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A primary source is an artifact, document, or object that is an account or record of an event/phenomena from the time in which the event occurred. Examples include: diaries, letters, speeches, music, film clips, artwork, etc.
Below are select primary source search engines, subscription databases, and freely available e-collections.
Murphy Library's Special Collections and Area Research Center also offers on site access to primary sources relating to Wisconsin, La Crosse, and UWL history.
Letters & Diaries
North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral Histories (Alexander Street Press)
This database includes 71 authors and approximately 10,000 pages of information intended to provide a unique and personal view of what it meant to immigrate to America and Canada between 1800 and 1950. It is composed of contemporaneous letters and diaries, oral histories, interviews, and other personal narratives, and some audio voices of the immigrants.
Online Collections of Primary Sources
Resources that include multiple types of primary sources (e.g. letters, manuscripts, images, movies, documents, etc.)
This resource includes text from historical periodicals and books including eyewitness accounts of historical events, descriptions of daily life, editorial observations, commerce as seen through advertisements and genealogical records. Collections include but are not limited to African American Newspapers, The Civil War Collection, The Pennsylvania Gazette, South Carolina Newspapers, Godey`s Lady`s Book 1830-1898, the Lily, and The Virginia Gazette.
American Journeys contains more than 18,000 pages of eyewitness accounts of North American exploration, from the sagas of Vikings in Canada in AD1000 to the diaries of mountain men in the Rockies 800 years later.
American Memory (Library of Congress)
American Memory provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience. It is a digital record of American history and creativity. These materials, from the collections of the Library of Congress and other institutions, chronicle historical events, people, places, and ideas that continue to shape America, serving the public as a resource for education and lifelong learning.
Documenting the American South (UNC University Library)
Documenting the American South provides free access to texts, images, and audio files related to southern history, literature, and culture. Currently DocSouth includes twelve thematic collections of books, diaries, posters, artifacts, letters, oral history interviews, and songs.
Early Encounters in North America: Peoples, Cultures, & the Environment (Alexander Street)
Assembled from hundreds of primary sources, this database documents the relationships among peoples and with the environment in North America from 1534 to 1850. The collection focuses on personal accounts and provides unique perspectives from all of the protagonists, including traders, slaves, missionaries, explorers, soldiers, native peoples, and officials, both men and women.
Eighteenth Century Collections Online (Gale)
These collections contain every significant English-language and foreign-language title printed in the United Kingdom between the years 1701 and 1800. Materials include books, pamphlets, essays, broadsides and more. Includes Eighteenth Century Collections Online Parts I & II.
Gale World Scholar: Latin America & the Caribbean
This multidisciplinary resource covers Latin American and Caribbean culture and society from the fifteenth century to the present day. Topics include politics, economics, religion, culture, international affairs, the environment, science, and technology. Includes primary source documents; academic journals and news-feeds; reference articles and commentary; maps and statistics; audio and video; and more.
La Crosse History Unbound
A joint digital venture between UW-La Crosse’s Murphy Library and the La Crosse Public Library, La Crosse History Unbound is a portal site to digitized cultural assets of the La Crosse County, Wisconsin, area. Over 180 titles exist on the site arranged by subject category, with a separate author and title list.
Murphy Library Digital Collections
The digital collections of Murphy Library makes materials of historical significance accessible to a wide range of people using online, digital formats. Collections include historical texts, such as the 1904 The Catholic History of La Crosse, Wis. : In Two Chapters. They include artistic and photographic works of historical significance, such as the 1899 work, Art Work of Valley of the Mississippi from La Crosse, Wisconsin to Keokuk, Iowa. You'll find digitized newspapers, such as the 1886-1887 Wisconsin Labor Advocate as well as many other resources.
The Gerritsen Collection: Women's History Online, 1543-1945
Full-text primary resource books and periodicals that reflect the evolution of feminist consciousness and women's rights. International scope.
The Gilded Age (Alexander Street Press)
The Gilded Age brings primary documents and scholarly commentary together covering American history from 1865 to 1902. In addition to an extensive selection of key treatises that reflect the social and cultural ferment of the late nineteenth century, The Gilded Age offers a wealth of rare materials, including songs, letters, photographs, cartoons, government documents, and ephemera. This primary content is enhanced by video interviews with scholars and numerous topical critical documentary essays specially commissioned for the project by Alexander Street Press. Covering such themes as race, labor, immigration, commerce, western expansion, and women’s suffrage, these essays illuminate the rapidly changing cultural landscape of America during the decades between the end of the Civil War and the election of Theodore Roosevelt.
Twentieth Century Advice Literature: North American Guides on Race, Gender, Sex, and the Family (Alexander Street Press)
The collection brings together the instructional, prescriptive, behavioral, and etiquette literature that defined standards of personal conduct for millions of Americans and reflected the prevailing social mores across the twentieth century. The collection contains 150,000 pages of fully searchable handbooks, manuals, textbooks, etiquette guides, self-help books, instructional pamphlets, and how-to books that illustrate both how Americans actually behaved and how they felt they ought to behave.
The Vogue Archive (ProQuest)
Vogue provides a record of American and international popular culture; it is a unique primary source for the study of fashion, gender and modern social history. Marketing students can research the history of a brand identity by viewing every advertisement for a brand such as Revlon, Coty, Versace or Chanel between specified dates. Researchers in cultural studies and gender studies can explore themes such as body image, gender roles and social tastes from the 1890s to the present. The latest issue will be added each month with no embargo period. Users can search through all text, captions, and titles throughout the magazine, including advertisements, covers and fold-outs.
Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600 to 2000 (Alexander Street)
Includes books, images, documents, scholarly essays, commentaries, and bibliographies, documenting the multiplicity of women’s reform activities. Resources added in 2008 include more than 72,000 pages from State Commissions on the Status of Women, as well as the first three volumes of Harvard University Press' Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary.
Catalogs / Search Engines to Find Primary Sources
OAIster is a union catalog of digital resources which means you can search for primary sources such as images, advertisements, movies, audio files, and manuscripts from multiple sources (e.g. Library of Congress American Memory project).
Scottish Women Poets of the Romantic Period (Alexander Street Press)
This release includes some 60 volumes from 47 poets. The critical and biographical essays for some poets will be added in a future release, as will selected criticism from printed works. In addition selected essays, criticism and Web resources will be added from time to time.
Suffragists Oral History Project
from the Bancroft Library's Regional Oral History Office, collected interviews with twelve leaders and participants in the woman's suffrage movement.