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HST 317: Why War: A Historical Perspective

Research guide to primary and secondary sources

Favorite Places to Start

Digital Public Library of America

brings together the riches of America's libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world. All of the materials found through DPLA—photographs, books, maps, news footage, oral histories, personal letters, museum objects, artwork, government documents, and so much more—are free and immediately available in digital format. The cultural institutions participating in DPLA represent the richness and diversity of America itself, from the smallest local history museum to our nation’s largest cultural institutions. Browse by curated exhibition, primary source settopic, or find guides to using the collections. 

Library of Congress

Millions of items in hundreds of formats. Some pre-narrowed explorations are here. Dive right in and use the search box at the top of the page, and play with the limiter. Default is "Everything."

National Archives

A little bit more challenging to use, but this is a good place to start. The digitized primary sources in NARA's DocsTeach site are a good place to explore.

Digitized Primary Source Sets and Exhibits Online

Each of these links to a preselected primary source set or exhibit from the Digital Public Library of America, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, or other cultural heritage institution.


American Revolution

Road to Revolution 
Boston Tea Party 

Revolutionary War Turning Points

American Revolutionary War Maps 
Lawmaking for a New Nation 

Revolution and the New Nation

American Civil War

American Civil War 
Mapping the American Civil War 
John Brown's Raid on Harpers' Ferry 
Women in the Civil War 
Underground Railroad and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
Secession of Southern States 
Shay's Rebellion 
American Abolitionists 
Abraham Lincoln's Papers
Northern Draft Riots in Civil War
Civil War Primary Source Set 
Civil War Maps 
Civil War Sheet Music 
Confederate States of America Records 
Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress
From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection
Voices Remembering Slavery: Freed People Tell their Stories
Discovering the Civil War

World War I

Patriotic Labor in World War I
Treaty of Versailles in WWI 

WWI: America Heads to War 

African - Americans in WWI

Newspaper Pictorials: World War I Rotogravures, 1914-1919

World War I Posters

The Stars and Stripes: The American Soldiers' Newspaper of World War I, 1918-1919

Sheet Music of World War I

World War II

Japanese-American Internment
The Eastern Front
Elie Weisel's Night and the Holocaust
The Rise of Italian Fascism
Attacks on American Soil: Pearl Harbor
Women on the WWII Home Front
Mexican Labor and WWI: The Bracero Program
Interviews after Pearl Harbor
Ansel Adams at Manzanar
Japanese-American Internment Camp Newspapers
World War II Military Situation Maps


 Remembering Vietnam
Veterans History Project
Virtual Vietnam Archive
Vietnam Videos from AP Archive

Vietnam War Documents from the Wilson Center

Other Conflicts and General Topic Sources

Activism in the United States
Web Archive of 2003 Iraq Invasion

Web Archive of September 11, 2001

September 11, 2001 Documentary Project

Frontline Diplomacy: The Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training

The Atomic Bomb and the Nuclear Age

Cross-Cultural Colonial Conflicts

The Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures

Wounded Knee Massacre

Maps of Military Battles and Campaigns

Patriotic Melodies

Political, Propaganda, and Social Issues Poster Collection

Physical Sources in SCARC

Explore physical collections at OSU's Special Collections and Archives Research Center with our Guide to War Collections.

Get direction on using primary sources in SCARC with the Guide to the Special Collections and Archives Research Center.

Class Questions Follow Up


Copyright and Citation

  • I'm still confused about copyright and public domain.

First, don't despair - it is confusing even for those who have worked with it for years! Look at this comprehensive guide for concise explanations.

  • Is it okay to use something still under copyright if you get permission from the person/entity who created it?

Yes! Look at this comprehensive guide for more explanations.

  • How do you cite primary sources, especially visual?

Every database we looked at today is going to have citation help on the item page. BUT REMEMBER TO DOUBLE CHECK THE FORMAT and ACCURACY!



  • What recommendations do you have if you can't find any good sources with your keywords?

1) ​Persevere, be resilient! Don't despair. 2) Go back to those considerations I talked about (copyright, privacy, archival silences, digital availability) and think through what might be affecting your results. 3) Come visit the Information Desk or the Research and Writing Studio in the library (or SCARC) and ask a librarian for help 4) talk with Professor Richards about the scope and content of your project to see if you can generate some different keywords, or look in a different spot.

  • How can I search for / cite only credible/scholarly sources?

Credibility is important to consider for secondary, scholarly sources - less so for primary sources, though issues of bias and authority come in play with primary sources. You'll learn more about this next week, but until then: look at the facets box on the results or search page. Is there a choice for "peer-reviewed" content or "scholarly" content? Check that and perform your search.


Primary Sources and Research

  • If a book has a quote from a primary source, and the book is from the time period, is it still a primary source?

Yes! And even if the book wasn't from the time period under study, the quote would still count as primary source material; however, you would cite it differently, showing that the quote was from the book and not citing the original source. Look at the Style and Citation Guides for more guidance on citation. 

  • Is it better to access works in person or online? Or does it matter? 

Such an interesting question, and there's lots to consider here. But briefly: The digital version will give you a great idea of content and the visual look of the item. However, the physical version can tell you important things that aren't easily captured digitally. Say you're looking at a scan of a Civil War battlefield letter. You can read the content, see how it looks, etc. But if you consult the physical copy, perhaps you'll see that the paper is actually of rough, poor quality, produced during war. This can help you make arguments about the cost, availability, and scarcity of paper, and how that might affect the soldier's ability to communicate with others via this medium. 

  • Wouldn't a translation of a primary source be both a primary source and a secondary source?

Great question! The translation itself would be primary; however, any introductions, footnotes, interpretive matter like forwards or commentary, or framing material by the translator/editor would be secondary (interpretive) sources.

  • How do I transition from research to writing?

This is one of the hardest questions in scholarly research. Every session, assess your primary and secondary sources and ask yourself how they are helping you make the arguments you're trying to make, and what else might be missing. You'll learn more on your visit next week, but you can also visit the Research and Writing Studio in the Library for more help.

  • How do I stay organized with all my sources?

I'm so glad you asked! I recommend using Zotero, a powerful citation management tool that could help you not only in this class but others. There's an Intro to Zotero workshop on Friday, November 8 at 1pm in the Library. See more at the schedule of Library Workshops page, near the bottom of the page.

  • My topic deals with ancient empires. Could I still use the resources covered in class? If not, where?

Library of Congress has some material, though you'd need to narrow this search down to get closer to what you're looking for.  Also try this great page from Brigham Young University. Also check Rutgers' guide on Greek materials, including that little box in the lower left corner. 

  • Are there any resources for only Europe-related primary sources?

Check out the links on this great page from Brigham Young University Library. Also, Europeana is a great place to start.

  • What would be the best way to deal with link rot?

It can strike anywhere, any time! As you saw in class, the easiest way I've found to track something is to copy and paste the title of the thing you're looking for into Google. Usually, that takes you to the updated page. If that doesn't work, throw as many keywords as you can into your Google search, and see where that takes you! 

  • Can a music video from YouTube be a primary source?

Yes, definitely. Remember, primary sources are materials in a variety of formats created at the time under study. So, if you're working on a topic in the modern era (last 30 years), a music video that was created at the time you're studying would absolutely be a primary source. When in doubt though, check with Professor Richards, or email us at


Practical Stuff

  • Can normal people use the State Archives?

'Normal people,' ie, people who are just citizens and not necessarily scholars or advanced researchers, are exactly who the State Archives are for. Find out more at the State Archives website. 

  • Can you check out physical copies from the Library?

Yes! Remember, primary sources are those created at the time under study. If you're doing anything from about 1850-present, it's likely there will be primary sources in the Main stacks that you can check out and use at home. In SCARC, we circulate our materials only in our reading room. But, we have a fancy scanner that will allow you to scan our materials and take them home that way. Also, date of creation is not necessarily the only factor in whether something is in SCARC or Main. We have materials in SCARC from recent years - if something is more recent and you need a copy to check out, we can show you how to look for and request one through Summit or ILL. (More next week!)

  • Is SCARC open 24/7 like the rest of the library? How many people can be in SCARC at once?

Sadly no - our hours are 10am-4pm Monday through Friday during the term. We close the Reading Room sometimes for classes, so it is helpful to check our schedule before visiting! We have 16 seats in our Reading Room.

  • If I was to come into SCARC and ask for a few good primary sources for a war, would that be an easy task? What subjects, topics or time period are the least represented in SCARC?

Depends on what you're studying. SCARC doesn't have a huge amount in our collections about contemporary wars - this is a huge generalization, but most of our material is pre-2000. But, if we have collections that match what you're studying, it's an easy task to find them, then look at them in our Reading Room! Email us at with your topic, and we'll try to have an answer to you within a day. Our collections are vast and cover a huge range of topics, but very generally, most of what we have is between 1600 and 2000. 

  • Can we search for items in SCARC?

Yes! Check out the Find items in SCARC tab and subtabs in our Guide to SCARC for tips on how to search for our materials. Or, just stop by, any time from 10am-4pm Monday through Friday.

  • How I learn more about SCARC? How do I get involved in SCARC? 

Two places to start first: our Guide to SCARC and our webpage. We are always looking for focused, motivated students with good communication skills and a passion for primary sources to join our team. Email me at for more info.