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HIST2220: Technology in World History: Finding Primary Sources

Finding Primary Sources

Your research paper will include the use of primary sources. There are a wide variety of such sources, both published and unpublished, and this section will point you to some resources you can use to locate them.

For a paper about the history of technology, you should ask yourself a basic question: What types of things can be primary sources for my topic? Answers to this question can very depending on your topic. Some examples of primary sources for the history of technology can include:

  • A manuscript, letter, or diary written by an inventor (technologist)
  • A published interview with an inventor (technologist)
  • Images of drawings, plans, prototypes, fully developed technologies in production and use
  • Contemporary commentary, descriptions, criticism, advertisements, and other responses to new technologies
  • Films of new technologies in production or use

While it may be necessary to conduct searches in catalogs, databases, and the web, you should not underestimate the enormous value of your secondary sources in providing you with guidance in identifying useful primary sources. Always check the notes and bibliographies of the books and articles you are using for your project, as these can be enormous time-savers.


Internet History of Science Sourcebook
Contains several sources on the history of technology from antiquity to the modern era.


History of Science and Technology (University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center)
The History of Science and Technology Collection brings together in digital facsimile two categories of primary and secondary publications: writings about scientific research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and unique or valuable titles in science and technology held by the UW-Madison libraries.


History of Science Collections (University of Oklahoma Libraries)
Several digitized collections pertaining to the history of science and technology.


Inventing a Better Mousetrap: Patent Models from the Rothschild Collection (Smithsonian American Art Museum)
The exhibition Inventing a Better Mousetrap features thirty-two models illustrating the wide variety of nineteenth-century patented inventions submitted by inventors from across the United States.


The Untold History of Women in Science and Technology (The White House)
Listen to women from across the Administration tell the stories of their personal heroes across the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).


Railroads and the Making of Modern America
This project seeks to document and represent the rapid and far-reaching social effects of railroads and to explore the transformation of the United States to modern ideas, institutions, and practices in the nineteenth century.


The Thomas Edison Papers
Nearly 175,000 document images are now available in the Digital Edition of the Thomas A. Edison Papers. Included are documents from the archives of the Thomas Edison National Historical Park scanned from Parts I-III of the Microfilm Edition, along with items from other repositories and private collections.


Online Public Access Catalog (U.S. National Archives)
The National Archives' Online Public Access Catalog contains over 89,000 bibliographic records, with more records being added on a daily basis. The collection's strengths include archival administration, administrative history, American history and government, biography, information management, and government documents. The catalog contains various formats: books, microforms, computer disks, and audiovisual materials. It also includes many digitized documents, among which are a large number relevant to the history of technology.


ECHO (Exploring and Collecting History Online)
ECHO (Exploring and Collecting History Online) is a directory to 5,000+ websites concerning the history of science, technology, and industry. You can search it, browse it according to category, or even look at the tag cloud we've generated. Every website contains a brief description (some examples are here), and occasionally, a review.


Science, Technology and Business (Library of Congress)
These pages link to selected collection content available online at the Library of Congress, arranged by broad categories.


The History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine: A Selection of Web and other Sources
An extensive link directory, including a section devoted to manuscripts and original texts.


American Memory
American Memory provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience. It is a digital record of American history and creativity. These materials, from the collections of the Library of Congress and other institutions, chronicle historical events, people, places, and ideas that continue to shape America, serving the public as a resource for education and lifelong learning.


New York Public Library Digital Gallery
The New York Public Library's Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 800,000 images digitized from the The New York Public Library's vast collections, including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and more.


Subject Guide

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Richard Kearney
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