Essential Information for Researching
- Begin with secondary sources and then move on to primary sources.
- Take careful notes. Write down where the information came from – it is important to cite your sources as you use them!
- Be selective of your information. Decide what is important as you research.
- Evaluate your sources. Compare many different sources for consistency.
- Explain the information you find.
Primary and Secondary Sources
Historians try to find as much information as possible about a topic. They divide their research into two categories: Primary and Secondary.
Primary sources are materials that were created at the time the event occurred or materials created by those who lived through the event. These materials include letters, speeches, diaries, newspaper articles, documents, photographs, and objects from the time period. Secondary sources interpret and analyze primary sources. They are a second-hand account of an historical event. Books, magazines, and websites can all be secondary sources.
Research Collections & Links
Library of Congress (www.loc.gov)
Students can search the Library of Congress’ digital collections which include newspapers, photographs, sound clips, and legislative documents. The website also features a collection of archived historic webpages, links to international digital libraries, and the option for students to browse their collections by set topics.
- Chronicling America (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov)
Search America’s historic newspaper pages from 1789-1963 or use the U.S. Newspaper Directory to find information about American newspapers published between 1690-present. Chronicling America is sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress.
National Archives (archives.gov)
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the nation’s record keeper. Those valuable records are preserved and are available to you, whether you want to see if they contain clues about your family’s history, need to prove a veteran’s military service, or are researching a historical topic that interests you.
- Document Analysis Worksheets (archives.gov/education/lessons/worksheets)
A collection of worksheets for a variety of different types of sources that will help students during the process of document analysis.
America’s Story: From America’s Library (www.americaslibrary.gov)
This is a general U.S. history site from the Library of Congress for elementary age students.
American Journeys (www.americanjourneys.org)
A new digital library and on-line learning center that makes available over 17, 000 original letters, diaries, rare documents, images and more allowing direct student and teacher access to key primary resources from 1000 to about 1830. The site includes many additional tools, such as how to select and narrow a topic, overcoming problems with primary resources, and how to deal with the historical context of the material.
The Smithsonian (www.si.edu)
Search the Smithsonian’s collections by accessing the 7.4 million digital records made available on their website. The digital records include artifacts, portraits, photographs, artwork, and sound recordings among other materials. Articles, online exhibits, and activities on the webpage can be searched through the website’s “Encyclopedia Smithsonian.”
Our Documents (www.ourdocuments.gov)
This site hosts 100 full-length milestone documents compiled by the National Archives and Records Administration. These documents chronicle United States history from 1776 to 1965.
History Matters (historymatters.gmu.edu)
This website contains 1,017 text primary sources relating to U.S. history.
Ad Access (http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/adaccess/)
This collection hosted by Duke University Libraries contains images and information on over 7,000 advertisements printed in American and Canadian newspapers and magazines between 1911 and 1955.
Some documentaries are available for viewing online. They also have information-packed webpages dedicated to a multitude of past documentaries such as “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement” and “Reconstruction: The Second Civil War”.
New York Public Library Digital Gallery (http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/index.cfm)
NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 800,000 images digitized from the New York Public Library’s vast collections, including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and more.
Memorial Hall Museum Online: American Centuries (www.americancenturies.mass.edu/home.html)
This site on early American history is easy for elementary students to navigate, but is a good resource for older students as well. Plenty of artifacts and documents with an explanation for each item.
Black Abolitionist Archive -University of Detroit Mercy (http://research.udmercy.edu/find/special_collections/digital/baa/)
The Black Abolitionist Archive is a collection of documents created by antebellum blacks. These important documents provide a portrait of black involvement in the anti-slavery movement. Much of the collection is digitized and available online.
Virtual Motor City Project, Wayne State University (digital.library.wayne.edu/item/wayne:collectionvmc)
Virtual Motor City is the name of a digitization project, carried out by the Wayne State University Library System and the Walter P. Reuther Library. It has photographs of Detroit people, places, and events and Detroit News Newsreels from the 1920s available online.
The Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford (http://www.hfmgv.org/research/index.aspx)
Take a look at highlights of the Henry Ford’s collections. Mostly artifacts, but some documents as well.
The American Presidency Project (www.presidency.ucsb.edu/index_docs.php)
A collection of presidential documents.
Documenting the American South (http://docsouth.unc.edu/index.html)
Books, diaries, posters, artifacts, letters, oral history interviews, and songs relating to the history of the American South.
AFRO Black History Archives (afro.com/archives)
Searchable, online issues of select African American newspapers from the 20th century.
The Making of Modern Michigan (http://mmm.lib.msu.edu/)
Digitized holdings from libraries across the state of Michigan. It is a collaborative project involving 52 Michigan libraries. It includes local history materials from communities around the state.
John Carter Brown Library (www.brown.edu/Facilities/John_Carter_Brown_Library/pages/ea_hmpg.html)
Contains an extensive collection of early American images and maps.
The National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov/index.htm)
Information and sources for historic sites that are part of the National Park Service.
Women’s History Sourcebook, Fordham University (http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/women/womensbook.asp)
Sources for women’s history in ancient and modern times. Organizes sources by region.
Finding World History (http://chnm.gmu.edu/worldhistorysources/whmfinding.php)
This website hosted by George Mason University provides links to websites containing primary sources for various regions and time periods in world history.
World Digital Library (www.wdl.org/en/)
This website contains rare and unique documents that tell the story of the world’s cultures. The Library of Congress, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and partner libraries, archives, and institutions from around the world collaborate on this project.
Primary Documents Online, California State University (http://library.csusm.edu/subject_guides/history/online_primary.asp#native)
Online primary sources organized by region Asian, Latin America, Europe, Middle East, etc.
Victoria and Albert Museum (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/)
Museum of art and design with focus mostly on European. Online images of art and other artifacts.
The National Archives (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/museum/)
The National Archives has an extensive collection of documents relating to U.K. history.
British History Online (www.british-history.ac.uk/)
A variety of government documents, diaries, early histories of places in the U.K.
Avalon Project (http://avalon.law.yale.edu/default.asp)
Legal and political documents from around the world. From ancient times to the 21st century.
Civil War Collections at Michigan State University (http://civilwar.archives.msu.edu/)
Materials include hundreds of pages of correspondence, diaries, musters, reminiscences, and photographs.
On the Banks of the Red Cedar at Michigan State University (http://onthebanks.msu.edu/)
Provides access to documents, images, film, and audio materials related to the history of Michigan State University.
This wiki provides information on using archives for National History Day. Archives have collected a wealth of resources that document and reveal our shared history—resources that enrich and may even provide the inspiration for winning History Day projects!
Michiganology (michiganology.org) Formerly Seeking Michigan
Explore Michigan’s past and present through a searchable collection of primary sources, seek family histories and discover something new.
Michigan eLibrary (www.mel.org)
The Michigan eLibrary contains online databases such as “eLibrary” and “Academic One File” which are recommended for upper elementary and high schools students. It also has “eLibrary Elementary” for younger researchers. The databases provide reference materials that can give students a general overview of their topic- the who, what, where, and why.
Library of Michigan Digital (lmdigital.libraryofmichigan.org)
Library of Michigan Digital Collections (LMDigital) provides access to the Michigan state library’s digital repository. This site contains born-digital publications, digitized materials from the Library’s own collections, and content provided through partnerships and collaborations with groups and individuals, other Michigan cultural institutions, and state government agencies. The content of this site is inspired by LM’s mission and support’s the Library’s goal to preserve and tell the Michigan story.
- Governing Michigan (https://lmdigital.libraryofmichigan.org/governing-michigan)
Governing Michigan provides access to electronic versions of select Michigan government publications collected by the Library of Michigan. The documents found here originate as born-digital publications from Michigan state government websites or from digitizing existing historic print materials owned by the Library.
The Library of Michigan (www.michigan.gov/libraryofmichigan)
Reference librarians expect to help visitors navigate and use the collections, which focus on Michigan. Highlights include: the largest collection of Michigan newspapers on microfilm in the U.S., a vast newspaper clipping file mostly from the 1950s to the 1990s, both Michigan and federal documents, oceans of maps and atlases, a law library, and a rare book room. The catalog can be searched at www.answercat.org. Located in Lansing, Michigan
Bentley Historical Library -The University of Michigan (www.bentley.umich.edu)
Collections relate largely to the history of Michigan. You can search a catalog of their collections online. Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan (www.clements.umich.edu)
The Clements Library collects primary source materials in all formats relating to the history of America prior to the mid-1900s. A large portion of their collections relates to early American history up to the Civil War. Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University (lib.msu.edu/branches/ua/Collections)
Some collection highlights include materials that document the physical campus and grounds, early student life, the lumber industry, and the Civil War.
Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library (http://www.detroit.lib.mi.us/featuredcollection/burton-historical-collection)
Collections relate to the history of Detroit and Michigan. Located in Detroit, Michigan.
Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University (www.clarke.cmich.edu)
The library’s collections document the history of Michigan and the Old Northwest Territory and Central Michigan University. Located in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.
Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University (www.reuther.wayne.edu)
Collections relate to the labor movement and Detroit history. Located in Detroit, Michigan.
Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collections (www.wmich.edu/library/collections/archives)
Collections relate to the history of southwest Michigan. Located in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections (www.mtu.edu/library/archives/home/)
Collections relate to the history of the Copper Country and the Upper Peninsula. Some of the collection is digitized and available online. Located in Houghton, Michigan.
Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society (www.mimths.org)
Collections related to the stories of Michigan citizens who served from WWI to the present.
Your Local Public Library
Public libraries in the area may have more than just books. Public libraries may also hold historical collections with items such as historic local newspapers, maps, and photographs.
Museums and Historic Sites
Is there a museum or a historic site that is connected to the topic? If you can’t visit, find out what resources they may offer on their website or email with a specific question.
Oral History & Interviews
Oral history is a recorded conversation in which the researcher asks the subject to verbally share his/her direct experiences. Since the person being interviewed was involved in the event, it is a type of primary source research. The use of oral history can increase the quality of an entry, but it is not required for a Michigan History Day project.
Check libraries and archives to see if they have any recordings or transcripts about your topic. If there is a living primary source in your area, you may want to reach out to see if you can interview the person. Check out the Guidelines for Conducting Interviews page on the NHD website for tips and resources.
Senior citizens, librarians, archivist, museum workers, and even parents may know some interesting details about your topic. Visit the Michigan Oral History Association website to learn more.
Interviews with Historians or Experts
Interviewing an expert who was not involved in the event is a form of secondary source research.
From the NHD Contest Rule Book: You may be tempted to interview a professional historian about your topic. Do not. Your job as a researcher is to read that historian’s work. Historians generally do not interview other historians. Instead, consider using or conducting an oral history, if possible. (Page 10)
An annotated bibliography is required for all categories. Every single source that was looked at does not have to be listed, but make sure to list sources that were used in the entry or made an impact on the entry. Remember that interviews and visual materials (i.e., video or photo) count as sources, too. Each annotation must be no more than two or three sentences.
Purdue Online Writing Lab
This site can help with formatting of your citations.
National History Day Annotated Bibliography
Staff at National History Day have created some great resources to help you with your annotated bibliography on this page.