Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Michigan State University

Political Science / Public Policy Resources: Primary Sources

Primary Sources

Primary sources are documents that were recorded or written down at the time an event occurred. Primary sources can include diaries, letters, speeches, photographs, newspaper articles, government documents, and much more. For more information, see What are Primary Sources

To find primary sources held at the MSU Libraries, perform a keyword search in the library catalog with the terms s:elections and one of the following subject keyword(s)  s:archives; s:archival resources; cs:orrespondence; s:diaries; s:manuscripts; s:notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.; s:personal narratives; s:personnel records; s:records and correspondence; and s:sources.   The last option -- s:sources will probably be the most productive. 

Primary Sources Online Exhibit

Primary Sources Online Exhibit - Introduces the many types of primary sources used by researchers, with examples from Special Collections.  Courtesy of Ruth Ann Jones and Lesley Brown.

Sample Primary Resources

America Votes: Presidential Campaign Memorabilia - Presidential Campaign Memorabilia from the Duke University Special Collections Library

American Presidency Project - The American Presidency Project was established in 1999 as a collaborative effort between Prof. John Woolley and graduate student Gerhard Peters of the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Sample contents :

  • Public Papers of the Presidents (Hoover - Ford, Carter 1977, and G.H.W. Bush)
  • State of the Union Addresses (Washington - G.W. Bush)
  • Inaugural Addresses (Washington - G.W. Bush)
  • Saturday Radio Addresses (Clinton - G.W. Bush)
  • National Political Party Platforms (parties receiving electoral votes since 1840)
  • Fireside Chats (F. Roosevelt)
  • Documents Related to the 2000 Election Dispute (judicial writs, briefs, motions, opinions, and press statements)


Avalon Project : Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy (Yale University Law School)

C-SPAN Archives -- records, indexes, and archives all C-SPAN programming aired since 1987, now totaling over 160,000 hours. All C-SPAN programs since 1993 are digital and can be viewed online for free.

C-Span Presidential Libraries : History Uncovered -- A first-person view of the modern presidency from the men who held the office and those who served around them. Join us as C-SPAN presents Presidential Libraries: History Uncovered — the product of an unprecedented, yearlong search in cooperation with the National Archives for rare and unseen recordings from all 12 of the nation's presidential libraries. This continually growing web site houses hundreds of newly discovered films, audio, and video recordings and serves as the companion piece to C-SPAN's television and radio series.

C-Span Video Library.  The Video Library records all three C-SPAN networks seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Programs are extensively indexed, making the database of C-SPAN programming an unparalleled chronological resource.  Purdue University started recording C-Span in 1987.

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Documents and Debates, 1774-1873 via the Library of Congress : From the Library of Congress Law Library, full text of Constitutional Congress documents as well as the first hundred years of the U.S. Congress.

Constitution Finder - web guide and links to the full text of constitutions from countries around the world.

Digital National Security Archive - Subscription resource from Proquest.  Contains a large collection of recently declassified national security information, including material on U.S. relations with Cuba, El Salvador, Iran, Berlin, South Africa, etc.  Note: access available to the MSU community and other subscribers.

Documents from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789 : From the American Memory project, includes full-text of many important documents surrounding the founding of the American republic.

Eleanor and Harry : The Correspondence between Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, 1945-1959.

Frontline Diplomacy: The Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training - Transcripts of interviews with U.S. diplomatic personnel capture their experiences, motivations, critiques, personal analyses and private thoughts. These elements are crucial to understanding the full story of the creation of a structure of stable relationships that maintained world peace and protected U.S. interests and values....Most of the interviews in the collection come from foreign service officers, but there also are some with political appointees and other officials. While some 1920s-, 1930s-, and World War II-era diplomacy is covered, most of the interviews involve post-World War II diplomacy, from the late 1940s to the 1990s....The collection includes extensive personal recollections from luminaries of American 20th century diplomatic history, including Alfred "Roy" Atherton (ambassador to Egypt), Zbigniew Brzezinski (national security adviser under President Carter), Frank Carlucci (ambassador to Portugal under Presidents Nixon and Ford; also served as secretary of defense under President Reagan), Julia Child (spouse of foreign service officer Paul Cushing Child), Lawrence Eagleburger (secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush), Averell Harriman (ambassador to the Soviet Union and England under President Franklin Roosevelt), Jeane Kirkpatrick (ambassador to the United Nations), Winston Lord (played a critical role in opening relations with China under President Nixon), Clare Boothe Luce (ambassador to Italy under President Eisenhower), Douglas MacArthur II (nephew of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and ambassador to Japan, Belgium, Austria and Iran), Charles H. Percy (senator from Illinois), Rozanne Ridgway (ambassador to Finland and East Germany), Dean Rusk (secretary of state under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson), John S. Service (foreign service officer specializing in China before World War II), Cyrus Vance (secretary of state under President Carter) and Marion Post Wolcott (photographer, married to USAID official Lee Wolcott).

George Washington University Nataional Security Archive.   Founded in 1985 by journalists and scholars to check rising government secrecy, the National Security Archive combines a unique range of functions: investigative journalism center, research institute on international affairs, library and archive of declassified U.S. documents ("the world's largest nongovernmental collection" according to the Los Angeles Times), leading non-profit user of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, public interest law firm defending and expanding public access to government information, global advocate of open government, and indexer and publisher of former secrets.

History and Politics Out Loud - HPOL is a collection of invaluable audio materials some available for the first time on this website capturing significant political and historical events and personalities of the twentieth century. The materials range from formal addresses delivered in public settings to private telephone conversations conducted from the innermost recesses of the White House. Speakers include: Winston Churchill (1) William J Clinton (1), William Orville Douglas (1), Arthur J Goldberg (2), Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1), Lyndon B Johnson (30), John F Kennedy (19), Robert F Kennedy (2), Nikita S Khrushchev (1), Martin Luther King, Jr (5), John Lewis (1), George C Marshall (1), Eileen McCann (1), Richard M. Nixon (34), A. Philip Randolph (1), Franklin D Roosevelt (4), Earl Warren (1), Roy Wilkins (1), Whitney Young,Jr (1)

Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2008 - The American Museum of the Moving Image is providing television commercials for each presidential candidate from the years 1952 to 2008, along with an analysis of each major party, their advertising campaigns, and a map showing the results of each election.

On-Line Campaign Literature Archive : Collection of campaign web sites and scanned images of printed campaign literature, emphasizing California and Los Angeles elections, 1924 to present. Courtesy of UCLA Library.

Pentagon Papers.  Available via HeinOnline.

Presidential Recordings Program -  Between 1940 and 1973, six American presidents from both political parties--FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, and Nixon--secretly recorded on tape just under 5,000 hours of their meetings and telephone conversations. The University of Virginia, Miller Center for Public Affairs, Presidential Recordings Program is a unique effort aimed at making these remarkable historical sources accessible.

Presidential Speech Archive - The University of Virginia, Miller Center of Public Affiars, Scripps Library, through cooperation with various presidential libraries, has been collecting some of the most important presidential speeches in American history. These speeches all have transcripts, and some are available in their entirety in full audio. Recently we have expanded our collection to include video speeches from President John F. Kennedy through President Barack Obama.

U.S. Presidential Audio Recordings -  The Voices of American Presidents have been captured by audio pioneers since the early days of sound recording.  The invention of Edison's phonograph ushered in a new era of "recorded" history, beginning with President Benjamin Harrison in the late nineteenth century to the present day administration.  The MSU Vincent Voice Library is working to preserve over 100 years of historical spoken word recordings like those of the U.S. Presidents, and is pleased to share these sound samples from its collection.  Two methods are available for listening to sound files, RealAudio and MP3. For more recordings of U.S. Presidents, please visit the Vincent Voice Library home page.

Subject Guide

Profile Photo
Julia Ezzo

Ask a Librarian

Michigan State University