from annual folk festivals held at Fort Valley State College, an African-American teaching college in central Georgia. It also provides 63 items of written documentation about the festival and the recording project. The collection is an extraordinary record of non-commercial American music and musical styles.
Max Hunter Folk Song Collection, Southwest Missouri State University
This site is a collection of audio files and song transcriptions of more than 1,000 songs recorded in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and Arkansas between 1956 and 1976. Lyrics for all songs are included; some also have musical notations, names of singers, and location and date of the recording. No information is offered for composer or lyricist. Users may browse singers and song titles or search titles using keywords.
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850–1920, American Memory, Library of Congress
This extensive collection provides a window on American culture between 1850 and 1920 by offering more than 3,000 pieces of sheet music from Duke University’s Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. These musical pieces represent American history and culture through a variety of music types including minstrel, protest, sentimental, patriotic, and political songs, bel canto, spirituals, dance music, vaudeville, and musical pieces. The collection is particularly strong in antebellum Southern music, Confederate imprints, and Civil War music and includes a large collection of piano marches, opera excerpts, waltzes, polkas, and quadrilles as well. The site also offers a 750-word essay, a 1000-word essay that defines sheet music as a cultural medium and outlines the history of music publishing in the U.S., and a bibliography of more than 150 works on the history of sheet music, composers, musicians, and performers in the U.S.

Oral History

Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
A companion to the book Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World, which depicts life in the southern textile mill towns from the 1880s to the 1930s, this site offers selected oral history resources that are used in the book. In addition to its three chronological sections discussing the South’s transition from agriculture to mill work in the late 19th century, life in the mills and the mill villages, and the millhands’ labor protests and strikes of the 1920s and 1930s, the site contains more than 60 audio clips drawn from hundreds of oral history interviews with descendants of millhands and others involved in the history of the Southern textile industry. The audio clips are described with brief (25–50 word) descriptions of the contents. Each section offers ideas for class projects using the sources on the site and also provides links to other sources on the Web.
Studs Terkel: Conversations With America, Chicago Historical Society
Created in honor of Studs Terkel, noted oral historian, radio host, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, this site offers a rich history of many influential, as well as lesser-known, personalities living in the second half of the 20th century. An educational section helps students and teachers use oral history in the classroom. This website is beneficial to anyone interested in the Great Depression, World War II, race relations, and labor issues.
Oral History Online! Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
Oral History Online has full-text transcripts of more than 55 searchable interviews. Current offerings include “The University History Series” focusing on the Free Speech Movement, “The Suffragists Oral History Project,” and interviews regarding the medical response to the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, 1981–1984. The site also contains “Oral History Tips” and guides to “Conducting an Oral History” and “Oral History Interviewing.”


Bound for Glory: America in Color, 1939–1943, Library of Congress
This exhibition offers 70 color pictures taken by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI) between 1939 and 1943. This collection “reveals a surprisingly vibrant world that has typically been viewed only through black-and-white images. These vivid scenes and portraits capture the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations, the nation’s subsequent economic recovery and industrial growth, and the country’s great mobilization for World War II.”
Surveyors of the West: William Henry Jackson and Robert Brewster Stanton, New York Public Library Digital Collections
This site presents the journals and photographs of two men who surveyed the western states in the second half of the 19th century. William Henry Jackson was a photographer, artist, and writer who traveled along the route of the Union Pacific Railway in 1869. Robert Brewster Stanton was a civil engineer who surveyed canyons in Colorado for the Colorado Canyon and Pacific Railroad Company between 1889 and 1890. This site is easy to navigate and is useful for studying western states, the environment, and photography in the 19th century.
When They Were Young: A Photographic Retrospective of Childhood, Library of Congress
These 66 photographs capture the diverse experiences of children from many different parts of the world. The collection includes early 19th-century daguerreotypes, turn-of-the-century studio portraits, and 20th-century prints and stereographs.

Quantitative Evidence

United States Historical Census Data Browser, Geospatial and Stastical Data Center, University of Virginia Library
Data gathered by the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research from census records and other government sources for a study entitled “Historical Demographic, Economic, and Social Data: The United States, 1790–1970” is accessible through this website. For each decade, users can browse extensive population- and economic-oriented statistical information at state and county levels, arranged according to a variety of categories, including place of birth, age, gender, marital status, race, ethnicity, education, illiteracy, salary levels, housing, and specifics dealing with agriculture, labor, and manufacturing. Users may select up to 15 variables when conducting searches and the site will generate both raw figures and statistical charts.
Selected Historical Decennial Census Population and Housing Counts, Department of Commerce, Census Bureau
More than 40 historical census reports, including decennial reports dating back to 1790, are available for download on this website as PDFs. Historical statistics address topics such as population totals by race, urban or rural populations, educational attainment, and means of transportation to work, among others. There are also histories of the 21 U.S. census questionnaires produced from 1790 to 2000, including instructions to census marshals dating back to 1820. Comparative tables show which censuses included specific questions on subjects, such as ancestry and mental disabilities, and whether respondents were deaf, blind, insane, feeble-minded, paupers, literate, or convicts. Additional information includes state and territorial censuses, mortality schedules produced for a number of 19th-century censuses, population at the time of each census, and supplemental censuses taken at various times on free and slave inhabitants, Indian populations, unemployment, and housing. Because of the PDF format, the reports take a number of minutes to download. These materials are useful for those needing demographic information or researching the history of census taking and the development of census categories.
Dynamics of Idealism: Volunteers for Civil Rights, 1965–1982, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Documentation collected for a study of the attitudes, backgrounds, goals, and experiences of volunteers participating in a 1965 Southern Christian Leadership Conference voter registration effort is available for download on this website. It includes questionnaires submitted prior to and following the project, as well as a follow-up survey conducted in 1982. Participants were queried as to reasons they volunteered, what they expected, their attitudes regarding race and politics, and subsequent attitudes regarding civil rights, violence, and social change. This information is valuable for those studying the civil rights movement and sociological aspects of American reformers.

Letters and Diaries

George Washington Papers, 1741–1799, American Memory, Library of Congress
This collection of approximately 65,000 documents written by or to George Washington includes correspondence, letterbooks, diaries, journals, account books, military records, reports, and notes written from 1741 through 1799. Because of the wide range of Washington’s interests and correspondents, including ordinary citizens, his papers are a rich source for studying almost every aspect of colonial and early American history.
Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society
Images of manuscripts and letters coupled with digital transcriptions from the Adams Family Papers are available through this site. The collection includes over 1,100 letters exchanged between John and Abigail Adams beginning during their courtship in 1762 and continuing through 1801, 51 diary entries, financial accounts, copies of letters, drafts of essays, and notes on books and legal cases kept by John Adams between 1753 and 1804, as well as John Adams’ autobiography; divided into three sections: “John Adams,” “Travels, and Negotiations,” and “Peace.” Users may search for specific words, dates, people, places, or ships. Users may search the entire collection or narrow their search to John Adams’ Autobiography, Diaries, or the letters between Abigail and John Adams. This website is an invaluable resource for anyone studying diverse aspects of colonial, early American, and women’s history.
Trails to Utah and the Pacific: Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869, American Memory, Library of Congress; Brigham Young University; and Utah Academic Library Consortium
Diaries documenting the westward treks of 45 men and four women during the period of the California Gold Rush and rise of Mormonism are offered on this website. Although most of these travelers took either the California or Mormon trails, a few diaries provide accounts describing life on trails to Oregon and Montana. 82 photographs and illustrations and 43 maps, including an interactive one displaying trails, cities, rivers, and landmarks, complement the diaries. There are seven published guides, two essays on the Mormon and California trails (9,100 words; 5,500 words), brief biographies of most of the diarists, and a list of suggested readings. This is an excellent collection of materials that documents 49 individual perspectives on a movement that encompassed an estimated 500,000 people.
The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection, Massachusetts Historical Society
John Quincy Adams began keeping a diary at the age of 12 and continued until just before his death in 1848. Comprising more than 14,000 pages, this website presents images of the 51 volumes of Adams’ diary. Though there is no transcription available, the diary can be searched by date or by using a detailed timeline that includes brief summaries of each entry. This website also provides links to the MHS Teacher and Student resources page, including four sample lessons on the Adams family and early American history.