For this column, I decided to focus on sites which would be worth visiting when one began researching a new topic.
The National Archives contains most of the federal records of the United States of America. The prize jewels physically in the National Archives are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and original copies of these documents are contained in the National Archives building in Washington, D.C. Online one can study these documents and link to biographies of the "Founding Fathers." The site also tells about traveling exhibits. For those interested in research, the site details where various kinds of documents are, including a division of what documents are located at the downtown Washington, D.C. National Archives branch (also often called Archives I), what documents are located out in College Park, Maryland (also often called Archives II), and what documents are at regional branches of the National Archives. The National Archives also overseas the Presidential Libraries, and every president since Herbert Hoover, including Bill Clinton, (with the exception of Richard Nixon) is represented. (Nixon's library is privately run, but the presidential papers of Nixon are at Archives II).
(By subscription only — check with your local library)
This resource allows one to search dissertations and theses from the United States and Canada in order to allow one to find work previously done on a subject. The work is frequently updated (the last update came only nine days before I did my search). The updates do not always bring the subject fully up to date, as several Ph.D.s that I was aware of, who finished in 2003, did not have their dissertation recorded in the database. One can search by year of publication, author, advisor, descriptor words, and several other ways. This is a very useful resource.
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress, started in 1800, aims to serve the needs of Congress and the nation. After the War of 1812, when the Library of Congress was burned, Thomas Jefferson sold his library of over 6,000 books to the U.S. government to rebuild the library. Since then, the Library of Congress has grown and now resides in three buildings in Washington. Its holdings number over one hundred million items, including over fifteen million books. The Library of Congress provides links, on its home page, to information for researchers, for teachers, and for law researchers. One of its more noted online collections is the American Memory Collection, which provides information about, links to, and aids for primary source materials held by the Library of Congress.
NUCMC (National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections)
This catalog, run by the Library of Congress, provides information about manuscript collections held all over the world. NUCMC is searchable in several different ways. It provides an FAQ section both about the catalog and about how a depository enters records into the NUCMC catalog, should a depository wish to do so. This is a good place to start if one wants to find out if manuscript collections might have information on a topic. One would, however, have to use the printed volumes as well, as this catalog only covers those collections added to this database's records from 1985 onward.
The History Channel Network lists a variety of websites in many different areas of history. From these websites, one can learn more about those topics. It mostly links to secondary sources which discuss issues, rather than primary sources, but some of the web sites do provide primary sources such as oral histories. A good place to get a survey of many areas of history and to perhaps find something that one might like to do more digging into, etc.
The British Library is one of the world's largest libraries and in some ways functions as the British equivalent of the Library of Congress. It contains over 150 million items. On the British Library's website is information about the British Library's hours, its "treasures" (including an original copy of the Magna Carta and the Gutenberg Bible), and what it presents in its website. Nearly six million searches a year are done on the web site and many of the British Library's books are available through Interlibrary Loan. For those interested in doing research into images, the British Library has digitized thousands.
Public Records Office
The Public Records Office (UK), now joined with the Historical Manuscripts Commission into the National Archives, serves in many ways as a British equivalent of the U.S. National Archives. On its web site it informs visitors every month of new items which have been released, and describes these items in varying detail. The web site also gives information on how one can order copies of various documents and the PRO will issue estimates of copying costs for a fee before copying begins. The details and costs of those estimates are also online. A wonderful place, and one of the best, to begin research if one is interested in the United Kingdom.
National Library of Medicine
For those interested in the history of medicine, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) is the place to start. The NLM has a separate division, the History of Medicine Division, which has all of the NLM's books printed before 1914, and all of the journals prior to 1871. The NLM also has a rich collection of pamphlets from the pre-1914 era. One can search the NLM's catalog, and find out the titles of various materials. One can then find out how to visit the facility, and other ways the materials might be available.
National Security Archive
The National Security Archive "is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S. government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties and donations from foundations and individuals." This archive is a good place to find documents relating to the last fifty years of American history, especially from the United States government. Among the treasures here are documents dealing with the U.S.-Iraq rapprochement in the 1980s, the North Korean buildup of its nuclear arms movement and the Argentinean military in the mid-1970s.
Federal Judicial Center
The Federal Judicial Center is "the education and research agency for the federal courts." For those interested in doing research into the federal courts, the part of this website dealing with federal judicial history is invaluable. Among the items this website contains are biographies of every federal judge since 1789, histories of many of the courts and discussions of the most important legislation. Among the items which discuss primary sources of interest to researchers are a directory of manuscript collections linked to federal judges and a directory of oral history transcripts.
Archives, Conservation, Genealogy and Preservation
This page presents links to many resources dealing with archives, preservation and similar issues. For those wanting to find out about archives which might have resources which might be helpful to their research, this is a good place to visit. It contains links to several national archives, including those of Ireland and Canada. It also contains links to places which put primary sources online and serve as "repositories of primary sources." A useful resource. For those interested in genealogy, this is a good place to visit.
Links to state historical organizations
This site contains a number of guides to historical organizations and links to all fifty states' historical organizations and many state libraries and state archives. A vital source for those looking for links to such organizations. Some genealogical information is here as well.
Directory of Archives in Australia
This web site presents a directory of archives in Australia, as promised. It presents hyperlinks to the home page of the institution which sponsors each archive. A page is presented as well for each archive which summarizes hours, phone numbers, borrowing procedures and the archives' major holdings. A good place to start if doing research on Australia.
Canadian Archives on the Internet
For those wanting to research about the United States' northern neighbor, this is a good place to start. The list here is broken down into several categories, including region of the country, and type of resource (provincial, university, religious, etc.). All resources are also listed alphabetically, and there is a place for miscellaneous resources, including listservs. There are quite a few links as well to genealogical resources.
Archives Nationales (page is in French)
This site discusses the Archives Nationales, the main center for research in France. Most of the site is in French, but a general overview is available in English at: http://www.archivesnationales.culture.gouv.fr/an/en/Index.html
. The site discusses the five main centers of the Archives Nationales: The Historical Centre historique of National Archives, The Centre for Contemporary Archives, The Centre for Archives of Overseas Territories, The Centre for Archives of the Workplace, and The National Centre for Microfilms. A good place to start if interested in doing research in France