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Examining Viewpoints: WW II Research: Primary Resources


Primary represent the viewpoint of witnesses.The creators of these sources are close to the event of origin, chronologically, and sometimes geographically.  In other words, the author was "there," directly or indirectly involved in events at the time when they were happening.

These first-hand accounts offers the researcher an opportunity to "witness" history, but it subject him to the biases that existed at the time or within the individuals reporting the event. Use these resources as illustrations of attitudes and reactions. They provide evidence to support conclusions, but they should not be taken as factual.

Historical/Contemporary News

It's not unusual for us to think of news as truth. We've been conditioned to trust the investigative power and integrity of the American press.  It is important, however, to remember that news is

  • unfolding.  A single story cannot reveal the details of information still to come.  
  • discovered. Facts are gathered through interview of often emotionally invested witnesses.  Personal biases and undiscovered testimony can both impact the story.

Use news stories to incite interest and push your research.  Do not use news as a secondary source.  It is primarily primary.

All Hands: Magazine of the US Navy (archive includes all issues from WWII)
Boy's Life Archives (on Google Books)
Life Magazine Archives (on Google Books)
Popular Science Archives (on Google Books)
Time Magazine Archives Online

Access Newspaper  ARCHIVES

Access to newspapers from across the nation, some dating back as far as the revolutionary war period.  Use this source to compare coverage in different geographic areas or population types. Courtesy of Badgerlink.


Google News Archives
Browse by newspaper title!  The issues are not printable, but fully browseable.  Cite with link for later access.

Public Record and Document Archives

Public records and other documents created by legal and governmental egencies provide are primary sources, reflective of the society for whom they were intended.  Many repositories of these historic documents (libraries, museums, government agencies) have digitized their collections for public access.  For example:

After the Day of Infamy (American Memory Collection, LOC)
G.I. Roundtable Series Pamphlets (American Historical Association)
The Vaults at the Federal Bureau of Investigation 
Historic Government Publications from World War II (SMU)
Hawaii War Records Depository (UHM)
Journey to the Philippines (National Archives)
National World War II Museum Digital Collections 
Nuremberg Trial Collection (Yale Law School)
Stimson Library Digital Collections (US Army Academy of Health Sciences)
World War II Foundation Archives  |
World War II Documents: Avalon Project (Yale University)

Visual History Resources

Texts are not limited to the printed word.  Graphics (photographs, illustrations, charts/graphs) are powerful communication tools that provide important information to the historian about the viewpoint of the creator and the expectations of an audience. Use graphic images to examine how contemporaries "saw" the events as they happened.

Dr. Seuss Went to War (UCSD)
Farm Security Administation/Office of War Information Collection (Library of Congress)
Photos of WWII (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
Photos We Remember: World War II (Life Magazine)
Powers of Persuasion: World War II Posters (NARA)
Rosie's Pictures (Library of Congress)
See You Next Year: High School Yearbooks from WWII (National WWII Museum)
World War II Advertising History (Ad*Access/Duke University)
World War II in Color (publically shared images)
World War II Gallery (National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)
World War II Poster Collection (Northwestern University)
World War II Homefront (Internet Archive films)

Oral History Resources

Oral histories differ from eye-witness news stories in that they involve "remembering" events, sometimes years after they have occurred.  Those memories can be colored by personal biases of the person being interviewed and by subsequent events that may be viewed as consequences.

National World War II Museum Oral Histories
Rutgers Oral History Archives
The Veterans History Project (oral histories from the Library of Congress)
Voices of World War II: Experiences From the Front and at Home (UMKC)

Ephemera Collections

Ephemera includes documents that were intended for consumption and disposal.  The author or creator of these primary sources did not intend to leave a record.  

Ration Coupons on the Home Front, 1942-1945 
"Shows how the U.S. government controlled and conserved vehicles, typewriters, sugar, shoes, fuel, and food."

War Letters
This PBS website provides context to their film War Letters, based on Andrew Carroll's book of personal correspondence from the Revolutionary War through the Gulf War. Features letters, biographies, timelines, cartoons, and local resources.

National Archives


This is a comprehensive resource worth your time.  Gain access to your country's national archives to explore the primary record of the world conflict.  Many of the records have been digitized.  Search or browse by topic.

National Archives WWII Collections | Digital Vaults



Presidential Papers

The American Presidency Project
Search for documents, speech transcripts and more as authored by American presidents. Also, take time to check out

Frankllin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum

Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum

Library Information and Media Center - Monona Grove High School - Monona, Wisconsin

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