Inside the Vaults: Discover the Civil War

I’m always on the hunt for something new in Civil War exhibitions. The good folks at the National Archives and Records Administration have produced a brief video about their exhibition, “Discovering the Civil War” which you can view by clicking the image below.


In the exhibition, they “share little-known facts and extraordinary discoveries found in the incomparable Civil War holdings at the National Archives.” Many stories and documents “are shared for the first time in this exhibition, the most extensive display ever assembled from these records.” A highlight is “rarely-seen original footage from Civil War reunions in 1917 in Vicksburg, MS, and 1938 in Gettysburg, PA.”

The exhibit invites visitors to consider and ask questions about the evidence found in the records, listen to a wide variety of voices from the Civil War era, and make up their own minds about the struggle that tore apart these United States.

The exhibit will feature fascinating environments and compelling interactives, but what makes the exhibit extraordinary is surprising records. Displayed alongside famous milestone documents will be hundreds of less well-known ones, such as the unratified 1861 version of the 13th amendment, a message from a Southern governor rejecting Lincoln’s call for troops to put down the rebellion, and the Constitution of the Confederacy.

Shown in two parts in Washington D.C., Discovering the Civil War” Part One, “Beginnings,” ran from April 30, 2010, through September 6, 2010. Part Two, “Consequences,” opened November 10, 2010, at the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

After the Washington venue closes on April 17, 2011, the two parts of “Discovering the Civil War” will be combined and travel to seven additional venues around the country beginning in June 2011. I’m hopeful that Kansas City will be one of them!

The exhibition’s very fine website is accessible here.

The National Archives Discovering the Civil War

Repositories of Primary Sources

Primary sources are gold for this emerging historian. An assignment for my Historical Research Methods class led me to Terry Abraham‘s Repositories of Primary Sources maintained at the University of Idaho. Effectively a database of websites, it provides links to thousands of sites across the globe holding primary sources of varying kinds. It’s important to note that many of the sites listed do not provide digitalized versions of primary sources accessible on the web. Abraham is clear in pointing out that while the site provides links to  “holdings of manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources for the research scholar,” they are “solely of web sites that describe” these collections. Because the focus is on the repositories, virtual collections and exhibitions themselves won’t be found on the site.  Abraham points out that other sites maintain listings of archival exhibits on the web. An excellent example is the  Smithsonian Institution Libraries. [Do a search on the Civil War.]

Organization of Repositories of Primary Sources is geographical. Thus one needs to have some idea where a holding institution is physically located. There is also an “Additional General Links” list which has, among other things, other archival portals across the globe.

Abraham, Emeritus Professor, was Head of  Special Collections and Archives at the University of Idaho Library from 1984 to 2005. He has an interesting article on lessons learned in bringing archival materials to the web available for reading here.

Repositories of Primary Sources