American Memory (LC website)

Laura Heinrich, ‘04
History 336
Source Report
Professor Rael
September 25, 2001

Overview of the American Memory Database,
I sifted through two sub-collections of the larger database entitled American Memory at which is a depository of "historical collections for the National Digital Library." This search index houses 7 million digital items from over 100 historical collections and is maintained by the Library of Congress. The project is a collaboration of both public and private donations and support, totaling 60 million dollars in contributions and 5 years of intensive organization completed in 2000. The list of sponsors can be found at The goal of this database is to make primary source materials relating to United States history and culture available to educators, researchers, and the curious mind. These primary sources are not limited to written documents but also include maps, sheet music, and films. The collections are organized into broad categories such as Political Science and Government or History. Once you click on a general category, it lists the relevant collections. You may search an entire collection, one journal within a collection, or all of the collections at once by using key words or phrases. The database then synthesizes up to100 items that relate to the topics provided. Each item includes links to similar material as well as bibliographic information. There are sections dedicated to "Using the Collection" as well as those that explain background information on each historical collection that the database encompasses. Each collection provides links to other collections or websites that have related information.

"The Nineteenth Century in Print"
This collection houses magazines and journals intended for a general audience. It pulls from 23 periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Harpers's New Monthly, United States Democratic Review, and Manufacturer and Builder, amounting to 750 thousand pages of literature. Sponsored by the Library of Congress, the University of Michigan, and Cornell University, this website is an extension of the Making of America project, an initiative to create a comprehensive database of primary sources from the Revolutionary Era to Antebellum United States history. It is useful for exploring the debates surrounding an issue during its time period. Many times contemporary insights are remarkably objective, but you also are able to get a feel for the public whims and passions. I found many helpful articles concerning the role of the corporation in American society as a source of wealth and prosperity and as an exploitative, elitist force. You could use these periodical articles to support generalizations about public mood or behavior as well as what issues were significant during a given time. This collection is well organized, easy to use, and very helpful. You are able to search by words or phrases, and the cumulated list can be arranged by date.

"A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates 1774-1873"
This collection is divided into four major areas and time periods: Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, Statutes and Documents, Debates of Congress, and Journals of Congress. I worked with the last three but primarily focused on the Debates of Congress and the Congressional Globe. You can click on the four categories and the primary sources within them to receive an in-depth explanation of what they are and how to use them. Searching in each collection is configured differently so its beneficial to read about each resource before using it. It is especially difficult to do broad searches in the Debates of Congress and the Journals of Congress. These two subgroups are organized by Congress and session rather than by date, making searches more limited in scope. There are bills and proposals on issues from the redirection of postal routes to the creation of a committee concerning the animosity between labor and capital. Before using this site, it is helpful to have done at least a first round of secondary source research or have a specific Congress in mind so that you are researching for a certain example or point you are trying to make. The Congressional Globe, House Journal, and Senate Journal read as daily logs which are provided in text format rather than the actual documents. They list what happened, the bills proposed, and how people voted. They do not provide explanation or identification of the members of Congress other than by name. The journals provide more information on the actual proceedings while the Congressional Globe is only a record of proposed bills and motions. The Congressional Globe allows access to the bills themselves, and the House and Senate Journals have links to the actual bound documents.
I felt that this website was marginally helpful because it was hard to narrow my search to what was actually relevant. Considering the amount of material that must actually be read through, I would allot a large portion of time to exploring this site. However, I was able to pick up on trends and pressing issues for a certain Congress or year. For example, the 42nd Congress was swamped with bills concerning the expansion of the railroad and the distribution of public lands. The Congressional Globe or Statutes, which lists all resolutions and bills passed by Congress, might afford a way to gage the link between public sentiments and political responsiveness. You could possibly use the bills proposed to prove distinct movements or key issues that effect the political process and the institutionalization of shifting public needs. However, there is no analysis or context in which to place the bills, making any observations more useful within a larger framework from prior research.