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Primary Sources: World War II

Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.

General Resources & Databases

-Arlington National Cemetery 

Arlington National Cemetery offers a number of resources for those interested in researching the graves of servicemen and war monuments. The website links to some valuable sources such as the National Cemetery Administration and the American Battle Monument Commission


The Artstor Digital Library contains over 1.8 million digital images in the arts, architecture, the humanities and science from outstanding international museums, photographers, libraries, scholars, and photo archives.

-The British Library

The British Library website contains an extensive amount of digital content including newspapers, manuscripts, theses, multimedia, festival books, etc.

-The Central Intelligence Agency’s Library

The CIA’s Library offers users access to millions of pages of current unclassified publications, reports, statistics, maps, and more.

-C-SPAN: Oral Histories

"C-SPAN is a a public service created by the American Cable Television Industry." C-SPAN offers a number oral histories, some of which are related to WWII.

-Digital Public Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America  became available April 18, 2013. This search engine provides access to millions of texts, images, audio files, video files, and other resources digitized by libraries, archives, museums, and other organizations in the United States. The DPLA is an incredible resource of historical primary source material.

-The FBI Vault – Electronic Reading Room

The Vault is an electronic library consisting of FBI documents that have been made available through FOIA requests. The vault can be searched by keywords or browsed by category. 

-Find a Grave

"Find a Grave's mission is to find, record and present final disposition information from around the world as a virtual cemetery experience."

-Fordham University: Internet History Sourcebook

"The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted historical texts presented cleanly (without advertising or excessive layout) for educational use." 

-Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room

The Central Intelligence Agency's Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room consists of CIA documents that have been made available through FOIA requests.

-History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web

"History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web was first developed in 1998 by the American Social History Project/Center for Media & Learning, City University of New York, and the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University, with initial funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. Over the past several years, it has become a highly regarded gateway to web resources as well as a repository of unique teaching materials, first-person primary documents, and guides to analyzing historical evidence for high school and college students and teachers of American history."

-The Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is a non-profit that was founded to build an Internet library. Its mission is to provide “permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.” 

-The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is the nation’s first established cultural institution and the largest library in the world, with millions of items including books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections.

-The Library of Congress: The World Digital Library 

"The World Digital Library (WDL) is a project of the U.S. Library of Congress, carried out with the support of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), and in cooperation with libraries, archives, museums, educational institutions, and international organizations from around the world."

-The National Archives and Records Administration Catalog

The National Archives Catalog is the main portal to search NARA’s collections. The catalog currently contains archival descriptions for 85% of the holdings of the National Archives, authority files, and over 2 million digitized records

-The National Archives, United Kingdom

The National Archives is committed to preserving government records of the United Kingdom. The collection is one of the largest in the world, containing over 11 million historical government and public records.

-National Security Archive

The National Security Archive promotes open government and offers users a wealth of declassified U.S. documents.

-New York Public Library: Digital Collections

The site offers users access to over 600,000 items digitized from the New York Public Library’s collections. The database features prints, photographs, manuscripts, maps, and video that can be accessed through keyword search or browsing.

-Smithsonian Institution Archives

The Smithsonian Institution Archives “captures, preserves, and makes available to the public the history of this extraordinary Institution.” 

-Smithsonian Institution Collections Search Center

The Smithsonian Collections Search Center is an online catalog containing most of Smithsonian major collections. There are 9.3 million catalog records relating to areas for Art & Design, History & Culture, and Science & Technology with over 1.3 million images, videos, audio files, podcasts, blog posts and electronic journals.

-Smithsonian Libraries Digital Collections

The Smithsonian Libraries Digital Collections provides users access to over 5,000 scanned books, photo collections, videos, scholarly bibliographies, virtual exhibitions, and searchable databases of resources related to art, history, science, technology and library and museum collections or exhibitions

Local History Resources

-Historical Society of Pennsylvania 

"The collections of Historical Society of Pennsylvania range from genealogical and family papers to business and organizational records to collections of items such as photographs, postcards, sheet music, menus, and trade cards.  HSP's library contains a wealth of published material, including books, pamphlets, serials, and newspapers." The collections span from the seventeenth through the twenty-first centuries. The Historical Society hold a number of materials relating to World War II, some of which are available for viewing online. 

-New Jersey Digital Highway

The NJDH's mission is to "develop an immersive, user-centered information portal, to support the New Jersey learner, through a collaboration among cultural heritage institutions that supports preservation of the past; new access strategies for the future; and active engagement with resources at the local and the global level, for shared access, local ownership." The NJDH offers a number of digitized materials relating to World War II.

-New York Historical Society Museum and Library

"The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research, presenting history and art exhibitions, and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today." The Society contains a number of digitized materials relating to WWII.  

-New York Public Library: Digital Collections

The site offers users access to over 600,000 items digitized from the New York Public Library’s collections. The database features prints, photographs, manuscripts, maps, and video that can be accessed through keyword search or browsing

-Princeton University Library, The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections: World War II

"Collections about World War II at Princeton include personal remembrances by participants in that conflict, the records of organizations that intervened to promote particular policy aims during the war, and records of organizations that participated in post-war reconstruction." Few of these records are available online, but they can still be viewed onsite at Princeton University. 

-Rutgers University Oral History Project 

This project documents the experience of men and women associated with Rutgers University. A portion of the collection focuses on individuals who served on the home front and overseas during World War II. 

-The Lawrenceville School Stephan Archives: Pattie Heely World War II Collection

"The Pattie Heely World War II Collection documents the experiences of Lawrenceville alumni servicemen. The bulk of the documents are letters written to Mrs. Heely. Typical letters include thoughts on their combat experience, basic training, and the war in general; and updates on alumni families." Researchers interested in discovering more about the Lawrenceville School community during WWII should examine The Lawrence and The Lawrentian-- the School's newspaper and magazine. Digital copies of these two publications can be found here

-State of Delaware- Delaware Public Archives: World War II

 This collection highlights photographs and documents from WWII which depict men and women from the state of Delaware. 

-Temple University: Special Collections Research Center

The Special Collections Research Center is the principal repository for and steward of Temple University's rare books, manuscripts, archives and University records. The collections contain a selection of documents from the World War II era.  

World War II Resources

-The Avalon Project: World War II Documents

The Avalon Project hosts documents "relevant to the fields of Law, History, Economics, Politics, Diplomacy and Government." The site offers a number of useful primary sources related to the history of World War II. Visitors should be aware that some of the website's links are unfortunately broken. 

-CBC Radio-Canada Digital Archives: Second World War

"The CBC Archives team has been a unique collaboration of creative teams in Toronto working together with archivists and educational writers across Canada." This collection focuses exclusively on the Canadian experience during World War II.   

-Churchill Archives Centre 

The Churchill Archives Centre collects documents relating to important political, scientific, and military figures who were active from the Churchill era through today. The Centre is located at Churchill College in Cambridge, England. A portion of the materials are available for viewing online.

-The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

"The Commonwealth War Graves Commission ensures that 1.7 million people who died in the two world wars will never be forgotten. We care for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations, in 154 countries."


"Densho is a nonprofit organization started in 1996, with the initial goal of documenting oral histories from Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. This evolved into a mission to educate, preserve, collaborate and inspire action for equity. Densho uses digital technology to preserve and make accessible primary source materials on the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans." Visitors can search Densho's archival collections through the Densho Digital Archive or the Densho Digital Repository

-EyeWitness to World War II

Offers a number of primary source accounts along with useful contextual information. 

-Fordham University: Internet History Sourebook- Nazism

Offers sources related to Nazism and WWII. 

-Fordham University: Internet Sourcebook-The Holocaust

Offers sources related to the Holocaust.

-Fordham University: Internet History Sourcebook- WWII

Offers sources related to WWII. 

-FRANKLIN: FDR Presidential Library

"FRANKLIN is a virtual research room and digital repository that provides free and open access to the digitized collections of the Roosevelt Library—to everyone, anywhere in the world." The digital collection consists of 800,000 archival documents and 2,500 photographs.

-The German Federal Archives or Das Bundesarchiv

The National Archives of Germany collects historical records dating back to the formation of the German nation state. Although most of the archival materials are written and described in German, non-German speakers can still navigate the website in English and reasonably search the catalog using German keywords. For example, a non-German speaking researcher studying the German air force during WWII could search the photographic collection with the keyword "Luftwaffe."

-German History in Documents and Images

A comprehensive collection of original historical materials documenting German history from the beginning of the early modern period to the present. 

-German Propaganda Archive

This archive collects propaganda created in Nazi Germany during WWII.  

-The Internet Archives: WWII Archive

 "A collection of public domain World War books, news broadcasts, old time radio, training films, and other ephemera."

-The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement: A Digital Archive 

"The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS) was a research project initiated in 1942 at the University of California, Berkeley. It aimed to document and examine the mass internment of Japanese Americans by embedding Nisei social science students recruited from the Berkeley campus into selected internment sites. The Study also documented the resettlement phase in the city of Chicago. The collection is comprised of daily journals, field reports, life histories, and secondary research materials collected and compiled by the research staff."

-Library of Congress: After the Day of Infamy--"Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor

"The online presentation, After the Day of Infamy: "Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor consists of more than two hundred interviews recorded from December 1941 to February 1942. In most cases, the recordings were digitized by Library of Congress staff directly from the discs on which they were originally recorded."

-Library of Congress: Ansel Adams' Photographs of Japanese-American Internment 

"In 1943, Ansel Adams (1902-1984), America's most well-known photographer, documented the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California and the Japanese-Americans interned there during World War II. For the first time, digital scans of both Adams's original negatives and his photographic prints appear side by side allowing viewers to see Adams's darkroom technique, in particular, how he cropped his prints."

-The Library of Congress: Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives

"The photographs in the Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944."

"In total, the black-and-white portion of the collection consists of about 175,000 black-and-white film negatives, encompassing both negatives that were printed for FSA-OWI use and those that were not printed at the time."

-The Library of Congress: Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Color Photographs

"Photographers working for the U.S. government's Farm Security Administration (FSA) and later the Office of War Information (OWI) between 1939 and 1944 made approximately 1,600 color photographs that depict life in the United States, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The pictures focus on rural areas and farm labor, as well as aspects of World War II mobilization, including factories, railroads, aviation training, and women working."

-The Library of Congress: Guide to WWII Materials

"This guide gathers in one place links to World War II related resources throughout the Library of Congress Web site."

-The Library of Congress: Rosie Pictures- Select Images Relating to American Women Workers During World War

This guide lists images relating to American women workers in World War II.

-The Library of Congress: The Veterans History Project

"The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war." 

-The Library of Congress: World War II Military Situation Maps

"This collection contains maps showing troop positions beginning on June 6, 1944 to July 26, 1945.  Starting with the D-Day Invasion, the maps give daily details on the military campaigns in Western Europe, showing the progress of the Allied Forces as they push towards German." 

-The National Archives and Records Administration: The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945)

This selection of documents chronicle Great Depression and World War II in America. 

-The National Archives and Records Administration: Japanese Americans

This guide lists resources researchers can use to find records relating to the history of Japanese Americans, with a particular focus on their experiences during WWII. 

-The National Archives and Records Administration: Military Resources: World War II 

 This guide lists resources researchers can use to find records relating to WWII military records.   

-The National Archives and Records Administration: Pictures of African Americans During WWII

 This guide lists photographs documenting the African American experience during WWII. 

-The National Archives and Records Administration: Pictures of WWII 

"The pictures described in this list are from the holdings of the Still Picture Branch (NNSP) of the National Archives and Records Administration. Most are from the records of the Army Signal Corps in Record Group (RG) 111, the Department of the Navy in RG 80, the Coast Guard in RG 26, the Marine Corps in RG 127, and the Office of War Information in RG 208. Others were selected from the records of 12 additional agencies."

-The National Archives and Records Administration: Power of Persuasion- Poster Art of World War II

"This online exhibit features 11 posters and 1 sound file from a more extensive exhibit that was presented in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, from May 1994 to February 1995. Like the original, this exhibit is divided into two parts, which represent two psychological approaches used in rallying public support for the war."

-The National Archives and Records Administration: State Summary of War Causalities from WWII

The National Archives has compiled lists of Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Personnel who were killed during World War II. NARA has also produced lists of dead and missing Army and Army Air Forces Personnel (available here).  

-The National Archives and Records Administration: World War II Records

This guide lists resources that relate to World War II.

 -The National Archives of Japan: The US-Japan War Talks

This digital exhibit examines US- Japanese relations from 1937 through 1941. Along with useful contextual information, the exhibit offers valuable primary source materials. The Photo Library will be of particular interest to researchers. 

-The National Archives, United Kingdom: Second World War

"This is a brief guide to researching British government and military records of the Second World War." Some of the collections have been made available online.  

-The National Archives, United Kingdom: World War II

 An interactive platform designed to teach visitors about the Second World War. 

-The National Security Archive: The Nuclear Vault

The Nuclear Vault "includes all previous and forthcoming Archive Electronic Briefing Books on nuclear weapons policy, cross-referenced with an index." Researchers interested in WWII might be especially interested in The Atomic Bomb and the End of WWII collection.

-The National WWII Museum 

"The National World War II Museum is home to thousands of oral histories and hundreds of thousands of photographs." This website offers a sample of the museum's collections online.

-Northwestern University Library World War II Poster Collection

 A collection of Unites States WWII posters. 

-The Nuremberg Trials Project

"The Harvard Law School Library has approximately one million pages of documents relating to the trial of military and political leaders of Nazi Germany before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) and to the twelve trials of other accused war criminals before the United States Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT)."

"To preserve the contents of these documents--which are now too fragile to be handled--and to provide expanded access to this material, the Library is undertaking a multi-stage digitization project. The Nuremberg Trials Project is an open-access initiative to create and present digitized images or full-text versions of the Library's Nuremberg documents, descriptions of each document, and general information about the trials."

-The Smithsonian Institution: Posters of the American Home Front

Produce for Victory: Posters of the American Home Front (1941-1945) was originally designed as physical exhibit for the National Museum of American History. While the exhibit is no longer on display, the Smithsonian has preserved digital surrogates of the poster for visitors to view online. 

-The United States Memorial Holocaust Museum

The United States Memorial Holocaust Museum was established by an act of Congress that mandated the creation of a “permanent living memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.” The Museum’s digital collections offers over 200,000 documents, image, moving images, music, and oral histories relating to the Holocaust and its dark legacy.

-University of California: Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives (JARDA)

JARDA contains thousands of Japanese American internment primary source materials--including photographs, letters, diaries, drawings, camp newsletters, and personal histories.

-World War II Database

The World War II Database is a digital archives put together by various contributors to better document WWII. Most of the photographs are in the public domain The United States Library of Congress recognizes WW2DB as a valuable online resource for its researchers. WW2DB is filed under the control number 2011214255.