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Shortcuts for Finding Primary Sources

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More than 20 million digitized primary source items present almost limitless opportunities for both exciting discovery and serious frustration. Here is the first in a short series on finding primary sources online from the Library of Congress.

The Library’s online collections are not encyclopedic, so knowing their strengths will save time and help you to find primary sources.  Most of the digitized items were created prior to 1923 or were created by someone working for the federal government as part of the job, and most of them document American history and culture.

Primary Sources by State

Here are some shortcuts to locating primary sources from the Library of Congress quickly.  Start at   Look at the list of Classroom Materials and select the classroom-ready sets of primary sources already assembled by the expert staff at the Library of Congress to save teachers time.

Primary source sets feature selected primary sources related to specific topics.  Don’t miss Primary Sources by State for local resources related to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

Presentations look across the American Memory collections to investigate curricular themes, including historical background. These are some favorites:

Fill up the Canvas: Exploring with Lewis and Clark

The next post in this series, coming in a few weeks, will look at how to search in the collections. In the comments, tell us your favorite shortcuts to finding primary sources from

Comments (8)

  1. I have enjoyed looking for primary sources using the search feature on the teachers page.

    I am curious how the new search box on the main page of the website facilitiates finding primary sources. Will there be a blog post on how to use that new feature successfully?

  2. THis is an amazing source with wonderful teaching possibilities. Are there any similar options for topics outside the US?

  3. Hi Janet, my colleague Anne Savage recently wrote a post about the new search box. Take a look at it, but let us know in the comments to that post if you still have questions!

    Hi Dr. Grobler, There are some resources for topics outside of the US. In the lesson plans, there are a couple on the Alaska settlement and purchase that incorporate Russian history. You might also look at the list of primary source sets and start with the maps from the World Digital Library. Of course, that will lead you to the World Digital Library itself, which is the best place to find primary sources on topics outside the US.

  4. Hi there!
    Love the site! I was wondering if there was any way to change images on the primary source sets by state – I think these are the same ones I’ve seen before – or maybe include a brief section with each image or as a separate tag along with the set that describes where these images came from in the broader collection divisions – it would help teachers, for example, to see the Depew map and to know they might be able to find similar maps about their community in one or more places.

  5. Hi, Heidi! Glad you find this useful. We don’t currently have any plans to change the items in the PSS by state, but if you open the thumbnail image from any item, you’ll go to the item in the actual collections and can locate more items from there. One easy way to do that is to click on one of the linked subject heading in the item record. Another would be to go to the collection itself and do a fresh search. Hope that helps, but please let us know if you have more questions!

  6. I have really enjoyed learning about primary sources on the teacher page.

  7. I truly enjoyed learning about all of the available resources in the Library of Congress.

  8. I love using the short cut to primary source sets. These materials can be a great springboard into a discussion as we begin a unit of study. The students can experience the era through the lens of those who actually lived it!

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