This post is co-authored by Danna Bell and Cheryl Lederle.
Thinking about topics for National History Day or other research projects? Explore the online resources of the Library of Congress for primary sources to inspire and support a variety of projects.
Before diving directly into research, select a topic. For a theme such as “Taking a Stand in History,” it’s easy and tempting to pick a well known person or event. However, it may be more compelling to identify a topic that is less familiar. National History Day Director of Programs, Lynne O’Hara, wrote about finding different angles on topics and on the benefits of doing research with a focus on people or events that are not as well known. As she mentioned, finding one primary source of interest may lead you in an unexpected direction, provide more details on why someone decided to take a stand, or what took place because someone took a stand. Browse the Library’s Primary Source Sets, the American Memory Timeline, or Topics in Chronicling America to stimulate ideas.
After you select your topic, it’s time to dig in and research. Secondary sources can provide context, background, and may point to additional secondary sources or primary sources in the bibliography, footnotes, or in the actual text itself.
When you are ready to search for primary sources, the Library of Congress has a large collection of resources online. Here are some starting places:
- Primary Source Sets include primary sources from the Library’s collections and some background information on a variety of topics;
- Shortcuts for Finding Primary Sources provides links to other useful items from the Teachers Page.
And the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog is one of many Library blogs that may lead you to useful primary sources. Check out the list of Library of Congress blogs by other Library staff to locate more useful resources.
The Library’s home page has links to other places where you may find resources. Some tips are in this blog post. In addition to Topics in Chronicling America, make sure to explore the World Digital Library and the information on getting started searching at the Library of Congress. You can use the main search box on the home page to start your search. Try searching by a specific name, event, location or other items related to your topic.
And remember, if you get stuck you can always Ask a Librarian. Reference staff can supply basic research assistance relating to resources held at the Library. They cannot provide bibliographies, do translations, provide copyright permission for you to use something found on the Library’s website or write your project for you. Make sure to provide a list of the places you have looked for information with your Ask a Librarian inquiry.
Do you have other suggestions on locating materials for research projects on the Library of Congress website? List them in the comments.