The Voices of the People: A Focus Workshop
December 4 , 2010
Web Resources
Diaries and Letters Oral Histories People's History
Website: Description:

What kind of historical sources are diaries and letters?

This collection of essays explores the benefits and pitfalls of using diaries and letters in a history curriculum.

Wisconsin Historical Society

The Wisconsin Historical Society has digitized a selection some of the diaries in their collections with brief explanatory notes, images of the original pages, and links leading to more information. The project started with the journal of the only member of the Lewis and Clark expedition to die en route, Sgt. Charles Floyd, the journal and other documents from Marquette and Joliet's 1673 voyage across Wisconsin and down the Mississippi and now contains excerpts from the 1834 Diary of Presbyterian missionary Cutting Marsh (1800-1873 and the1863 diary of Emily Quiner, young Madison woman who decided in June 1863 to go work in a Civil War hospital.

The Diary of Martha Ballard

Martha Ballard was an 18th century midwife, who wrote in her diary nearly every day from January 1, 1785 to May 12, 1812 for a total of almost 10,000 entries. At this site, you can explore the contents of the diary, try your hand at transcribing or learn more about Martha and her time.

Duke University Libraries

The Duke University Library system has digitized some of their extensive collection and gather links that reflect women’s experience in the Civil War. This site contains multiple digitized diaries and letters of Southern women written during the conflict.

Duke University Libaries Special Collections

The Duke University Library system has digitized letters and a memoir of African-American women which reflect their experiences under slavery and Reconstruction.

North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories

This site compiles the voices of 2,162 authors providing personal view of what it meant to immigrate to America and Canada between 1800 and 1950. It includes contemporaneous letters and diaries, oral histories, interviews, and other personal narratives, and can be browsed by date, place, author or cultural heritage.

Diaries, Memoirs, Letters and Reports Along the Trails West

One of the few non-academic sites on the list, this website has collected links to numerous digitized diaries, memoirs and letters from emigrants to the American West. It represents many voices from Westward Expansion.

Documenting the American South

"First-Person Narratives of the American South" is a collection of diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, travel accounts, and ex-slave narratives written by Southerners. The majority of materials in this collection are written by those Southerners whose voices were less prominent in their time, including African Americans, women, enlisted men, laborers, and Native Americans.”Although occasionally difficult to search, this collection has some incredibly valuable sources. Check out the highlights page ( and the classroom page ( for ideas to get you started

University of Pennsylvania: Women's Studies

Six digitized diaries of northeastern women covering time periods from 1850 to1941.

Prairie Stories: Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters

This digital collection integrates two collections from the holdings of the Nebraska State Historical Society, the Solomon D. Butcher photographs and the letters of the Uriah W. Oblinger family. Approximately 3,000 glass plate negatives crafted by Butcher record the process of settlement in Nebraska between 1886 and 1912.. The approximately 3,000 pages of Oblinger family letters discuss land, work, neighbors, crops, religious meetings, problems with grasshoppers, financial problems, and the Easter Blizzard of 1873. In the eloquent letters exchanged between Uriah and his wife Mattie, and in letters to other family members, Oblinger expresses very personal insight into the joy, despair, and determination in their struggle to establish a home on the prairie


Tell Me Your Stories

This website contains a curriculum designed around collecting and using oral histories to teach history.

Alive in Truth

Alive in Truth recorded life histories of people from New Orleans, Louisiana and nearby areas who were affected by Hurricane Katrina from 2005 to 2006. Our goal was to document individual lives, restore community bonds, and to uphold the voices, culture, rights, and history of New Orleanians.

Telling Their Stories


High school students at the Urban School of San Francisco conduct and film interviews with elders who have witnessed key historic events of the 20th century

American Slave Narratives


“From 1936 to 1938, over 2,300 former slaves from across the American South were interviewed by writers and journalists under the aegis of the Works Progress Administration. These former slaves, most born in the last years of the slave regime or during the Civil War, provided first-hand accounts of their experiences on plantations, in cities, and on small farms. Their narratives remain a peerless resource for understanding the lives of America's four million slaves.”

Cantigny Oral History Project

This project captures twenty-two videotaped oral histories of soldiers and guardsmen who served with the First Division of the U.S. Army from 1944 to 2009.

University of Texas VOCES

This project seeks to document and create a better awareness of the contributions of Latinos and Latinas of the WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War generations. On this site you will find hundreds of stories, thousands of photos, oral history training videos.

Women in Journalism


This award-winning, nationwide oral history project includes comprehensive, full-life interviews with women journalists who have made significant contributions to society through careers in journalism since the 1920s. The nearly sixty interviews provide an important documentary record of the experiences of women in seeking acceptance in journalism and the impact that this development has had on the reporting and editing of the nation's news. The interviews also document changes in the roles, expectations, opportunities, and obstacles for women in American society during this century.
Illinois Oral Histories:


Library of Congress: WPA Illinois Life Stories

These titles are mostly first-person accounts of life in Chicago collected during the Great Depression


The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

The ALPL has collected videos and oral histories from oral histories around a few specific topics such as agriculture, statecraft, veterans’ experiences and African-American experiences. If you enter any of those sections, the interviews are listed alphabetically with attached blurbs.


WILL- Vietnam Soldiers’ Stories

In these videos, the reminiscences of local veterans are intercut with combat footage.

WILL- Central Illinois WWII stories

WILL’s Central Illinois World War II Stories project focuses on recording untold World War II stories and making them available through broadcast and the Web.

Illinois State Museum


This collection of interviews about Illinois agriculture ranges from the 1950s to the 2000s, in either audio or visual format.  Searchable by person or by geography (look at the interview map:


Library of Congress

A collection of links to oral history projects dedicated to the experiences of veterans and civilians during wartime.


Websites for Using Sources in the Classroom Description

University of Indiana Center for History and Memory


The Center for History and Memory explores different ways of using oral histories and personal narratives in the classroom.

ALA: Using Primary Sources

A site for beginners. This site explores what a primary source is, how to find it and how to use it.
Websites Exploring the Historiography around Historical Memory:

Bridging World History

The first few paragraphs from this syllabus offer a clear look at the challenges of historical memory.

Civil War Memory: Reflections of a High School History Teacher & Civil War Historian

This blog post offers a thoughtful discussion of the issues we are addressing today.

Worrying About Emotions in History

Medieval historian Barbara Rosenwein examines the scholarship around historical emotion and how it has evolved as modern psychology has evolved.
Websites to hear more Voices of the People:

The Zinn Education Project

“The Zinn Education Project promotes and supports the use of Howard Zinn’s best-selling book A People’s History of the United States and other materials for teaching a people’s history in middle and high school classrooms across the country. . . . Its goal is to introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of United States history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula. Zinn’s[books] emphasize the role of working people, women, people of color, and organized social movements in shaping history. Students learn that history is made not by a few heroic individuals, but instead by people’s choices and actions, thereby also learning that their own choices and actions matter."

In the First Person

In the First Person is a free, high quality, professionally published, in-depth index of close to 4,000 collections of personal narratives in English from around the world.

PBS: Regarding War

This is a collection of modern voices, writing about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and other war zones. Although not historical, this compendium explores the realities of these situations. [Warning, some of these stories are graphic]

Lost and Found Sound: 20th Century Wars on Tape

From NPR’s “Lost and Found Sound” collection, this site features the taped reminiscences of Meryln Snyder of Ohio in 1945 and David Terry Smith recording his experiences in Vietnam.

Eyewitness to History

Not limited to American History, this collection of digital primary sources utilizes all forms of media to tell historical stories.

History and Politics Out Loud

“History and Politics Out Loud is a searchable archive of politically significant audio materials for teachers, scholars and students."