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US Government Information in the Study of History

describes historically significant documents in the Library's collection, and important web sources for history

Online: Library of Congress Digital Collections

The Library of Congress Digital Collections portal provides access to organized collections of digitized material from the agency and other institutions.

Baseball Cards

You can browse categories of collections—such as American History, Performing Arts, World Cultures, War, Local History —or select an individual collection to browse or search. A search function across collections is also available.

The variety of materials available is astounding: papers and official documents from political figures, Indian tribal music, maps, various collections of pamphlets, many collections of films, photographs, and audio files, manuscripts from authors and poets, and much more. Even baseball cards!

Online: National Archives

National ArchivesThis federal agency (Archives.gov, or NARA: National Archives and Records Administration) is the ultimate repository for official records of the U.S. government. Although much of the information at NARA's website deals FedFlixwith their onsite research facilities, there is a great deal of interest and value for remote users as well. 

There are more NARA links and other information under the Archives tab. Also, at other points in this guide, there are notes regarding specific sections of their collections.

Here are the major links for accessing material at Archives.gov:


For serious researchers, a visit to NARA itself might be useful. The Yale Library provides this guide with useful information for visiting NARA:

Online: general/interdisciplinary websites

ComicMany libraries across the country are engaged in digitization projects covering government publications, and sometimes quirkily interesting collections are the result, like the Government Comics Collection at the University of Nebraska, from which we borrowed the image on the left. These digitized collections can often be found through normal search engines, or you can check the Government Printing Office's Registry of Digitization Projects.

The Law Library Microform Consortium at the University of Michigan provides an extensive collection of documents and is housed at the University of Michigan, and links for these items can be found in the Library Catalog. Items of particular interest to historians would be their holdings of treaty compilations and volumes of the Foreign Relations papers.

Documents:

Other Resources:

Treaties:

The Library no longer holds printed volumes of historical or current treatiesThe Law Library has historical compilations and current treaties in printed form, as well as extensive reference materials on treaties and international law.

Some volumes of treaties are available in digital form from the Law Library Microform Consortium. 

In the Library: Major Reference Sources

NOTE that the Library ceased receiving new tangible government documents in Spring, 2016, and withdrew large numbers of tangible documents during the previous year.

In addition to the major series described in other boxes on this page, Congress and various agencies often publish legislative histories and/or other compilations that can be useful for research in particular areas. For example:

  • Legislation on Foreign Relations Through.... Y 4. F 76/2-10: . Updated variably; Library keeps current edition of each volume only. Volume 1, covering Foreign Assistance, is updated the most frequently. Other volumes cover treaties and programs in various areas such as cultural exchanges, economic policy, international organizations, etc.
  • To locate legislative histories on particular laws in the Library Catalog, choose the "Advanced Title Keyword" option and use the words "Legislative" and "History" along with keywords from the law's official title. For more information on legislative histories and the legislative process, see this LibGuide on Legislative Research. Our Legal Resources for Non-Law Students guide might also prove useful.

In the Library: State Dept. publications

Foreign Relations of the U.S. S 1.1: (Affectionately known as FRUS). These volumes of diplomatic correspondence between the U.S. and foreign countries include text of treaties, Presidential and other special messages. Our collection begins in 1914. In 2016, we stopped receiving new volumes in print. Because of the long delay in publication of this material, the latest year for which we have print volumes is 1980. The Law Library continues to receive print volumes, and there are online editions (see the bottom of the box for links).


arrowNeed primary source material on a historical topic? Look no further!

title page from 1919 FRUS

Some volumes include supplementary microfiche sets which contain copies of related documents and other material. Printed finding aids for the microfiche are shelved with the printed volumes.

In addition, Library has these other compilations of State Department primary sources:

  • Decade of American Foreign Policy; Basic Documents, 1941-49. S 1.69:415.
  • American Foreign Policy Annual Documents. 1956-67, 1981-90. (Also called Current Documents) S 1.71/2: .

These compilations contain documents (speeches, messages, press conferences, interviews, congressional testimony, etc.) expressing the goals and objectives of U.S. foreign policy by members of the Executive Branch. Beginning in 1981, annual supplements on microfiche have been included with some volumes. (S 1.71/2-2: )

online

Note the following online sources for FRUS:

In the Library: Serial Set

The Serial Set contains reports of Congressional Committees on legislation before them, as well as more ceremonial publications, which are called "documents."

The Serial Set is shelved in the position of classification number Y 1.1/2: in the Documents Collection on the 2nd floor. Volumes received prior to 1997 are tan-colored and hardbound, and shelved by the sequential Serial Set Numbers printed in black on their spines.

For more detailed information on the Library's Serial Set holdings, and on this valuable public record in general, see this box in our Congress, Legislation, etc. guide. The box also includes links to online versions and links to other guides.

In the Library: Congressional Record

Beginning in 2007 the Library ceased receiving the daily Congressional Record issues in tangible form, and in 2016 we stopped getting microfiche "bound" volumes. The last year for which we have microfiche is 2011 (incomplete).

Congressional Record and related publications (it has changed names over the years) are available in the Library as follows:

  • Congressional Record, 1977- present: in Documents Microfiche Collection (X 1.1:)
  • Congressional Record, 1964-Jan., 1977: hardbound, in Documents Collection (X 1.1:)
  • Congressional Record, 1873-1963: microfilm, in the Reference area of the Library
  • Congressional Globe, 1833-1873: microfilm, in the Reference area of the Library
  • Register of Debates, 1824-1837: microfiche, in the Reference area of the Library
  • Annals of Congress, 1789-1824: microfiche, in the Reference area of the Library

Two electronic publications from the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, DC. can be helpful in researching Congressional debates:

In the Library: Bibliographies

Library of Congress Bibliographies. LC 1.12/2: . These publications cover many different subjects, often of historical interest. Usually the listings describe holdings of the Library. The Blume Library has only kept selected, substantial, bibliographies in print, but links to online versions of other bibliographies can be found in the Library Catalog.

Note that the following classic, comprehensive, bibliographies are shelved in the Reference Collection on the Liibrary's 1st Floor:

  • Comprehensive Index to the Publications of the U.S. Government, 1881-1893. REF Z 1223 A13. By John G. Ames, and often referred to as "Ames." 
  • A Descriptive Catalogue of the Government Publications of the U.S., 1774-1881. REF Z 1223 A1885By Benjamin P. Poore, and often referred to as "Poore's." 
  • Guide to U.S. Government Publications. 1990. REF Z 1223 .Z7 A572 (Law Library)Edited by Donna Andriot, and often referred to as "Andriot." Complete listing of Superintendent of Documents classification numbers, including those no longer in use; also annotations of important series.