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U.S. Labor and Working Class History: Primary Sources

Guide to library resources in U.S. Labor and Working Class History.

What Are Primary Sources?

   What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may include letters, manuscripts, diaries, journals, newspapers, speeches, interviews, memoirs, documents produced by government agencies such as Congress or the Office of the President, photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures or video recordings, research data, and objects or artifacts such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons. These sources serve as the raw material to interpret the past, and when they are used along with previous interpretations by historians, they provide the resources necessary for historical research. 

--Using Primary Sources on the Web, by the Reference and User Services Association, American Library Association (ALA), http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/rusa/resources/usingprimarysources/index.cfm

Oral Histories

Oral histories of labor activists, leaders, and working people are available in many archives, such as the Tamiment Library, New York University.  An increasing number are now available on the Internet, either in transcript or audio file format. Here are links to representative digital Oral History collections.  You can find others by searching for "oral history" and the name of your focus person, union, organization, or event.

If you are unfamiliar with using Oral Histories, there is an excellent online guide, Making Sense of Oral History from the web site History Matters.

Primary Sources on the Web

There are an increasing number of digitized primary documents and items available on the Internet.  These web sites will either direct you to these resources or are representative of some of the best sites for labor history.  Additional primary sources can be found on some of the web sites listed in the People, Events pages of this guide.

Historical Newspapers

Databases of historical newspapers available through RUL.