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History: Personal Texts

Welcome to the library guide for history research at the University of Alabama.

Personal Texts

Personal texts--diaries, memoirs, letters, autobiographies, and papers--usually make excellent primary sources because they were written by a historical person you're studying.

Personal texts are scattered throughout the internet, in databases, and on the shelves of the UA Libraries.  Here are some techniques for locating diaries, letters, and other primary sources using Scout, Google, or Classic Catalog:

  • Combine keywords describing your subject with such words as sources, letters, speeches, writings, documents, diaries, papers, etc. For example, searching for “World War II ” and diaries will locate diaries written during World War II.
  • Search for key people as authors. For example, let us say that you are researching the European Discovery of America. Searching for Christopher Columbus as an author will locate journals and speeches of Columbus.  You can set your search to author in the "Basic Search" screen.
  • Find secondary sources on a historical figure in Scout. Scan the bibliographies of these secondary sources for diaries, memoirs, letters, and papers.

Databases with Personal Texts

American Civil War: Letters and Diaries-"knits together more than 400 sources of diaries, letters, and memoirs, to provide fast access to thousands of views on almost every aspect of the war."

North American Women's Letters and Diaries--"largest collection of women's diaries and letters ever assembled, covers colonial times--1950."

The Sixties: Primary Documents and Personal Narratives, 1960-1974--"this collection of primary resources documents the history, culture, and politics of the 1960s and early 1970s. Included are diaries, letters, autobiographies and other memoirs."

Early Encounters in North America--documents the relationships among Native American, African and European peoples in North America from 1534 to 1850. Using diaires, memoirs, letters, travel accounts and other primary sources, this collection focuses on personal accounts and provides unique perspectives from many people, including traders, slaves, missionaries, explorers, soldiers, native peoples, and officials, both men and women.

Early American Papers

American Founding Era--offers the papers of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madision, Dolly Madision, Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall, and more.

Movers and Shakers...

Here's the papers (some in print at Gorgas Library, some electronic) of a few movers and shakers of the 20th century:

Woodrow Wilson

Josef Stalin

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Winston Churchill

Harry Truman

Dwight D. Eisenhower

George Marshall

George Patton

Douglass MacArthur

Billy Mitchell

Hap Arnold

Cordell Hull

Fidel Castro

Mao Tse-Tung

You can now find audio recordings for some twentieth century figures for free on the internet.  For example, please see nixontapes.org to hear telephone conversations between Richard Nixon and others.