by Unknown | 5/18/2008 01:52:00 PM
On this balmy Sunday afternoon, I thought it'd be nice to start a thread on online historical sources nobody's ever heard of. Here's how this works: in comments, post a link to one or two (or more) of these and explain what it is. I'll start us off with these two:

- Historic Coast Pilots -- If you're doing any sort of environmental history involving coastal areas of the United States (particularly the Atlantic Coast), this is an invaluable resource. For the uninitiated, a "coast pilot" is a document that describes in excruciating detail every square foot of coastline from the perspective of a ship's navigator, down to obstacles and promontories in the water. They're used by ship's pilots who need to know what an unfamiliar coastline looks like before they get there, so they don't get stranded on sandbars or blindsided by coastal islands. Incredibly enough, the U.S. government once had an entire organization, the Coast and Geodetic Survey, dedicated to the production of a complete run of these coast pilots every ten years; the work goes on now through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA has put all of the historic coast pilots online dating back to the first geodetic survey in 1796.

- Congressional Research Service Reports -- The Congressional Research Service is a government agency filled with academics who produce short summary reports on issues as requested by members of Congress. That's right -- as a member of Congress you can walk into the CRS office and say, "I want a report on oil production in Moscow in 1952," and they'll write one up for you. Unfortunately, the CRS doesn't put these reports online, but they're public record, and most members of Congress who request them do put them on their websites, as do lobbyists or nonprofit groups who obtain copies of the reports. The University of North Texas has a project that collects CRS reports from all around the Web and centralizes them in a single searchable database. For international relations and domestic economic issues, this collection is like Wikipedia, only better -- simple, easy-to-read articles written by experts with a strict NPOV (neutral point of view, just like Wikipedia). Warning: many CRS reports do have a subtle pro-governmental slant, though they often record criticisms of the government's positions as well.

Now it's your turn -- what obscure online historical databases or sources have you come across? Let us know in comments.




Blogger Heather on 5/18/2008 6:56 PM:

Here are some of my favorites:


Gallica is the full-text product of the Bibliotheque nationale de France. If you read French (or, like me, can muddle through), you will find a number of rare English-language books, and thousands of French-languages ones.


Same thing, expect from the Bibliotheque nationale de Canada. Not everything on this site is opne to non-subscribers, but there is a lot of great stuff there dealing with Canadian and northern US history.


Not obscure, but this collection of links will take you to PDF scans of the published U.S. census reports from 1790 onward. The PDFs can be a little tricky to navigate, but they are worth the effort

There are more, but I can't think of them right now.


Blogger Unknown on 5/18/2008 10:43 PM:

Thanks, Heather! I knew about Gallica, but the others are new for me.


Blogger Gordon Taylor on 5/21/2008 3:22 AM:

I second the thank-you! Gallica is new to me, and a major find. Just now I read part of the travels of Bertrand Tavernier (16th c.), which I've long been looking for. My paltry contribution:
At one of those tiresome genealogy sites, but I've used it to pinpoint days in the week when events I was writing about happened. I'm sure you know of other such calculators.

Also, I have to give a plug to, a site which has POD books which were scanned from volumes in the Russian State Libraries. Copies of obscure books, fantastic bargains, without which I couldn't have written Fever & Thirst. Take this title, e.g.:
This is a guide to London published in the 1840s. A priceless resource for novelists or historians, I should think. Just one of many. WARNING: Do not order directly from Find the book you want and order it through Amazon.


Blogger Unknown on 5/21/2008 1:33 PM:

Thanks, Gordon! This is awesome. I wish we could get even more people to contribute...


Blogger PhDinHistory on 5/21/2008 9:05 PM:

I have been using a lot recently through the NMSU library web site. It let me do keyword searching through hundreds of local and state newspapers across the U.S. during the twentieth century.


Blogger Unknown on 5/21/2008 10:25 PM:

I LOVE that site! Sadly, IU cancelled their subscription, and it's $20/week for individuals.


Blogger Larry Cebula on 5/22/2008 9:12 PM:

Not sure if this is what you have in mind, but the Washington State Digital Archives has 32 million (or so) records online, from the territorial period to the present. The search engine is not very good (I am going to help fix this--I start work there this summer) but the resources are stunning if you dig:


Blogger Unknown on 5/22/2008 10:49 PM:

Thanks, Larry! I'll probably dig in those over the summer for something I'm working on.