Where to start?
High quality encyclopedias galore. This online library includes the highly recommended Dictionary of American History, The Encyclopedia of U.S. Political History, The Encyclopedia of American Immigration, The Early Republic: Primary Documents, and many other useful titles. Cross-references and recommended reading lists will help you to identify important sources.
American National Biography Online (Oxford University Press)
Biographical resource on more than 18,000 people from all eras who have influenced and shaped American history and culture. The short biographies are written by scholars familiar with the subject. Archives that hold personal records as well as published personal records and secondary sources are listed in the bibliographies.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press)
A reference work providing almost 60,000 specially-written signed biographies of the men and women who shaped all aspects of the British past, from the earliest times to the end of the year 2009. The Dictionary includes quite a few Americans. Archival sources and published primary sources are listed in each biography.
Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press)
The world's leading authority on the history and development of the English language since 1150.
Primary Sources in Print
Use the local catalog to search for primary sources in print books. Books in the library's digital collections are also indexed in the catalog.
A catalog of library holdings worldwide. WorldCat will indicate any local library holdings and also offers an inter-library loan request option.
Practice your search skills with the WorldCat Step-by-Step tutorial.
Both, important and ephemeral primary sources may be available in print books. Published primary sources have several advantages: they are easily accessible, the are generally transcribed and edited for your convenience and the editors often put them in historical context.
Here are a few tricks which will improve your search results:
- Search by author to find autobiographies, collections of letters, speeches, diaries and more.
- Official subject terms that generally describe primary sources:
diaries, correspondence, personal narratives, speeches, description and travel, sources, manuscripts, "early works to 1800"
- Keywords that describe primary sources:
All of the above plus memoirs, journal, travel narratives, documents
- Use words that describe classes of people to find primary sources by unknown subjects:
lawyers, soldiers, nurses, African Americans, Indians of North America, children, etc.
- Newspapers can be tricky, because they are published over many years. Look them up in a catalog and check whether the paper was published in your period of interest.
Example: A subject search for Ireland and newspapers will result in a list of locally available Irish newspapers.
- Ask your librarian for help if you run into problems!
Selected Digital Primary Source Collections
Books about the Americas published throughout the world from 1500 to the early 1900's.
Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800 (Readex)
Books, pamphlets and broadsides published in North America between 1639 and 1800.
Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819 (Readex)
Books, pamphlets and broadsides published in North America between 1801 and 1819.
Eighteenth Century Collections Online (Gale)
Books published throughout the 18th century.
Hathi Trust Digital Library
Millions of books online. Books published up until 1923 are freely available online. Use the library's catalog or the EZ-Borrow catalog for access to later publications.
Provides digital access to books, movies, software, music, websites, and more. Most of the freely available files are books published prior to 1923 and government documents.
African American Newspapers: The 19th Century (Accessible Archives)
The complete full text archives of major 19th century African American newspapers such as The Christian Recorder (1861-1902), Freedom's Journal (1827-1829), The North Star (1847-1851), and Frederick Douglass' Paper (1851-1863).
America’s Historical Newspapers (Readex)
Includes full-text of selected early American newspapers published between 1690 and 1922. Villanova University has access to series 1 through 5 and 7.
American Periodicals (ProQuest)
The complete full text archives of magazines that first began publishing between 1740 and 1900.
American Founding Era (Rotunda)
Digital editions of the papers of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Dolley Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry.
Black Abolitionist Papers (ProQuest)
Articles, documents, correspondence, proceedings, manuscripts, and literary works of almost 300 African American abolitionists.
U.S. Congressional Serial Set: 1817–1994 (Readex)
Reports, documents and journals of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives from the 15th Congress through the 103rd Congress.
American State Papers: 1789-1838 (Readex)
Legislative and executive documents of the first 14 U.S. Congresses. Documents of the 15th Congress through the 103rd Congress are available in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817 – 1994.
A vast collection of genealogical data which traces the history of millions of individuals going in some cases as far back as 1300. The collection consists of census data, vital records, directories, photos, and more.
Find books about your topic in the local collection.
Presents a combined catalog of the catalogs of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide. WorldCat highlights publications available at Villanova University. Other items can be requested via an inter-library loan request form. WorldCat Step-by-Step is a self-paced interactive tutorial for students new to this resource.
America: History and Life (EBSCO)
Use this database to find journal articles about your topic. The blue find it button is the link to the library's e-journal subscriptions.
America: History & Life Step-by-Step will step you through the search process.
This is an archive of full-text core journals in the humanities, social sciences and mathematics. Select Advanced Search to limit your search to history journals for better results.
The 17th edition of the standard style manual used by writers and editors of scholarly books and journals.
For a quick introduction watch the online tutorial A Brief Introduction to the Chicago Manual of Style.
Chicago-Style Step-by-Step is a self-paced interactive tutorial for students new to Chicago Style.
Use the Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide for easy reference.