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Primary Sources – United States and California History: Archival Collections and Primary Sources on the Web

The purpose of the guide is to help users identify, locate, and use primary sources in their historical research.

Websites for Primary Sources

The Online Archive of California describes the contents of archives, libraries and museum collections, their location, and in some instances, provides access to entire collections in digitized format for viewing online. 

 University of California's Calisphere provides digital access to primary sources -- letters, documents, photographs, diaries, oral histories -- documenting California history and culture.

•  California As I Saw It: First Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900 is a collection of digitized books containing first-person accounts from the time of the Gold Rush through the turn of the Century.

•  San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive includes hours of digitized newsfilm, documentaries, and other programs produced in the Bay Area between 1935 and 2005.

•  Archives of the West contains journals, letters, memoirs, reports and images of the American West, assembled for Ken Burn's PBS documentary, "The West."

•  Westward by Sea: A Maritime Perspective of American Expansion, 1830-1890, covers major themes such as the California Gold Rush, Whaling Life, the Immigrant Experience and the Roles of Women, and covers a geographical area that includes California and the Pacific Northwest.

•  American Memory, is a directory of the Library of Congress's vast collection of digital resources documenting American history, including sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps and sheet music.

•  American Memory Timeline provides sets of selected primary sources on specific topics in U. S. History.

US Historical DocumentsOne Hundred Milestone Documents
U. S. History from 1776 to 1965.

•  Internet Modern History Sourcebook  provides copy-permitted material for Modern European History including North American and Latin American documents.

•  Annals of Congress  includes the debates and proceedings of the United States Congress from the 1st Session beginning March 4, 1789.  The website's link to "Historical Background" takes you to a timeline of American History seen through Congressional Documents, 1774-1873.  


Find Primary Sources in Archive Collections

Westward Expansion


  Archival Collections Near Foothill LIbrary

•    California History Center and Foundation,
located on the De Anza College campus, houses a collection of oral history on audio and video tape, photographs, clippings and pamphlets covering Santa Clara Valley's past, present and future.

•    Palo Alto Historical Association maintains the city's historic archives, including historic photographs of Palo Alto and neighboring cities since 1870, oral histories in oral and video format, and obituraries published in local nespapers since the 1890's.

•    San Mateo County History Museum
archival collection contains photographs, fine arts, letters, manuscripts and memorabilia that document the history of San Mateo County.

San Jose State University Library houses the following archival collections:
•    SJSU Special Collections and Archives document local, regional and California History, and includes such primary sources as administrative records, photographs and ephemera.

•    The California Room is a collection of materials on California history with emphasis on the history of San Jose and Santa Clara counties.

Archival Collections in the Bay Area

•    California Historical Society,
located in San Francisco, houses over one million photographs and 5000 works of art, in addition to manuscripts, diaries and public records, documenting California history. 

•   San Francisco History Center, located at the San Francisco Public Library, maintains extensive archival collections documenting San Francisco History and the history of the GLBT community in Northern California.

•   National Archives, Pacific Sierra Region,
located in San Bruno, contains federal records from Northern and Central California and Nevada, and primary source materials relating to many themes of American history.

Archival Collections Statewide

•   California State Archives,
located in Sacramento, is a repository for permanent public records pertaining to the state's political history as well as other materials documenting California History.

•   Repositories of Primary Sources is an extensive online directory of libraries and archives that hold historic documents worldwide.  Browse state by state, or by country.