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Guide to Primary Sources for English 116-U1 : Introduction to American Literature

The purpose of the guide is to help you locate primary source documents. Historians study primary sources to develop a layered understanding of historical context. Primary sources are “the evidence that individuals, governments, organizations, and cultures or societies leave behind” (Presnell 5).The guide emphasizes published sources, especially those available online.

Online resources are hyperlinked; other resources (print and microfilm) are linked to catalog records with complete holdings information. All links are indicated by underscoring.

Table of Contents

  1. Historical Books.
  2. Historical Journalism: newspapers, magazines, underground & alternative press.
  3. Primary Source Collections: primary sources organized in thematic collections.
  4. Biography.
  5. Contact Us.
  6. Work Cited.

I. Historical Books (Americana)

  1. Early American Imprints, Series I. Evans. Online. Coverage: 1639-1800. Based on Charles Evans’s American bibliography 14 vols. Searchable, full-text collection of over 37,000 books, pamphlets, and broadsides published in the United States.
  2. Early American Imprints, Series II. Shaw-Shoemaker. Online. Coverage: 1801-1819. Based on Ralph Shaw and Richard Shoemaker’s American bibliography : a preliminary checklist for 1801-1819 23 vols. Searchable, full-text collection of over 36,000 books, pamphlets, and broadsides published in the United States.
  3. Early English Books Online (Chadwyck Healey). Online. Printed books from the British Isles and North America, 1473-1700.See our Chadwyck-Healey Quick Guide.
  4. Eighteenth century collections online (Gale). Online. Printed English-language books from the 18th century.

II. Historical Journalism


  1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Online. Includes: Chicago Tribune (1849-present), Chicago Defender (1905-1975), Los Angeles Times (1881-1985), New York Times (1851-2003), Wall Street Journal (1889-1989), and Washington Post (1877-1990). See our ProQuest Quick Guide
  2. Early American Newspapers: Series I (NewsBank). Online. Covers 1690-1876. See our NewsBank Quick Guide.
  3. Nineteenth Century U.S. newspapers (Gale/InfoTrac). Online. See our Gale/InfoTrac Quick Guide.
  4. UIUC Library Newspaper Database. Online. Browse newspaper titles by continent, country, state, city, date, or subject.
  5. Historical Newspapers Online. A research guide from the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library. This page offers our most complete and up-to-date information on availability of content in this constantly-expanding collection.


  1. Periodicals Archive Online (Chadwyck Healey). Covers 1770 to the present. Full text access to over 1.8 million articles from more than 500 periodical titles. titles. See our Chadwyck-Healey Quick Guide
  2. American periodicals series online, 1740-1900 (ProQuest). Full text access to over 1,100 periodical titles. See our ProQuest Quick Guide
  3. Reader’s Guide Retrospective (WilsonWeb). Online. Covers 1890-1982. The famous index to general periodical literature.
  4. Periodicals Index Online (Chadwyck Healey). Electronic access to citations of over 16 million articles from more than 5,000 periodicals going back to 1665. See our Chadwyck-Healey Quick Guide
  5. 19th Century Masterfile. Online. Combined access to seven 19th century periodical indexes, including Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature.

Alternative & Underground Press

  1. Antislavery newspapers and periodicals in 5 vols. Index and bibliography.
  2. Alternative press index. Coverage: 1969-2004. A print index. Alternative press index online available for 1991-present.
  3. Underground Press Collection. 550 titles from the 1960s and 1970s. Supplemented by Hoover Institution supplement to Underground press collection (16 reels + guide) and UMC Library underground newspaper collection (9 reels + guide).
  4. Alternative press collection. Coverage: 1986-1990 ; 1990-2002. 210 reels + guides for the years 1986-1990.
  5. Black Newspapers Index. Coverage: 1977-present.
  6. Miscellaneous Negro Newspaper Series (12 reels + guide). Coverage: 1850-1950. Over 200 black newspapers owned by the Library of Congress.
  7. Antebellum Black Newspapers. Index, bibliography, research guide.
  8. Extant collections of early Black newspapers : a research guide to the Black press, 1880-1915, with an index to the Boston Guardian, 1902-1904.
  9. Gender Watch (ProQuest). Online. Coverage: 1970-present. Gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, gender, and women’s studies. Access to over 200 titles, including scholarly, popular, and gray literature. See our ProQuest Quick Guide.
  10. Ethnic NewsWatch (ProQuest). Online. Coverage: 1990-present. Full text access to over 200 “ethnic”, minority, and Native American periodicals. See our ProQuest Quick Guide.
  11. Directory of the American left (1984). Includes a bibliography of periodicals. Continued by Guide to the American left (1989,1991).
  12. The Right wing collection of the University of Iowa Libraries: 1918-1977 (177 reels + guide). A collection of publications from the radical right.

III. Primary Source Collections (Thematic Research Collections)

Published research collections are usually in microform or digital format; they bring together large numbers of source documents–more than could be published in a book–around a broad thematic issue: foreign policy, war, welfare history, and so forth.

  1. Empire Online. Supplements a range of primary source documents with essays, biographies, and a chronology. Can browse by topic, name, place, or broad thematic section: Cultural Contacts, 1492-1969; Empire Writing and the Literature of Empire; The Visible Empire; Religion and Empire; and Race, Class, Imperialism and Colonialism, 1607-2007.
  2. Early Encounters in North America: Peoples, Cultures, and the Environment. Online. “Over 100,000 pages of letters, diaries, memoirs and accounts of early encounters between Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans.”
  3. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Online. “Contains the records of 27,233 trans-Atlantic slave ship voyages made between 1527 and 1866.”
  4. The Gerritsen collection women’s history online, 1543-1945. “Over 4,700 publications from continental Europe, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand, dating from 1543-1945. The anti-feminist case is presented as well as the pro-feminist.”
  5. North American Women’s Letters and Diaries Online. Over 150,000 pages from 1,325 women. Covers 1675 to the present.
  6. Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000. Online. Collections of documents organized around research questions, like “Why Did African-American Women Join the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, 1880 to 1900?”
  7. Advice literature in America. Part 1, The Schlesinger collection of etiquette and advice books (15 reels + guide). Covers the 19th century.
  8. Black Thought and Culture: African Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Online. “1297 sources with 1100 authors, covering the non-fiction published works of leading African Americans.”
  9. The Valley of the Shadow. Online. Documents the social history of two Civil War-era communities: one Union, one Confederate.
  10. Making of America. Online. Covers antebellum through reconstruction America. Primarily books and periodicals. Can browse by subject.

IV. Biography

These aren’t really primary sources, but nevertheless useful in conducting historical research.

  1. American National Biography. Online. Usually the best first-stop for American biographical information.
  2. Dictionary of American biography in 23 vols. + supplements.
  3. Biography Resource Center. Online.
  4. Biography and genealogy master index. Online.
  5. American diaries : an annotated bibliography of published American diaries and journals in 2 vols.

V. Contact Us

  • Kathleen Kluegel, English Librarian. E-mail: kkluegel (at) uiuc.edu ; phone: 333-2220
  • Mary Stuart, History Librarian. E-mail: m-stuart (at) uiuc.edu ; phone: 333-1509
  • Geoff Ross. E-mail: gtross (at) uiuc.edu ; phone: 333-1509
  1. Library Reference Desk: Phone, e-mail, instant message, chat.

VI. Work Cited

  • Presnell, Jenny L. The Information-Literate Historian. New York: Oxford UP, 2007