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SSI2-189: The Experience of World War II in Europe: Finding Primary Sources

Digital Collections

Academic libraries and historical museums often try to digitize primary source collections held in their archives and special collections in order to make them available to the widest possible audience.

Strategies for Identifying Primary Sources

  • Aim for a variety of materials that will provide multiple perspectives on your topic.  In practice, this means using a variety of search strategies and more than one repository or database.
     
  • Consult the notes and bibliographies of recently published, good historical monographs and relevant scholarly articles.  If much of the cited primary source material is located in a distant archive, you may need to rethink your approach to your research topic.
     
  • Use the author search function in Primo.  You can use "corporate authors" to find writings published by government entities, businesses, or groups.
     
  • Look for scholarly editions of primary sources, or for "documentary histories" that include a selection of primary sources accompanied by scholarly annotations.
     
  • Use Library of Congress Subject Headings--especially the subheadings most frequently associated with primary sources.

Additional Digital Sources

Online Collections by Area

The Holocaust and German sources

 

Shoah Foundation: huge archive of interviews with Holocaust survivors

https://sfi.usc.edu/vha

U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum search engine (lots of online items): https://collections.ushmm.org/search/

Nuremberg trials database

http://nuremberg.law.harvard.edu/ (Links to an external site.)

German History in Documents and Images (GHDI) http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/(Links to an external site.)

(a grab-bag of different sources by period)

German primary sources from different periods: The German Propaganda Archive

http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/ (Links to an external site.)

U. S. sources

Veterans' History Project: Oral history interviews from wars including WWII: https://www.loc.gov/vets/

US National Archives and Records Administration has some things in digital format, although it might be hard to navigate: https://www.archives.gov/research/military/ww2/electronic-records.html

The NYT Digital Archive and the Times of London Digital Archive. Both available on our library website under “Databases A-z” on primo page.

Library of Congress WWII materials guide: https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ww2/ww2bib.html; https://www.loc.gov/vets/stories/ex-war-correspondence.html

Rutgers Oral History Archive: Contains a huge database of oral history interviews with US veterans of WWII, with European theater specified: https://oralhistory.rutgers.edu/military-history/29-conflict-index/164-world-war-ii-european-theater-index

Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), a huge archive of curated State Department materials (find volume on WWII): https://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/FRUS/

Witness to War, veteran memoirs and other sources: https://www.witnesstowar.org/photo_memoirs/docs

Russian/Soviet sources

I Remember: a collection of personal accounts of Soviet veterans: https://iremember.ru/en/

Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System (HPSSS; also known as Harvard Interview Project):  http://hcl.harvard.edu/collections/hpsss/index.html(Links to an external site.)

HPSSS is a collection of 694 transcribed interviews conducted with refugees from the USSR during the early years of the Cold War. It has recently become available as a searchable online

Newspapers & Magazines - Digital Collections

Library of Congress Subject Headings for Primary Sources

Books in Primo are assigned Library of Congress Subject Headings.  In many ways, subject headings are a form of tagging, in that they represent the content of the material and provide ways for you to efficiently locate more materials that are conceptually related. 

Library of Congress Subject Headings are also quite useful for discovering primary sources. The following subheadings usually are added to indicate that the material is a primary source: sources, personal narratives, correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, or notebooks.  Once you've discovered the subject heading for secondary sources, try adding one of the primary source subheadings to see what you find.  Here are some examples:

World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives

Saint Petersburg (Russia) -- History -- Siege, 1941-1944 -- Sources

World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, German