Resources for the Serious Historian

Resources for the Serious Historian

The philosopher George Santayana is known for his famous saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Indeed, everyone should become a serious historian: studying the events of the past and uncovering the true facts of what occurred in order to understand the events of the present. In this post, I’ve compiled four helpful Internet resources that provide access to wide collections of primary source documents and the research of other historians. The Internet has allowed anyone with a computer to have access to free libraries that often surpass those found in universities.


The mission of the Internet Archive is to provide permanent free access for researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format. On the about page, they write, “The Internet Archive is working to prevent the Internet – a new medium with major historical significance – and other ‘born-digital’ materials from disappearing into the past. Collaborating with institutions including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, we are working to preserve a record for generations to come.”

Their digital eBooks and texts collection can be found here:

2. The Library of Congress

Like the Internet Archive, the Library of Congress website offers free and open access to a vast collection of materials documenting the American experience. They observe on the about page, “These materials, from the collections of the Library of Congress and other institutions, chronicle historical events, people, places, and ideas that continue to shape America, serving the public as a resource for education and lifelong learning.”

The Library of Congress has created an invaluable website dedicated to publishing U.S. congressional documents and debates. This page can be found here:

For example, if you are interested in researching the national loan debate and the first income tax (you will need to know the date for the legislation that you are searching for), click on the link to Debates of Congress. From that page, click on “Congressional Globe.” Click “browse Congressional Globe” in order to search the database.


Next, click on “37th 1861-63.” You should see the box for 37th Congress. Click on “July 4, 1861 to August 6, 1861.” Now, you should see a copy of The Congressional Globe from 1861. The National Loan Debate starts on July 10, pg. 56.

Visit the Library of Congress: American Memory website here:

3. Google Books

Google Books allows you to search and preview millions of books from libraries and publishers worldwide using Google Book Search. Many of the scanned books in Google’s databases are no longer in print, meaning that Google is the sole way to access these books that are now in the public domain. They have started the Google Books Library Project which aims to make the collections of several major research libraries available online to the general public. With careful search, you can find many excellent resources like A History of the Greenbacks by Wesley Clair Mitchell.

Visit Google Books at

4. The Gilder Lehrman Collection

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is another nonprofit organization publishing primary source documents online. Their website features “more than 60,000 letters, diaries, maps, pamphlets, printed books, newspapers, photographs, and ephemera that document the political, social, and economic history of the United States. An extensive resource for educators, students, and scholars, the Collection ranges from 1493 through the twentieth century and is widely considered one of the nation’s great archives in the Revolutionary, early national, antebellum, and Civil War periods.” You cannot view the images of the documents without a membership, but a free full transcript is available. For example, here is the link to the page with the full transcript of George Washington’s Presidential Pardon of the ten leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion.

Visit The Gilder Lehrman Collection here:



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