Archive for Online Primary Sources

Online Primary Sources: Anglo-Saxon Charters

Charters are royal instruments that confer upon towns, institutions, or individuals certain rights and privileges along with concomitant obligations and duties. These documents form hierarchical relationships that span centuries and have survived societal upheavals in their many guises. Anglo-Saxon charters are among the earliest written sources we have concerning events in England during what can be justifiably called turbulent times. Think Danes, Viking raiders, Frisians, Norsemen, the occasional cross-border forays of Scotch and Welsh, not to mention the Irish. England during this time was not a united country but was divided into a multitude of separate entites; i.e. Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, East Anglia to name but a few. Therefore these charters bear witness to this beginning of England.

The first systematic compilation of charters was undertaken by John Kemble, whose six-volume work – Codex diplomaticus aevi saxonici – was recognized for the remarkable work that it was. Over years, more charters were found, but there was never a complete re-inventory of these works until the 20th century with the publication of Peter Sawyer’s 1968 work Anglo-Saxon Charters: an Annotated List and Bibliography – a truly comprehensive catalog. However, despite the utility of both of these monumental works, they do have a drawback for the modern reader – Kemble’s, except for the introduction and headnotes, presents the charters in their original language of Latin while Sawyer directs researchers to the original Latin manuscripts whether in archives or printed facsimiles. This is not to fault either work because neither was designed to offer translations. But there is hope.

The Electronic Sawyer is a revised and expanded list of the 1968 guide that presents through its Browse feature multiple access points to the 1800+ charters listed, including translations of many of these manuscripts. These renderings allow us to more fully understand the machinations and power struggles that were endemic in England during this time frame. A very valuable resource.


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Online Primary Sources: Illinois

This multi-volume collection – Illinois Historical Collections – ranges from 1672 through the late 19th century. Explore original records of French explorers to the region, read the papers of George Rogers Clark, peruse texts pertaining to the British presence in the area, consult early election results, and so much more. There are 38 volumes in this collection; thirty-two are currently available online.

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Online Primary Sources for American History: Abraham Lincoln – Additional Primary Sources

We have quite rightly highlighted primary/secondary sources on whom some consider the finest of our presidents. (He ranks #1 in the C-SPAN Historians Survey of Presidents 2017, a position he has held in the previous iterations of this poll.) We have come across other collections at Brown University that we would like to recommend: “Brown’s Lincoln Broadsides collection comprises an assortment of printed materials intended for broad public distribution in a variety of formats. Within this digital collection you will find, for example: handbills (a single sheet of text intended for wide public distribution), leaftlets (a handbill folded to create multiple leaves), small pamphlets (unbound booklets, typically stapled or sewn), souvenir cards, circulars, broadsheets, brochures.”; Lincoln Envelopes –  “This collection contains embellished envelopes created during the period surrounding Lincoln’s presidency and the time immediately after his assassination. Many of the envelopes depict Lincoln himself….”; Lincoln Graphics “…include most of the known photographic images of Lincoln, along with engravings and popular prints by, among other firms, Currier & Ives and Kurz & Allen.”; Lincoln Manuscripts

The Hay Library’s famed collection of manuscripts authored or signed by Lincoln, now comprises nearly 1,100 pieces.

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Online Primary Sources for American History: The Papers of President Woodrow Wilson

The Library of Congress holds the largest number of Wilson papers, totaling in excess of 280,000 documents. There are handwritten drafts typewritten notes, and numerous letters on a vast array of subjects ranging from the Paris Peace Convention to the establishment of the Federal Reserve banking system. What may interest New Jerseyans is the contents of Series 2 that has among its treasures his documents pertaining to his governorship of the Garden State. An index to his papers is also available online; a timeline adds to the usefulness of this site.

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Today in History: The Assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the murder of this charismatic leader. Please come here to view our previous entries on him; these posts include primary sources along with his papers.

The Civil Rights Museum hosted MLK 50: Where Do We Go From Here? on April 2 & 3, 2018, while C-SPAN contains six programs featuring Dr King, including an episode of “Meet the Press” that aired on March 28, 1965. Newspaper front pages reporting on his death can be perused online as well; The Atlantic has a special issue on Dr King.

You can also peruse the multi-volume Investigation of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. [microform]: hearings before the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives and Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations, U.S. House of Representatives….findings and recommendations.

And do not ignore this April 3, 2018 video interview – Taylor Branch on the Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. (Taylor Branch won the Pulitzer Prize for one volume in his trilogy on Dr King.)

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Online Primary Sources: The Down Survey of Ireland

The wars that tore apart Ireland in the mid-1600s and resulted in the deaths of twenty percent of the population had other repercussions as well. In order to reward his soldiers and to settle some previous debts, Oliver Cromwell awarded land to his followers. However, in order to give the land away, the government needed to know what land there was. So a massive survey was undertaken to delineate the lands in Ireland – the first time such a large-scale survey had been attempted. This became known as the Down Survey of Ireland.

This website allows some granular investigations, and it is amazing at the data that can be retrieved. For instance, one can track the forfeiture of land from a Catholic landowner in 1641 to a Protestant one in 1670, mirroring the shift in land ownership throughout the country as the English forced the Catholic population into forfeiture and registered the lands under Protestant hegemony. And the process, initiated by Cromwell was furthered by his successor Charles II.

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Online Primary Sources: The 1641 Irish Uprising

As those acquainted with Irish history will attest, the Easter Rising was the culmination of a centuries-long struggle to rid Ireland of its English oppressors. One such episode was the 1641 Irish Uprising that morphed into the eleven-year long Confederate War that was ultimately won by Oliver Cromwell.

It is not my intention to re-create this tumultuous time, but rather to act as a guide to some of the rich primary source material available. A remarkable treasure trove of information is contained in the 1641 Depositions containing 8000 eyewitness accounts of the turmoil. As described, “The 1641 Depositions (Trinity College Dublin, MSS 809-841) are witness testimonies mainly by Protestants, but also by some Catholics, from all social backgrounds, concerning their experiences of the 1641 Irish rebellion. The testimonies document the loss of goods, military activity, and the alleged crimes committed by the Irish insurgents, including assault, stripping, imprisonment and murder.” There are multiple access points, including searching by county, religion, nationality, age range, or “person type”. Free registration is required for this most unique resource.

Other sources include:

British History Online (hundreds of works from royal decrees, Commonwealth writings, parliamentary reports, diplomatic dispatches);

Calendar of the state papers relating to Ireland preserved in the Public Record Office. 1625-[1670] (8 vols, 1900-10);

A contemporary history of affairs in Ireland, from 1641 to 1652 (3 vols in 6, 1879-80. Numerous primary sources);

Early English Books Online (hundreds of full text works including reports, letters, addresses, all dated between 1640 and 1660);

History of the Irish Confederation and the war in Ireland, 1641 [-1649] containing a narrative of affairs of Ireland…. (7 vols, 1882-91. Numerous primary sources herein);

Ireland in the seventeenth century; or, The Irish massacres of 1641-2, their causes and results. Illustrated by extracts from the unpublished state papers…(2 vols, 1884);

The manuscripts of the Marquis of Ormonde, preserved at the castle, Kilkenny (2 vols, Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, 1895-99. Contains valuable papers and letters).

A word of caution. As with any conflict, especially those involving religious beliefs, the testimonies tend to be polemical at best. Also, be aware of the sources – are they themselves biased in one direction or another? For those who want a dispassionate explanation of these times of trouble, I direct you to the links first identified in this entry.




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