Archive for Online Primary Sources

Today in History : Sputnik Launches the Space Age

Sixty years ago today, Sputnik 1 blasted into space. Here is how The New York Times reported it. Review these documents in the Sputnik and the Space Race site from the Eisenhower Presidential Library from American reaction. Also check out this section from the 1955-57 volumes of the FRUSUnited States interest in the scientific exploration of outer space.

To see early documents for the American space program, please peruse

Exploring the Unknown: Selected Documents in the History of the U.S. Civil Space Program: Volume 1. (The seven other volumes in this NASA history series are also available here.)




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Online Primary Sources: “British Documents on the End of Empire”

This massive project was undertaken in light of the following:

“The main purpose of the British Documents on the End of Empire Project (BDEEP) is to publish documents from British official archives on the ending of colonial and associated rule and on the context in which this took place. In 1945, aside from the countries of present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma, Britain had over fifty formal dependencies; by the end of 1965 the total had been almost halved and by 1985 only a handful remained.”

Documents were culled from a vast array of official sources and provide insights into the transfer of power and the establishment of relations with former colonies.

The project was divided into three series: Series A approached this re-alignment thematically; Series B concentrates on specific countries; and Series C acts as an updated guide to the official records housed in various agencies. All the volumes contain hundreds of documents; at times, the tomes take some time to download. But it is worth the wait. In total, eighteen volumes were published between 1992 and 2006.


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Online Primary Sources for American History: The Papers of General John J Pershing

The Library of Congress has made available online selected material from its collection of Pershing Papers. These include typewritten diaries covering his WWI experiences and well as his post-war activities as Army chief of staff. You might also want to read his Report of General John J. Pershing, U.S.A., Commander-in-Chief, American Expeditionary Forces. Cabled to the Secretary of War, November 20, 1918. Cor. January 16, 1919.

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A Very Early Anti-Slavery Newspaper

It was called The Emancipator and lasted all of seven issues in 1820 due to the death of its editor, a Quaker named Elihu Embree. Please visit this blog entry for additional antislavery publications of an historical nature.

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Online Primary Sources for American History: The Paris Peace Conference That Ended WWI

For those who want background information on this conference, please consult: The Paris Peace Conference and its Consequences (International Encyclopedia of the First World War).

Official diplomatic correspondence and documentation is provided in the thirteen volumes produced in the Foreign Relations of the United States series. What may surprise those not familiar with the publication of official, sensitive records is that these volumes were not produced until the 1940s, 1942-1947 to be exact. For the history of these volumes and the amount of resistance to them being published, please read FRUS at War: Appeasement, Alliance Politics, and the Paris Peace Conference Volumes .

Additional contemporary source documents can be found here, including the papers of “Colonel” House.

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Online Primary Sources: “Documents on German Foreign Relations”

As World War II was coming to a close, literally tons of documents from the German Foreign Ministry were seized. A joint commission comprised of scholars and editors from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France was formed with the object of evaluating what documents were important enough to be published as a record of  Germany’s foreign policy from the late 19th century until WWII. That was too daunting a process so the revised focus was on documents illustrating the run-up to hostilities, primarily around the years 1939 to 1941. This was undertaken and over the course of the years, 1949-1964, “Series D” was published in thirteen volumes. (Read the prefaces to the individual volumes for a more complete history of this project.)

Here are the volumes currently available online:

1 (From Neurath to Ribbentrop, September 1937 – September 1938)

2 (Germany and Czechoslovakia, 1937-1938)

3 (Germany and the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939)

4 (The Aftermath of Munich, October 1938 – March 1939)

5 (Poland, Balkans, Latin America, June 1937 – March 1939)

6 (The Last Months of Peace, March – August, 1939)

7 (The Last Days of Peace, August 9 – September 3, 1939)

8 (The War Years, September 4 – March 3, 1940)

9 (The War Years, March 18 – June 22, 1940)

10 (The War Years, June 23 – August 31, 1940)

11 (The War Years, September 1940 – January 31, 1941. Analytical index only.)

12 (The War Years, February 1 – June 22, 1941)

13 (The War Years, June 23 – December 11, 1941)


“Series C” that deals with the years 1933-1937 started producing volumes in 1957; there are six volumes in total. Online versions are:

1 (The Third Reich: First Phase, January 30 – October 14, 1933)

3 (The Third Reich: First Phase, June 14, 1934 – March 31, 1935)

4 (The Third Reich: First Phase, April 1, 1935 – March 4, 1936)

6 (The Third Reich: First Phase, November 11, 1936 – November 14, 1937)




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Additional JFK Assassination Records Released

Ask anyone of a certain age “Where were you when President Kennedy was killed”, and you will get a detailed account of where that person was. The National Archives continues to open files associated with this traumatic event; these contain CIA and FBI records.

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