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Primary Sources in U.S. Government Documents

Researchers wishing to review primary sources will find a wealth of primary source material in government documents. These publications include congressional materials, annual reports, administrative reports, circulars and catalogs. Government publications offer current documentation on governmental activities and agencies as well as historical documentation. The purpose of this guide includes some of the basic tools required to retrieve primary and secondary sources using the U.S. Serial Set, retrospective indexes, and internet resources. This is by no means a comprehensive list of primary sources. Use OskiCat or MELVYL to locate government publications by author, title, and/or subject.

Gateways | Sources for Legislation and Policy | Statistical Data | Declassified Documents | Other Library Web Pages


American Memory
Gateway to rich primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the United States. The site offers more than 7 million digital items from more than 100 historical collections. You can also:

ARC: Archival Research Catalog via National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
Some archival materials have been digitized and are available through ARC. They include architectural and engineering drawings; artifact items, maps and charts, still pictures and textual documents. See also: Historical Documents Online: Search Hints for Selected Topics in ARC.

Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy via Yale Law School.

Chronology of US Historical Documents via the University of Oklahoma Law Library
Includes the text of more than 100 historic US documents from the Magna Carta and the Mayflower Compact to the Truman Doctrine and the "I Have a Dream" speech.

Core Documents of U.S. Democracy via GPO Access
Provides access a core group of current and historical government publications including the Bill of Rights, presidential inauguration speeches and other judicial and regulatory documents.

  • Multilaterals Project via Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts University
    The texts of international multilateral conventions and other instruments including treaties in the fields of human rights, commerce and trade, laws of war and arms control, and other areas. Although the vast majority of texts date from the second half of the 20th century, the collection also includes historical texts, from the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia to the Covenant of the League of Nations.

  • Our Document
    100 milestone documents of American history.

    Presidential Libraries via National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
    These are repositories for preserving and making available the papers, records, and other historical materials of U.S. Presidents. While Presidents who have held office more recently often have more information available on their web sites, some of the Presidential Libraries have scanned in documents.

  • Teaching with Documents: Lesson Plans via the National Archives
    NARA site that contains reproducible copies of primary documents from the holdings of the National Archives of the United States, teaching activities correlated to the National History Standards and National Standards for Civics and Government, and cross-curricular connections.

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    Sources for Legislation and Policy

    American Memory: A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates 1774-1875
    Features the text of documents, journals, and debates of the Continental and Federal Congress from 1774 to 1875. Browse by Collections:

    Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
    Publications by Document Type include: Briefs, Letters, Studies & Reports, Technical Papers and Testimony. Some date back to the 1970s.

    General Accounting Office Reports and Testimony.
    Updated daily, full text back to the 1960s.

    LexisNexis Congressional UC Access Only
    Indexing and abstracting of congressional publications dating back to 1789. LexisNexis Congressional has written submitted testimony for almost all congressional hearings from 1993 forward. There are transcripts of discussion sessions from selected hearings. Coverage from 1988 to 1993 is less comprehensive. CIS Legislative Histories by keyword back to 1970. Legislative Histories are the detailed records of congressional legislation, containing references to all bills, hearings, committee reports, etc., associated with all public laws.

    Source for current and historical bills (back to the 93rd Congress, 1973-1974) and other legislative activities.

    U.S. Congressional Serial Set Digital Edition (1817-1980) UCB Access Only
    Project schedule: As of February 2005, 15th Congress - 37th Congress, 1st Session, 1817 - 1861 completed. The entire project is scheduled for completion in 2008. For the most current information on the Congresses and periods covered, check the help after you have entered the database.

    See also: Congressional Sources & Indexes

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    Declassified Documents

    Declassified Documents Reference System (DDRS) UC Only
    Database ranges from the years immediately following World War II, when declassified documents were first made widely available, through the 1970s. Nearly every major foreign and domestic event of these years is covered: the Cold War, Vietnam, foreign policy shifts, the civil rights movement, and many others.

    Digital National Security Archive UC Only
    Comprehensive collection available of significant primary documents central to U.S. foreign and military policy since 1945.

    See also: Declassified Government Documents

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    Statistical Data

    Bicentennial Edition: Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970

    Current Population Reports: Consumer Income Reports (1946-1994)

    Decennial Censuses: 1790-1930

    Historical Census Reports
    Contains historical census reports in PDF for 1790-1860, 1990, and 2000

    Statistical Abstract of the United States (1878 to present)
    National Data Book containing a collection of statistics on social and economic conditions in the United States as well as selected international data. (Historical data is added as completed).

    Vital Statistics of the United States (1900 to present)
    Annual reports that present detailed vital statistics data, including natality, mortality, marriage and divorce.

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    Other Library Web Pages

    American Government and Public Policy Internet Resources

    Archival Collections and Primary Source Databases

    California Government and Public Policy Internet Resources

    California Legislative and Regulatory Sources

    Government Research Guides

    Guides to Congress

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