The intent of this guide is to present examples of online U.S. federal government information that will be of interest to those doing historical research. To identify other federal government information resources, including other online government publications and/or those which are in print or microform formats, please use the resources listed in Government Publications or ask a librarian for assistance.
U.S. Congressional Serial Set and American State Papers include hundreds of thousands of legislative and executive agency publications. Oviatt Library's subscription to both of these is part of Readex Corporation's Archive of Americana; it offers full text and a variety of ways to search these two very important collections. Select the appropriate collection for the time period of interest. Information about each of these collections is given below.
American State Papers, 1789-1838
American State Papers is a collection of legislative and executive documents from 1780-1838, many originating from the important period between 1789 and the beginning of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set in 1817.
U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994, 1995-present
The Readex U.S. Congressional Serial Set digital collection includes the Serial Set in full-text format for 1817-1994. The database includes a Help page with tips for more effective searching.
For access to the U.S. Congressional Serials Set information from 1995 to present, use the U.S. Government Printing Office's Congressional Documents and Congressional Reports, both of which can be combined and searched using the FDsys Advanced Search.
The Oviatt Library also has print and microform holdings of various volumes of the Serial Set.
Examples of the types of documents that can be found in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set are available.
FDsys Federal Digital System (U.S. Government Printing Office), which includes a multitude of databases, is a major resource for online United States government publications from the legislative, executive and judicial branches. Full text dates mostly from the 1990's to the present, with some major exceptions such as the Core Documents of U.S. Democracy collection. (Exact online coverage in the FDsys databases varies for each type of material; in many cases the library owns, in print or microform formats, materials older than what is available online, which are listed in the Library Catalog.)
Examples of FDsys databases include:
- Catalog of United States Government Publications. An index to federal publications published 1976- present, with hot links to those that are available online.
- Core Documents of U.S. Democracy (Basic federal government documents that define our democratic society)
- Congressional Hearings (House, 1995-present; Senate 1997-present) (The Oviatt Library also has a microfiche and electronic collection of almost 20,000 hearings, from approximately the 1950s to present. Search the Library Catalog by keywords to locate using the following strategy: congress and hearing and any pertinent keywords, such as committee name or topic.)
- Congresssional Record (1994-present) (The Oviatt Library also has hardcopy of the permanent edition, 1874 to present, with incomplete holdings.)
- Congressional Record Index (1983-present)
- Congressional Serial Set (1995-present) is composed of two collections:
- Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States (1991-2005, 2009) (The Oviatt Library also has the Public Papers in hardcopy format, 1929-present.)
- Compilation of Presidential Documents (1993-to present) consists of the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents and the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents which are the official publications of materials released by the White House Press Secretary. (The Oviatt Library also has the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents in hardcopy format, 1965-present.)
Registry of U.S. Government Publication Digitization Projects
Registry of U.S. Government Publication Digitization Projects (maintained by the U.S. Government Printing Office) lists digitization projects (usually done by libraries, government agencies, museums, and other non-profit institutions) that include U.S. Government publications. Browsing is by topic category or alphabetically by title; either provides an overview of the types of digital projects involved, an impressive and ever-expanding list covering a wide variety of subjects. Several of the more useful projects for history students include:
- Foreign Relations of the United States series (1861- ), the official historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and diplomatic activity for which the documents have been declassified and edited for publication. This University of Wisconsin digital project includes all years of the series that have been published. The State Department also has the most recently released volumes of Foreign Relations of the United States available on its website.
- Public Papers of the President of the United States: (University of Michigan). It includes volumes covering 1929-2000, the administrations of Presidents Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. (Note the Public Papers of the President from FDsys includes more recent volumes of this series). Each Public Papers volume contains the papers and speeches of the President of the United States that were issued by the Office of the Press Secretary during the specified time period. The material is presented in chronological order, and the dates shown in the headings are the dates of the documents or events. The Oviatt Library also has the Public Papers in hardcopy format, 1929-present.
- Children's Bureau Historical Publications, 1912-1969 (Maternal and Child Health Library, Georgetown University).
- Historical publications of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (Thurgood Marshall Law Library, University of Maryland Law School)
- Historic Government Publications from World War II (Publications distributed through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) from 1939 to 1945. Covers all facets of the war, from military campaigns abroad to activities along the home front.)
- Publications of the Women's Bureau (The publications digitized for FRASER, the Federal Reserve Archival System for Economic Research, which pertain to women's role in the economy.)
Some federal agencies are digitizing a number of their older publications to provide easier access. A few examples of such online collections are:
U.S. Census Bureau has a Census Bureau Publications page offering (among others):
- Statistical Abstract of the United States, published annually, 1878-2012. (Note: due to federal government budget cuts, the U.S. Census Bureau ceased compilation of the Statistical Abstract with the 2012 edition.) The link to Statistical Abstract: Earlier Editions also leads to the compilation entitled Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970. This Bicentennial edition was published by the Census Bureau. The more recent Historical Statistics of the United States (Millennial Edition, CSUN subscription) was commercially published.
- U.S. Census Bureau Catalog and Guide offers indexes, lists and descriptions of Census Bureau publications from 1790-1998.
- Census of Population and Housing data has PDF versions of decennial census reports from 1790-present, including Census Bulletins and many other separate publications. (Most, but not all, decennial census published reports have been digitized thus far. The library also owns many of these decennial census reports in paper copy (search in the Library Catalog) and/or in the microfilm collection cataloged as United States decennial census publications, 1790-1960 : [microfilm edition] [microform] / Research Publications, if the decennial census titles of interest have not yet been digitized).
- Government Accountability Office offers all GAO reports since 1978 and selected earlier reports. Search by keyword or Browse by topic or date.
- Vital Statistics of the United States (National Center for Health Statistics). Annual reports that present detailed vital statistics data, including natality, mortality, marriage and divorce from 1890-present.
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. While most material in the National Archive's collections is not available in digital format, an increasing number of guides to the collection are available online and there are very interesting full text collections online. Examples include:
- 100 Milestone Documents
- Access to Archival Databases. These online resouces can be browsed by topic or time period.
- 100 historical films from the National Archives, including a number of World War II newsreels, are available online via a cooperative project with Google. Oviatt Library has cataloged these; search in the Library Catalog under title for "NARA streaming videos".
- Online Exhibits
- Audiovisual Records. Many of the catalogs of audiovisual records include online images of the photographs and pictures listed. The catalogs are generally organized by topics, such as Pictures of Indians in the United States, Photographs of the American West, 1861-1912, and Pictures of the Civil War.
- Digital National Security Archives (Oviatt Library subscription). A collection of declassified documents considered pertinent to U.S. policy decisions.
- FBI Vault. Formerly known as the FBI Electronic Reading Room, the site contains digitized copies of FBI files about specific people or organzations that are of interest to the public and have been released under the Freedom of Information Act. Examples of categories of reports include:
- General Land Office records (Bureau of Land Management). Information on the initial transfer of land titles from the Federal government to individuals.
- Army Heritage Collection Online. Use the tabs to access the Digital Documents Online portion of this website which includes manuscripts, photographs, images of artifacts, and digitized publications.
American Memory (Library of Congress). This large collection of materials, digitized from the Library of Congress' print and manuscript collections, includes some government documents. Examples of government records/documents/publications in American Memory are:
- Government, Law Collections
- Journals of the Continental Congress
- Papers of and other materials about various Presidents (including the Library of Congress' collection of papers from presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln).
- A Century of Lawmaking For a New Nation, U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875, which includes early congressional debates and documents.
For help citing these sources in Chicago/Turabian, APA, or MLA style, refer to the following websites:
- Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (Electronic version--See Section 14.281-14.304 "Legal and Public Documents")
- Citing Government Documents: Turabian (University of Nebraska Kearney)
- DocsCite (Arizona State University) Formatting tool. APA and MLA only
- Government Publications: Brief Citing Guide (University of Memphis) Chicago/Turabian
Created by Mary M. Finley
Revised by Kathy Dabbour