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Primary Source Investigation at the Library of Congress

Learn about primary resources while exploring the collections from the Library of Congress. Lots of activities for all grade levels. Cyberbee created, teacher tested.

Children of Yesteryear

Answer the questions by examining photographs of children. This is a great lesson to introduce elemenary students to primary resources.

Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny

What is manifest destiny? What were some of the reasons that led to manifest destiny. What effect did it have on the people, the land, and the wildlife? Your history book is one source for information, but there are many documents, photographs, and other artifacts that were created at the time of an event. These primary resources also help to tell the story about history. Using primary resources from the Library of Congress, your history book, and other sources, investigate the answers to these questions and more.

Buffalo Slide Show
Buffalo Slide Show

Learn about the decline of the American Buffalo through this slide show of primary resources.

Legacy of the Dust Bowl

When the billowing black clouds of dust rolled and swirled across the plains in the 1930s, the American landscape was drastically changed. With their crops destroyed, a steady stream of humanity trekked westward to the promised land of California. John Steinbeck wrote vividly about the migrant camps in the Grapes of Wrath, Dorothea Lange documented the harsh conditions with compelling photographs, and Woody Guthrie, a refugee himself, sang dust bowl ballads. The stark reality of the Depression Era contrasts sharply with the decades before and after it.Let’s travel down the highway of time and study first hand eyewitness accounts, photographs, and music archived on a variety of Websites. These activities are designed to promote critical thinking and analysis of the cultural genres during the 1930s and their impact on future generations.


African Americans Biography
Civil War Geography
Government History - American
History - World Immigration
Law Multicultural
Native Americans Primary Sources
Westward Expansion Women


African Americans

Aboard the Underground Railroad

Tha National Park Service provides a list of sites and their locations that relate to the Undergrounf Railroad.

The African-American Experience in Ohio: Selections from the Ohio Historical Society

This selection of manuscript and printed text and images drawn from the collections of the Ohio Historical Society illuminates the history of black Ohio from 1850 to 1920, a story of slavery and freedom, segregation and integration, religion and politics, migrations and restrictions, harmony and discord, and struggles and successes.

African American Odyssey

This Special Presentation of the Library of Congress exhibition, The African-American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship, showcases the Library's incomparable African-American collections. The presentation was not only a highlight of what is on view in this major black history exhibition, but also a glimpse into the Library's vast African-American collections. Both include a wide array of important and rare books, government documents, manuscripts, maps, musical scores, plays, films, and recordings.

African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907

The Daniel A. P. Murray Pamphlet Collection presents a panoramic and eclectic review of African-American history and culture, spanning almost one hundred years from the early nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries, with the bulk of the material published between 1875 and 1900. Among the authors represented are Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Benjamin W. Arnett, Alexander Crummel, and Emanuel Love.

African-American Sheet Music, 1850-1920: Selected from the Collections of Brown University

This collection consists of 1,305 pieces of African-American sheet music dating from 1850 through 1920. The collection includes many songs from the heyday of antebellum black face minstrelsy in the 1850s and from the abolitionist movement of the same period. Numerous titles are associated with the novel and the play Uncle Tom's Cabin. Civil War period music includes songs about African-American soldiers and the plight of the newly emancipated slave. Post-Civil War music reflects the problems of Reconstruction and the beginnings of urbanization and the northern migration of African Americans. African-American popular composers include James Bland, Ernest Hogan, Bob Cole, James Reese Europe, and Will Marion Cook. Twentieth century titles feature many photographs of African-American musical performers, often in costume.

Amistad Research Center

The American Missionary Association and the Promise of a Multicultural America: 1839-1954 provides online access to original archival documents preserved at the Amistad Research Center. The digital timeline describes the events of the historical Amistad Event, the subsequent founding of America's largest missionary society and details the development of its visionary committment to solve America's social problems: e.g. slavery; the plight of the ex-slaves; the treatment of Native Americans; equal protection for all; assimilation of the immigrant populations and meeting the needs of peoples in foreign lands.

Awale: The Art of African Game

Oware (pronounced oh-wah-ruh) is a game that has its origins in Ethiopia. There are a number of variations including Awale and Wari. The game is played with a hollow wood plank and some stones or seeds. Because it is a strategy game, you may want to tie it into problem-solving lessons. Awale, an elegant shareware program, is designed for both Macintosh and Windows. A trial copy can be downloaded for review.

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves.

Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964

The Carl Van Vechten Photographs Collection at the Library of Congress consists of 1,395 photographs taken by American photographer Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964) between 1932 and 1964. The bulk of the collection consists of portrait photographs of celebrities, including many figures from the Harlem Renaissance. A much smaller portion of the collection is an assortment of American landscapes.

A Durable Memento: Portraits by Augustus Washington

Augustus Washington (1820/21 1875) is one of the few African American daguerreotypists whose work has been identified. He opened a studio in Hartford Connecticut and then, in Liberia where he prospered.

The Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress

The Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress presents the papers of the nineteenth-century African-American abolitionist who escaped from slavery and then risked his own freedom by becoming an outspoken antislavery lecturer, writer, and publisher.

From Slavery to Freedom

From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909 presents 397 pamphlets from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, published from 1824 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics.

A Journey Through Art With W. H. Johnson

William Johnson (1901-1970), a major figure in 20th-century American Art, studied at the National Academy of Design in New York. Prior to World War II he spent time learning from European artists in southern France. You are invited to journey through a chronological timeline of Johnsonís works. In this series of colorful paintings, you can observe how his style evolved. The "Fighters for Freedom" collection depicts famous men and women who were leaders in the quest for racial equality. In "Scenes from City Life and Country Life," universal themes are portrayed that touch the human spirit. Activities for elementary students, such as creating a self-portrait, planning a make-believe trip, or writing a story about one of the paintings, accompany each page.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Seattle Times" article commemorating the 30th anniversary of his death.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will open on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, in the summer of 2004. Using the Underground Railroad as a lens through which to explore a range of freedom issues, the Freedom Center offers lessons and reflections on what freedom has meant in the past, means to today and will mean tomorrow.

"Now What a Time": Blues, Gospel, and the Fort Valley Music Festivals, 1938-1943

"Now What a Time": Blues, Gospel, and the Fort Valley Music Festivals, 1938-1943 consists of approximately one hundred sound recordings, primarily blues and gospel songs, and related documentation from the folk festival at Fort Valley State College (now Fort Valley State University), Fort Valley, Georgia. The documentation was created by John Wesley Work III in 1941 and by Lewis Jones and Willis Laurence James in March, June, and July 1943. Also included are recordings made in Tennessee and Alabama (including six Sacred Harp songs) by John Work between September 1938 and 1941.

Black Heritage Series

Beginning in 1940, African Americans were recognized on U.S. postage stamps for their contributions and achievements in a variety of areas. This beautiful collection contains a picture of each stamp. and information.

The Underground Railroad

Take a journey on the underground railroad on this interactive Web site. Learn about the routes, the hardships, and the miles that had to be traveled to reach freedom. Classroom ideas are provided for all grade levels.

William P. Gottlieb: Photographs from the Golden Age of Jazz

During the course of his career, Gottlieb took portraits of prominent jazz musicians and personalities, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Hines, Thelonious Monk, Stan Kenton, Ray McKinley, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Ella Fitzgerald, and Benny Carter. This online collection presents Gottlieb's photographs, annotated contact prints, selected published prints, and related articles from Down Beat magazine.



Over 20,000 short biographies plus videoclips and programming.

Anne Frank Center

This site is brought to us by the Anne Frank Center USA which also sponsors a traveling exhibit and the Spirit of Anne Frank Awards. Most will be visiting this page for information about Anne Frank and the photographs that accompany Her Life and Times. Publishing history of her diary with excerpts are a wonderful tribute to her memory and ordeal of the millions who perished in the Holocaust during Hitler's reign over Germany.

Civil War

American Civil War Home Page - Starting Point

One of the most comprehensive lists of links to Civil War related material.

Artifacts of Assassination - American Treasures of the Library of Congress

This exhibit from the Library of Congress shows the content of Lincolnís pockets at the time of his assassination.

Civil War Maps - American Treasures of the Library of Congress

One example from Jedediah Hotchkiss (1828-1899), a topographic engineer found in the Confederate States Army who prepared maps and provided geographic intelligence for Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Richard Ewell, Jubal Early, and John B. Gordon.

Civil War Women

Original source material from Duke University about women and their role in the Civil War. Included are diaries and photographs.

Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789

The Continental Congress Broadside Collection (253 titles) and the Constitutional Convention Broadside Collection (21 titles) contain 274 documents relating to the work of Congress and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. Items include extracts of the journals of Congress, resolutions, proclamations, committee reports, treaties, and early printed versions of the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Most Broadsides are one page in length, others range from 1 to 28 pages.

George Moses Horton

George Moses Horton (ca. 1797-ca.1883) was a Chatham County, N.C., slave who taught himself to read and compose poetry. By the age of twenty, he began visiting the University of North Carolina and selling the students acrostic love poems based on the names of their girlfriends. His literary efforts were encouraged by a number of well-placed individuals, including the novelist Caroline Lee Hentz, N.C. Governor and later University President David L. Swain, and newspaperman Horace Greeley.

Gettysburg Address

Exhibit from the Library of Congress with drafts of the Gettysburg Address, translation in twenty-eight languages, and the only known photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg.

Letters from an Iowa Soldier in the Civil War

This is a collection of letters written by Newton Robert Scott to Hannah Cone about his personal experiences during the Civil War.

Poetry and Music of the War Between the States

Midi files are used to deliver musical renditions of Civil War tunes.

Selected Civil War Photographs - American Memory Collection

Mathew Brady photographs of battlefields and people.


50 States of the united States

Brief information about each state.

Color Landform Atlas of the United States

The Color Landform Atlas of the United States supplies a topographic and county outline map for each state except Alaska and Hawaii.

Finding Your Way with Map and Compass

U.S Geological Survey explanation of how to use a map and compass together to get from one point to another.

Flag Pictures

Get to know about countries and their flags

How to Use a Compass

Illustrated instructions take you through three lessons starting with the rudiments of directions, then moving on to compass and map interaction to more complex magnetic map declination.

Map Machine - National Geographic

Interactive map for locating geographical areas.


Create your own travel map with MapQuest.

Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection

Hundreds of maps are available from the University of Texas at Austin, which houses the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) collection, a good source for contemporary and historical material. Since the PCL maps have no copyright, they can be downloaded and used for any purpose.


Constitution Center

Search the constitution by keyword or topic. There is an explanation that gives further details about the item along with viewpoints. In addition you can look up famous Supreme Court cases and find information about them. This is a great resource for civics classes.

First Ladies Library

Established to collect and preserve information about the First Ladies. Contains links to photographs and biographical information about the First Ladies and information about the organization.


This is the official government gateway to information about state and federal agencies.

Non-partisan starting point for government information.

Hall of Presidents

National Portrait Gallery of paintings and information about the Presidents.

History of Politics Out Loud

The History of Politics Out Loud site is a searchable archive of significant audio materials such as speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., Frankilin Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon.

Monticello, Home of Thomas Jefferson

Explore a Day in the Life of Thomas Jefferson, then compare and contrast your day. You will find all sorts of interesting facts about gardening, foods, office instruments, and much more.

Mount Vernon Resources

Visit the home of George Washington and explore the grounds. Discover artifacts that represent the time period. Learn about our first president and his impact on America.

National Park Service

Parknet is a comprehensive directory of the National Park Service. Information includes address, telephone number, hours of operation, directions, entrance fees, facilities, and more for each park. Ask a ranger, this day in park history, naturenet, and links to the past are a few of the other features you will want to use in your classroom..

Portraits of Presidents and First Ladies 1789-Present

Images of all the presidents and most of the first ladies.


Links to Presidential Library Web sites.

U.S Congress

Follow the legislative process of current bills in Congress, learn about how a bill becomes a law, or find information about government.

U. S. Historical Documents

A very nice exhibit of state flags can be found at the University of Oklahoma along with a superb chronology of American historical documents.

U. S. House of Representatives

Tour the U.S. House of Representatives and find information about current members.

United Nations

Information about the United Nations and its programs.

United States Senate

Tour the U.S. Senate and find information about current members.

Vote Smart

This Website tracks the records of politicians and provides useful election information.

The White House

On the White House web server, you can listen to messages from the President and Vice-President, learn about the First Family, leave a message for the White House, and link to other government servers.

History - American

American Memory

In words, pictures, and sounds the American Memory Collection offers us the unique opportunity to dig through original source material and bring living history into our classrooms.

Betsy Ross Home Page

Questions about the American flag can be directed to The Betsy Ross site. It includes her story, famous quotes, facts, timeline, picture gallery of the flag in history, etiquette, trivia, and links to other places.

By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943

The By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943 collection consists of 908 boldly colored and graphically diverse original posters produced from 1936 to 1943 as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Of the 2,000 WPA posters known to exist, the Library of Congress's collection of more than 900 is the largest.

Historic Valley Forge

The story of Valley Forge is presented along with other interesting information.

History Place

Lots of photographs and chronological data on varing themes from American and World History.

History Matters

Designed for high school and college teachers of U.S. History survey courses, this site serves as a gateway to Web resources and offers unique teaching materials, first-person primary documents and threaded discussions on teaching U.S. history.

Picturing the Century

"Picturing the Century: One Hundred Years of Photography from the National Archives," commemorates the end of the 20th century with a selection of photographs from the vast and varied holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA photographs vividly capture the sweeping changes of the last one hundred years. They depict both the mundane and high political drama, society's failings as well as its triumphs, war's ugliness as well as its bravery. This exhibition is arranged in chronological "galleries" as well as seven "portfolios" of talented photographers well represented in NARA's holdings.

The Star Spangled Banner

Visit the National Museum of American History and learn about the flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner. There is information about its preservation and an interpretive exhbit on flag history.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Several features are included at this online exhibit of information about the Holocaust. The Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto shows how a people clandestinely documented their history as a leagacy to generations to come. The Spirit of St. Louis tells the sad story of a group of Jewish refugees on a ship that no country would accept. Now, stories are being gathered from the survivors and their descendents. In addition to the online exhibits, there is information about visiting the museum.

History - World

Ancient Adventures

Choose your own adventures designed by a middle school teacher. Site contains lots of photographs and descriptions. Popup windows may be annoying.

Cybrary of the Holocaust

There are many resources about the Holocaust, including journals of survivors, historical perspectives, and witness facts.

The Mummy Maker

Enter the embalmer's workshop, where you are to prepare the body of Ramose, officer to the king, for burial. When you have completed the game, try building a pyramid.


Ellis Island

A look back at immigration through the voices and histories of immigrants.

Tenement Museum - New York at the turn of the century Personal perspectives on the Tenement as history and housing.


U.S. Supreme Court

Track cases, read opinions, and learn about the highest court in the nat on.



Sponsored by the Asia Society, the site has a wealth lesson plans.

Multicultural Pavilion

Teacher resources, international projects, and research are only a few of the many links available.Native Americans.

Native Americans

Edward S. Curtis's North American Indian Photographs

The North American Indian by Edward S. Curtis is one of the most significant and controversial representations of traditional American Indian culture ever produced.

Encyclopedia Mythica - Native American Mythology

The legend of the Buffalo Dance is one of the many stories you can locate at the Website. Browse through the various tribal names for more stories.

First Nations Histories

Brief histories about Native American Tribes..

Omaha Indian Music

Omaha Indian Music features traditional Omaha music from the 1890s and 1980s. The multiformat ethnographic field collection contains 44 wax cylinder recordings collected by Francis La Flesche and Alice Cunningham Fletcher between 1895 and 1897, 323 songs and speeches from the 1983 Omaha harvest celebration pow-wow, and 25 songs and speeches from the 1985 Hethu'shka Society concert at the Library of Congress.

Primary Sources

California Heritage Collection

The California Heritage is an online archive of more than 36,000 images illustrating California's history and culture, from the collections of the Bancroft Library. Selected from nearly two hundred individual collections, this unique resource uses the latest online archiving techniques to highlight the rich themes of California's history.

Denver Public Library

The Western History Collection at the Denver Public Library is recognized as one of the most significant collections of Western Americana in the country. The collection reflects all phases of development of the trans-Mississippi West, with strong focus on the Rocky Mountain West.

Library of Congress

In words, pictures, and sounds the Library of Congress Collection offers us the unique opportunity to dig through original source material and bring living history into our classrooms.

National Archives

The National Archives and Records Administration holds numerous records that pertain to his quest for equality, including letters and telegrams to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. In one telegram to President Kennedy, Robinson implores him to make every effort to provide federal protection for Dr. Martin Luther King and his contingent who are attending the funeral of Medgar Evers in Mississippi.

Ohio Historical Connection

The Ohio History Connection offers a number of online access points to learn more about our collections

Primary Sources and Activities - National Archives

Document analysis is the first step in working with primary sources. Teach your students to think through primary source documents for contextual understanding and to extract information to make informed judgments.


Westward Expansion

Across the Plains in 1844

Catherine Sager Pringle wrote her diary in 1860 about the journey from Missouri to Oregon. She originally emigrated from Ohio with her family to Missouri. She relates incidents on the trail, the poignant story of her fatherís and motherís deaths, and her days in Indian captivity.

Advice from William Todd - 1846

William Todd writes home about the tribulations of ascending mountains by literally "throwing their wagons like handspikes." His reports were published in the Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.).

Bison Central

Find nutritional information, a brief history, and recipes about the buffalo.

Buffalo Soldiers of the Western Frontier

The International Horse Museum presents the history of the Buffalo Soldiers beginning in 1866.

California As I Saw It: First Person Narratives of Californiaís Early Years, 1849 - 1900

Eyewitness accounts during California's development.

The California Gold Country Highway 49 Revisited

Travel along Highway 49 and learn about the gold mining camps of yesteryear.

Commerce of the Prairies - Josiah Gregg

First published in 1844, this two volume book contains the travel stories of Josiah Gregg, a Santa Fe trader. Chapters cover the origin and development of the Santa Fe trade route, harnessing pack mules, and preparations for trips.

Diamond R Ranch: NAtional Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

Through interactive media (paintings, songs, games) students learn about cowboy like and the West. Very clever delivery of the material.

Donner Online

Learn about the tragic events surrounding the ill fated Donner Party using this Web-based lesson developed by Education First, Pacific Bell Knowledge Network. Students assume the roles of historian, cartographer, diarist, correspondent, jester, provisioner, or scientist and complete a series of activities using a series of hyperlinked sites. A Hyperstudio template for publishing student projects compliments the lesson and can be downloaded from the site.

Food on the oregon Trail

Jacqueline Williams explains the background and history behind why specific items were chosen. There is also a bibliography of references for further reading.

Narcissa Whitman 1836 - 1847

Narcissa and Marcus Whitmanís efforts to set up a mission serving the Cayuse Indians at Waiilatpu in the Walla Walla Valley, ends tragically in November, 1847. Cultural misunderstandings and a series of unfortunate events leads to an attack on the Whitmans that results in their deaths. Narcissa Whitmanís letters home offer vivid reports on frontier life..

Oregon-California Trails Association

Preservation and education regarding the California and Oregon Trails are the primary concerns of this non-profit organization. The gallery of trail photos, grave sites, emigrant stories, and facts are highlights of their home page.

Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

Historical information about the role of Black Pioneers in the settlement of Oregon is very informative. Included are a timeline of events, political reactions, exclusion laws, and biographies. Another outstanding feature of this Website is the series of articles written by Jim Thompson about the massive migration of settlers. Samples include Outfitting for the Trail, Life on the Trail, and Hardships on the Oregon Trail.

The Overland Trail

The Overland Trail was the route established in 1862. It avoided the Indian uprisings that were occurring on the Oregon Trail farther north. This was also became the main road for the Overland Stage Company. Brief descriptions of stations, stops, and landmarks is presented along with a host of links to pioneer stories, maps, and other relevant material.

Prairie Traveler

Captain Randolph Barnes Marcy, a veteran soldier, wrote what one would consider today as the definitive guide for travel on the overland trails. He describes the advantages and disadvantages of the different routes to California and Oregon and gives practical advice on everything from daily itineraries to the treatment of rattlesnake bites.


By Popular Demand: Votes for Women: Suffrage Pictures 1859 - 1920

Leaders of the suffrage movement including, Cady Stanton, Julia Ward Howe, and Mary Church Terrell.

National Museum of Women in the Arts

View over 250 works by women artists from around the world in the museum's permanent collection.

National Womenís Hall of Fame

Brief biographies of 125 individuals.

National Women's History Month Project

Lots of resources for teaching about women, including organizations, women performers in each state, and the annual themed Women in History Month materials are available on this site.

Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Suffrage Association Collection 1848-1921

Material from Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Julia Ward Howe, and others involved in the suffrage movement.

Revolutionary Viewpoints
Revolutionary Viewpoints

April Morning by Howard Fast is on many core reading lists and addresses several of the standards in reading/language arts as well as social studies. This lesson draws upon primary sources as a means to interpret the events of April 19, 1775.

We the People Lesson
We the People Lesson: Meet Dr. Franklin

The U.S. Constitution is a living, flexible document that is the foundation of American government. Benjamin Franklin played a key role as elder statesman at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Join Dr. Franklin as he shares his views about the framing of the U.S. Constitution in the town where history was made - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

African American Experiences
African American Experiences:
Window to the Past

African American experiences during slavery are identified in the National History Standards under United States History, Era 2: Standard 3C that states, “The student understands African life under slavery.” After a quick search of state standards, this subject generally falls within grades 5-8. Naturally the best way to learn about daily life, culture, and history is to draw upon first-hand accounts by people who lived during that time period. Primary sources are tailor made for studying this topic. Let’s embark on a journey back in time with the aid of eye witness accounts, diaries, newspaper articles, broadsides, engravings, and songs to understand the cultural landscape of the period. It should be noted that much of the material expresses the language, experiences, and viewpoints of the era in which they were written.

Everyday Artifacts
Everyday Artifacts

Critical thinking skills will be used to introduce students to primary sources. You will also meet some of the curators from the Library of Congress as they describe artifacts from the collections. Join us in a magical Adventure Through History.


Updated July 1, 2022
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