Digital Collections

Aerial view from the southwest of the. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. [1]

Digital collections can be used as a great primary source for the topic you are researching. Primary sources are the building blocks of historical research and should provide the foundation of your argument and interpretation. Using primary sources gives you a better understanding of an event and these sources offer a unique personal view of history whether by document or object.

Primary sources are firsthand accounts of an event; or original records created during that time period. Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period. 

The following types of materials are generally considered primary sources:

  • Diaries or journals
  • Letters or other manuscripts
  • Speeches, interviews and oral histories
  • Memoirs and autobiographies
  • Photographs
  • Sound recordings
  • Video or motion picture recordings
  • Published materials from that time period (books, magazine and/or newspaper articles)
  • Government documents (census records, laws, court decisions)
  • Political cartoons
  • Original documents produced in association with the event (pamphlets, menus…etc.)

The Library of Congress is the United States National Library and the second largest in the world. (The British Library is the world’s largest library.) The Library of Congress has an extensive collection of more than 25 million cataloged books; 74.5 million manuscripts; 5.6 million maps; 17.4 million microforms; 1.9 million moving images; and 17.3 million visual materials.

There are 480 digital collections available for viewing.  Some examples of the collection topics are as follows:

  • American History
  • Government, Law & Politics
  • World Cultures & History
  • Performing Arts
  • War & Military
  • Local History & Folklife
  • Art & Architecture
  • Social & Business History
  • Geography & Places
  • Science & Technology
History of the Library of Congress

Representative James Madison of Virginia proposed in 1783 the idea of a ‘congressional library.’ The Library of Congress was established on April 24,1800 and consisted of 740 books and three maps.

After the British in 1814 burned down the White House and Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his own person book collection for the new library collection. His book collection consisted of books in different languages and subjects such as philosophy, history, law, religion, architecture, travel, natural sciences, mathematics, studies of classical Greece and Rome, modern inventions, hot air balloons, music, submarines, fossils, agriculture, and meteorology. [2]  His collection was purchased for the new library.
Current library building was completed in 1894.

Favorite Library of Congress Digital Collections

The 10th-16th Century Liturgical Chants Collection is a Medieval liturgical chant manuscripts that trace the history of music notation.
https://www.loc.gov/collections/tenth-to-sixteenth-century-liturgical-chants/

Notated Office Book of Franciscan Sisters with Processional chant

The American Variety Stage Collection is a multimedia anthology that illustrates the vibrant and diverse forms of popular entertainment, especially vaudeville, that thrived from 1870-1920.
https://memory.loc.gov/ammem/vshtml/vshome.html

Spirit of ’76 (1905) – piano score by Ben Model – Library of Congress [3]

The Detroit Publishing Company Collection was a photographic publishing firm in 1890’s and began hiring photographs to take photographs of America’s landscape. This collection has become our definitive source of photography of America’s landscape from the 1890s-1930s.
https://www.loc.gov/collections/detroit-publishing-company/

Gloucester, home of Winthrop Sargent, first governor of Mississippi. Natchez, ca. 1904. [4]

American Revolution and Its Era: Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, 1750 to 1789 Collection has a bibliography which contains approximately 2,000 maps and charts. Part of the Geography and Map Division which contains a total of 22 different collections.
https://www.loc.gov/collections/american-revolutionary-war-maps/

The United States of America laid down from the best authorities, agreeable to the Peace of (1783) [5]

The Andrew Jackson Papers is one of twenty-three presidential collections in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. This archival collection contains more than 26,000 items dating from 1767 to 1874.
https://www.loc.gov/collections/andrew-jackson-papers/about-this-collection/

Rachel Donelson Jackson to Andrew Jackson, February 10, 1814 [6]

The National Archives offers worksheets to help students evaluate primary sources. These worksheets — for photos, written documents, artifacts, posters, maps, cartoons, videos, and sound recordings — will help students learn the process of document analysis.

Click on the button below to get the worksheets on the National Archives webpage.


[1] Highsmith, C. M., photographer. (2007) Aerial view from the southwest of the. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. , 2007. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2007684215/.

[2] Murray, S. A. P. (2009). The Library: An illustrated history. Skyhorse Publishing Company, Incorporated.

[3] Ben Model. (1905). Spirit of ’76 (1905) – piano score by Ben Model – Library of Congress [Video]. You Tube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMgRpGRotIU

[4] Detroit Publishing Co, P. (ca. 1904) Gloucester, home of Winthrop Sargent, first governor of Mississippi. United States Mississippi Natchez, ca. 1904. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2016812173/.

[5] The United States of America laid down from the best authorities, agreeable to the Peace of. London. [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/gm71005486/.

[6] Jackson, A. & Jackson, R. D. (1814) Rachel Donelson Jackson to Andrew Jackson. [Manuscript/Mixed Material] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/maj002506/.

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