Friday, 21 December 2012

New sites saved on our delicious page

These posts used to go on the main VHL blog, but I've decided to bring them over here from now on. By way of introduction, we have a page on which I use to save links to useful free web resources as and when I come across them. As I blogged in a post earlier in the year, there is such a wealth of material being digitised and made available by libraries, archives and other institutions in the US, and it can be hard to know where to even start looking. The VHL delicious page is my way of trying to share the sites that I have found. Every now and then we post a round-up of the most recent links saved on the blog, and you can always take a look at the full list at

So, without further ado, here are some of the web resources saved on our delicious page over the past few months:
Association for Cultural Equity Online Archive
Archive of sound recordings, videos and photographs of the Association for Cultural Equity, founded by musicologist and ethnologist Alan Lomax. [SUBSCRIPTION REQUIRED]
Over 800 newspapers from the 1700s-2000s. The site can be searched for free and a 7-day free trial is available, but thereafter full content is only available to paid subscribers.
Historical Newspapers from New York State
Over 6 million pages of historic newspapers from central and northern New York newspapers.
Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington
The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington aims to ... inform, educate, and engage while utilizing the web as a vibrant medium to allow visitors to interact and explore primary source materials and objects from the Mount Vernon collection. Entries focus on the totality of Washington's life and experiences, while also covering the Mount Vernon Estate, its history, and preservation.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Digital Suite
The Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Digital Suite offers unprecedented access to the Harvard Law School Library’s rich collection of Holmes archival material. Using a new search platform developed by the Library’s Digital Lab users can now search over 100,000 digitized documents and over 1,000 images from multiple collections from a single access point.
Unsealed material from U.S. v Liddy
Release of records from the National Archives that have been sealed under court order since the 1970s Watergate criminal trial of seven men involved in the Watergate burglary, U.S. v. Liddy, et al. The release includes 36 folders of documents totaling approximately 950 pages (in whole or in part).
Clinton Library - FLOTUS speech archive
This collection consists of Communications Director Lissa Muscatine’s records from First Lady Hillary Clinton’s Press Office. The material highlights topics such as health care, women’s rights, the Millennium Council, Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign, and her domestic and foreign travel. The collection contains articles, press releases, statements, speeches, and interviews of the First Lady.
Mississippi Digital Library
The Mississippi Digital Library is the cooperative digital library program for the state. Its ultimate aim is to provide access to primary source materials covering a wide range of subject areas from Mississippi museums, archives, libraries, and historical societies.
LOUISiana Digital Library
The LOUISiana Digital Library (LDL) is an online library of Louisiana institutions that provides over 144,000 digital materials. Its purpose is to make unique historical treasures from the Louisiana institution's archives, libraries, museums, and other repositories in the state electronically accessible to Louisiana residents and to students, researchers, and the general public in other states and countries. The LOUISiana Digital Library contains photographs, maps, manuscript materials, books, oral histories, and more that document history and culture.
Federal Documents Collection | US House and Senate Committee Hearings and Publications (University of New Orleans)
Almost 100 Congressional Committee Hearings and publications made available by the University of New Orleans. The majority of the documents date from the 1960s-1980s.
Historical Publications of the United States Commission on Civil Rights
In conjunction with the Thurgood Marshall Law Library's strategic plan to enhance its civil rights collection in support of the School of Law's teaching and research mission, the Library has worked since 2001 to create a complete electronic record of United States Commission on Civil Rights publications held in the Library's collection and available on the USCCR Web site. The publications are made available over the Internet as page image presentations in PDF format.
Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project - Archive
The Densho Digital Archive holds more than 650 visual histories (more than 1,200 hours of recorded video interviews) and over 11,000 historic photos, documents, and newspapers. The archive is growing as Densho continues to record life histories and collect images and records. These primary sources document the Japanese American experience from immigration in the early 1900s through redress in the 1980s with a strong focus on the World War II mass incarceration.
The Maine Memory Network, Maine's online museum, a project of the Maine Historical Society
Developed and managed by the Maine Historical Society (MHS), the Maine Memory Network (MMN) enables historical societies, libraries, and other cultural institutions across the state to upload, catalog, and manage digital copies of historical items from their collections into one centralized, web-accessible database. Over 20,000 items are currently available from over 200 contributing institutions.
Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives
The photographs of the Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944. The collection encompasses the images made by photographers working in Stryker's unit as it existed in a succession of government agencies: the Resettlement Administration (1935-1937), the Farm Security Administration (1937-1942), and the Office of War Information (1942-1944). The collection also includes photographs acquired from other governmental and non-governmental sources, including the News Bureau at the Offices of Emergency Management (OEM), various branches of the military, and industrial corporations. In total, the collection consists of about 175,000 black-and-white film negatives and transparencies, 1,610 color transparencies, and around 107,000 black-and-white photographic prints, most of which were made from the negatives and transparencies.
Farm Security Administration photographs (New York Public Library)
Over 1,000 digitised images from the FSA collection, not included in the Library of Congress collection (available at
Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project
This multi-media web site brings the vital history of Seattle's civil rights movements to life with scores of video oral histories, hundreds of rare photographs, documents, movement histories, and personal biographies, more than 300 pages in all. Based at the University of Washington, the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project is a collaboration between community groups and UW faculty and students.
Kansas Memory
Kansas Memory has been created by the Kansas State Historical Society to share its historical collections via the Internet. It supports the mission of the Society--to identify, collect, preserve, interpret, and disseminate materials and information pertaining to Kansas history in order to assist the public in understanding, appreciating, and caring for the heritage of Kansas. Kansas Memory provides a very tangible means of fulfilling the vision of the KSHS, which is to enrich people's lives by connecting them to the past. The value of the site is in its rich content--letters, diaries, photographs, government records from the State Archives, maps, museum artifacts, and historic structures in Kansas. We will be adding additional content continually.
Portuguese-American Digital Newspaper Collections - Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese American Archives - Claire T. Carney Library - University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
NYC Department of Records - Municipal Archives Gallery
The Online Gallery provides free and open research access to over 800,000 items digitized from the Municipal Archives’ collections, including photographs, maps, motion-pictures and audio recordings.
University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections
This site features materials such as photographs, maps, newspapers, posters, reports and other media from the University of Washington Libraries, University of Washington Faculty and Departments, and organizations that have participated in partner projects with the UW Libraries. The collections emphasize rare and unique materials.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Elections resources on the web

With the elections now just a few days away, I thought I'd share a few links to useful and/or interesting websites relating to both historic and recent elections in the United States. This is a fairly random selection of sites that I have come across; feel free to share any sites I've missed in the comments!

As evidenced by our own US Elections Campaigns Archive (of which you can see some images on Flickr), US elections produce a wealth of ephemera. Unfortunately The Smithsonian has not digitised their collection, but Cornell University have a substantial archive of political Americana online, including a lot of campaign materials covering 1840-1952. More locally, the University of Maryland has digitised a collection of campaign materials donated by Professor Larry Gibson, who worked on campaigns at both state and national level from 1968 to 2008.  

Of course, campaigns are also fought on less physical media than the literature, posters, buttons and other random objects contained in such collections. The Museum of the Modern Image has a fantastic archive of more than 300 presidential campaign TV commercials from 1952 right up to the present elections, all of which can be viewed online and browsed by year, issue, and type of commercial, showing for example commercials where a candidates own words are being used against him, or which are intended to play on fears (including arguably the most famous campaign commercial of all, the 1964 "Daisy" commerical for Lyndon B Johnson). Campaigns keep up with the evolving media, and the Library of Congress has been archiving election-related websites from 2000.

Moving away from the campaign-controlled media, the Commission on Presidential Debates has a debate history section on their website, with basic information on early debates (1858, 1948, 1956), and transcripts and videos for all debates from 1960 to present. 

I've written on this blog before about Chronicling America, the Library of Congress's website for digitised historic American newspapers. As well as the digitised newspapers themselves, they provide topic pages with links directly through to selected articles, and the list of topics includes several presidential elections/campaigns: Cleveland (1892), McKinley (1896), McKinley-Roosevelt (1900), Roosevelt (1904), Taft (1908), and Wilson (1912). Chronicling America unfortunately stops in 1922, due to US copyright law, but if you are an Oxford reader interested in looking at historic elections through newspapers then we do subscribe to the electronic archives of both the New York Times and Washington Post, available through SOLO/OxLIP+. Another nice media-related resource for 19th/early 20th century elections is the Harper's Weekly Presidential Elections page, which provides digitised images of cartoons from Harper's Weekly and other similar journals from 1860-1912.

If you're more interested in the data side of things, there are a couple of useful sites which provide all sorts of voting statistics and other electoral data. Working backwards chronologically, the Roper Center's public opinion archives has a US elections collection which includes all sorts of polling data for presidential elections from 1976- (and popular vote information from 1940-2008), and for congressional elections from 1994-. The Roper Center also provide the iPoll database, available to Oxford readers via SOLO/OxLIP+, which is a hugely comprehensive database of all sorts of opinion poll data from the 1930s to the present day. You can browse iPoll by topic, and polling data for the 2012 elections is available from as recently as a few days ago. The Voting America site from the University of Richmond covers 1840-2008, and offers a whole variety of interactive maps to explore electoral data. And finally, for the really early years, A New Nation Votes from Tufts University provides a searchable collection of election returns from 1787-1825

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Philip & Rosamund Davies US Elections Campaigns Archive

The Vere Harmsworth Library is home to the Philip & Rosamund Davies US Elections Campaigns Archive, an extensive collection of campaign ephemera from American elections at all levels. The archive has been donated to the library by Professor Philip Davies, Director of the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, and is the result of many years of active collecting. The majority of the material dates from the later 20th century, but there are examples of older items dating back as far as 1840. The archive continues to grow as Professor Davies collects and donates material from each new round of elections in the United States.

The archive has now been fully catalogued and can be made available to researchers in Oxford. While items such as those contained in the archive were intended to be ephemeral at the point of production, they can tell researchers a great deal about the campaigns and candidates they were produced to support (or indeed protest). They are physical evidence of the issues on which campaigns were fought, and the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the candidates who fought them. Not just the literature, but the slogans and design of buttons, posters and bumper stickers, as well as the very items branded for campaigns indicate the way candidates chose to present themselves and their opponents. As well as providing insight into the campaigns themselves, the literature and artefacts contained within the collection also demonstrate wider developments in society, politics and technology.

A century of presidential campaign buttons, 1908-2008

What does the archive contain? 
  • Thousands of buttons for hundreds of candidates, the oldest dating from 1840
  • Bumper stickers and posters
  • Ballots for elections from a wide range of locations and dates, the oldest dating from the Civil War
  • Campaign leaflets and other literature for elections at all levels, from local to presidential
  • Protest and negative material
  • Election, convention and inauguration memorabilia, such as commemorative plates, medals, mugs and other souvenir items
  • And all sorts of campaign branded items such as hats, t-shirts, jewellery, dolls, playing cards, rain bonnets... even a bar of soap!
To learn more about the archive and what it can tell students and researchers of American history and politics, watch the below video of Professor Davies discussing the material culture of US elections and political marketing, accompanied by selected items from the collection.

There have also been a couple of short videos on the topic posted recently on the BBC website in the run up to this year's elections: Badge man predicts Ohio winner, talking to a manufacturer of campaign buttons, and Preserving US presidential campaigns on the web, which visits the Smithsonian's extensive collections as well as looking at the archive of campaign TV advertising from the Museum of the Moving Image.

Full details of the materials can be found in the archive catalogue, and images of some of the items (either individually or as part of previous exhibitions) can be seen on our Flickr page. If you are interested in consulting items from the archive, please contact

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

"Access to Presidential Paper and Records in the Presidential Libraries" Nancy Smith, Director of the Presidential Materials Division at the National Archives of the United States

This post was written by DPhil candidate Patrick Sandman, and first appeared on the RAI Events blog. It is reposted here with permission for the interest of VHL readers.

In a well-attended and interesting workshop, Nancy Smith, the Director of the Presidential Materials Division at the U.S. National Archives, discussed the history and accessibility of presidential papers to a group of undergraduates, graduates, and professional historians.

Beginning the discussion with FDR in 1939, Director Smith detailed the trajectory of presidential libraries and materials. Fifteen years after Roosevelt donated selected material to a library in Hyde Park, NY, Congress passed the Presidential Library Act in 1955. For the next two decades, presidents donated and distributed papers at their own discretion.  For Director Smith and millions of Americans, however, the tradition of presidential papers would change in July 1973.

During his testimony to Sam Ervin’s Senate Committee, White House Assistant Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of President Nixon’s infamous White House taping system.  As a result of the calamity, contention, and cynicism surrounding Watergate, Congress created the Presidential Records Act in 1978 to broaden public accessibility to the office of the President. 

During the last forty years, Director Smith has worked closely with Presidents and their records.  She highlighted the difficulty of cataloging executive information, particularly the often-contentious process of delineating the personal and private from the public and presidential. As such, she often deals with presidential staff and lawyers in order to properly archive non-classified information.

Interestingly, the advent of electronic records has added a new, complex dimension to presidential material. For George W. Bush’s administration alone, Ms. Smith and her staff will screen more than twenty million emails.  Despite the tremendous challenge of vast email compilation, the PMD, under the guidance of Director Smith, makes presidential material available faster than any other place in the world.

Before ending the discussion, Director Smith provided excellent advice to an audience of historians. She disseminated packets of information on various Presidential libraries around the United States and encouraged researchers to explore new collections and archives. 

Editor's note: To add to Patrick's interesting summary, there's a lot of information about the Presidential Libraries on the National Archives website at, as well as links to the websites of the libraries themselves.  Most of the Presidential Libraries are engaged in digitisation projects to a greater or lesser extent, and their websites can be a good source of documents even without travelling to visit. The National Archives has also set up the Presidential Timeline website to provide a single point of access to digitised sources from the Presidential Libraries.

You can also follow the Presidential Libraries on Twitter and Tumblr - the Tumblr in particular is fascinating.

And for even more, if you'll excuse the blatant plug, I visited two of the libraries myself last year as part of my Travelling Librarian trip - you might be interested therefore in my write-ups of my visits to the FDR Library and the JFK Library.

And finally, Nancy Smith also spoke later in the day about the role of the National Archives in presidential transitions. This talk has been written up on the RAI blog by both Skye Montgomery and Sebastian Page.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Finding primary sources on the web for US history: some tips

A busy few months have meant little time for blogging, but I find myself with a slight lull on a Friday afternoon at long last! The History Thesis Fair for 2nd year undergraduates is also fast approaching, and it seems timely therefore to put together a post which might help in answering one of the questions that I most frequently get asked by undergraduates considering writing their thesis on some aspect of US history: is it possible to find sufficient primary source material without travelling to the United States?

Obviously we do subscribe to many extensive electronic resources that provide a wealth of primary source material, and we also have a substantial collection of primary sources available on microfilm in the library, but increasingly you are by no means limited to what we have purchased here in Oxford. The amount of primary source material that is being digitised and made freely available on the web by all sorts of institutions, organisations, and people in the US is vast, growing, and transformative. This whole area could fill several blog posts and still only scratch the surface, but what I will do here is provide some tips and suggestions for places to start looking beyond just throwing your search terms into Google and hoping you strike lucky. I will aim to follow up with more detailed posts on some of the resources mentioned here over the next few months.

Firstly, a plug for what we’ve been doing at the VHL to help our readers find useful web resources. We have a page on a site called Delicious which we use to save links to websites that we find as and when we come across them. It would be well worth checking our delicious page for the subject or area that you are interested in first to see what we have already found – you can search or use the tags on the right-hand side of the page to filter the full list to more relevant links for you. Delicious can also be a useful site to search in general. If you haven’t come across it before, it is a site entirely devoted to lists of useful websites created by its users; anything you find on Delicious has been consciously and deliberately saved by someone, and therefore evaluated at least to a certain extent, so you can perhaps be a little more confident in its quality than just from a random Google search. Other libraries are also using Delicious to create and maintain lists of free web resources too – the History Faculty Library has a page too, for example.

A strategic way to approach your search for primary source material on the web is to think about it in terms of the libraries, archives, and other institutions that are likely to be the homes for the originals. Almost all of these institutions are engaged in some kind of digitisation to a greater or lesser extent; you may not be able to travel to them physically but it’s amazing what you can find by visiting them virtually. The websites of the Library of Congress and US National Archives are both wonderful places to start. The Library of Congress have extensive digital collections available at (click on the ‘Digital Collections’ button at the top of their homepage), including American Memory (numerous themed historic collections on all sorts of topics), Chronicling America (historic newspapers – see the earlier post on this blog for more information) and Prints & Photographs. They also have a huge list of thematic bibliographies and guides at to help you navigate their collections (both physical and digital) as well as pointing out to other useful online resources from elsewhere. The National Archives have less material on their main website, but are making thousands of digitised sources available on other, dedicated sites such as DocsTeach (aimed at teachers and schools) and the Digital Vaults, and subscription-based sites such as Fold3 (which has a military/veterans focus).

Other institutions are all doing the same kind of thing. If you’re interested in a particular geographical location, start with the website for the relevant State Historical Association or major universities in the area; many states also have digital library programs, designed to provide access to digitised resources from many different institutions throughout the state on a single website. Examples are Calisphere (for California), Digital Commonwealth (Massachusetts), LOUISiana Digital Library, Digital NC (North Carolina), the Portal to Texas History, and so on. These kind of sites are particularly good for documents such as letters and diaries, photographs, oral history, audiovisual materials, and maps. An earlier post on this blog gives pointers to some places to look for historic American newspapers online.

Likewise, if your area is political history, particularly for 20th century Presidents, the website of the relevant Presidential Library would be a good place to start. Some of them, like the JFK Library, are engaged in particularly extensive digitisation projects. If you’re looking for material on Presidents and their administrations, the Miller Center at the University of Virginia have a really good reference resource arranged by President on their website which points to all sorts of sources both from their own collections and elsewhere on the web.

As well as looking for digitised collections, another good tip is to search for exhibitions, either fully online ones or websites set up to accompany physical exhibitions, such as those listed on the Library of Congress or National Archives websites. Exhibitions are a big driver of digitisation, but tend to be more narrowly focused on their theme than the kind of material you may find in the more extensive digital collections portals.
Another tip is to look at the various social media profiles of many of these institutions, as these are often used for outreach and promotion with digitised materials frequently posted. As well as Facebook and Twitter pages, look at institutional profiles on sites such as Flickr, Tumblr, and YouTube. Flickr has a project called the Flickr Commons, where many libraries and archives are uploading their historic photographs and other images. An excellent example on Tumblr is Today’s Document from the National Archives. There are also some fantastic mash-up sites such as Old Maps Online and HistoryPin which overlay historic maps and photographs from all sorts of institutions onto Google maps, for example.

There are a few things to be aware of when looking for and making use of free web resources though. Unlike library-purchased e-resources, you will often find that these are not full-text searchable and are often just images; you may well have to decipher handwriting and may not be able to easily find which particular page of a document is going to be relevant to your needs. The cataloguing can be less extensive as well, and you may have to rely on browsing through the documents and images rather than expecting to find what you want by searching. And what is freely available can be rather hit-and-miss itself. While it’s true that there is now a huge amount of material available in this way, it’s still a tiny drop in the ocean, and so you may be lucky and find a lot for your topic, or you may find that there’s hardly anything relevant to your particular area of research. It’s always worth having a look though! And if you come across something useful that we don’t have on our Delicious list, please let us know so that we can save it for others to find too.