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Start your research journey here!

Doing research is a key activity of the History Fair: the sources found will help build knowledge and provide the sources for analysis and for the final product. Great sources makes history come alive!

Every History Fair project will need to have an annotated bibliography that is based on the research completed so take good notes and record all the citation information while doing research.

Start your work with the Research Journey PowerPoint

Research with Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are books, documentaries, and magazine, newspaper, or professional journal articles written by historians and other writers who analyzed primary sources, studied others’ arguments, and then formed their own understanding and conclusions of a historical question. Secondary sources are crucial to a History Fair project and should be given the most attention in the first phase of research and reading.

All historians spend time with secondary sources; they see their own work as “joining the conversation”-building on other’s ideas and offering new ways to understand a topic. History Fair encourages students to develop their own original ideas-but students can only do so if they know what’s been written already. Start with the basic knowledge of the topic which can be found in secondary sources before deep-diving into primary sources.

Look at secondary sources that provide more detailed information and analysis by historians and depth to a History Fair project. Many journals and books will contain primary sources that can be used. Also, the historian’s bibliographies can lead to more secondary sources and where to find primary source collections—this tip is called “following the footnotes.”

Research with Primary Sources

Primary sources are “voices from the past”–  actual material from the time. Such sources include letters (personal or formal), photographs and drawings, diaries and journals, trial transcripts, newspapers, flyers and posters, reports, government documents and oral histories. Primary sources make history come alive, but more importantly, they distinguish a History Fair project from a mere “report.” Students must find primary sources, analyze them, and form their own conclusions based on the evidence. The wider and deeper a student goes into primary sources the more she/he will grasp their subject and gain credibility as a historian.

Resource Directory

Chicago Cultural Alliance (CCA) Community Collections
One of the many projects the CCA has undertaken is that of a shared digital archive that features museum collections and virtual exhibits that are unlikely to be seen at larger museums and cultural centers. In the past two years, staff and volunteers have digitized more than 2,000 objects, and are adding to the website year-round.

Chicago History Museum
Research and Education leads to the History Fair bibliographies, links to recommended websites, and the on-line catalog to CHS materials. Elsewhere on the website, find digital projects and exhibitions which include hundreds and thousands of primary sources centered on the Chicago Fire, Haymarket, Daily News photographs, recent immigration, freedom struggles, etc.

Chicago Public Library
Search the catalog on-line to help plan for the visit. Students can know what the books are on their subject and where to find them (or, at least begin!) Learn Chicago contains bibliographies, guides to special collections, helpful timelines, and primary sources. Magazines and Databases allow off-site research to many key databases-with a library card.

Digital Library of Illinois and Chicago History
Digital copies of older history books and other printed material on Illinois and Chicago.  There is a special feature on defunct amusement parks throughout the state too.

Illinois Digital Heritage Hub
The Illinois Digital Heritage Hub is the newest hub on the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). The collection is a collaboration between the Illinois State Library, the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI), Chicago Public Library, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The hub brings the stories and voices of Illinois residents and helps DPLA draw unique connections between broad national themes in American history and the lived experience of individuals and local communities.

Illinois Harvest
Illinois Harvest is a free public gateway combining search, aggregation, and discovery services. The site includes organized and thematic access to digitized and born-digital resources about Illinois, created by Illinois scholars, and from the digital collections of The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Library.

Her Hat was in the Ring: U.S. Women Who Ran for Office Before 1920
This web site identifies and gives biographical information for women candidates for elective office in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including information about her campaign, party affiliation, photographs,and lists of selected resources.

Library of Congress
The Library of Congress website has many avenues to explore that will lead to a wealth of primary source material. Also check out the LOC primary sources spotlights on Illinois history and Chicago history which TPS-Barat pulled together for its Primary Source Nexus site.

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers (Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities)
Search America’s historic newspaper pages from 1834-1922 or use the U.S. Newspaper Directory to find information about American newspapers published between 1690-present.

National Archives
ARC is the database that will lead students into the vast holdings of the National Archives-at least 20 per cent of it!

National Archives – Chicago
Among government documents, many pertaining to Chicago, is a collection of photographs of Black Chicago in the 1970s. The Great Lakes Regional office of NARA is located at 79th and Pulaski; personal help by staff and access to documents and microfilm.

Newberry Library’s Chicago History Research Links: Chicago and the Midwest
The local history department compiled this list of key research websites.

Newberry Library’s Digital Resource Page
The Newberry Library’s Digital Resource page provides access to materials in their collections which include reference tools, teaching materials, images galleries, original scholarship, electronic databases, and electronic journals.

Newberry Library’s Digital Collections for the Classroom
The Newberry Library recently launched their Digital Collections for the Classroom page, which provides access to classroom-ready, primary-source documents selected from the library’s holdings.

Register with NewseumED to get free, complete access to primary sources, interactive tools, lesson plans and much more.

Northern Illinois University
Houses a number of digital collections: Early Illinois, Gilded Age, Lincoln, Civil War. It also holds the back issues of Illinois History Teacher and other state government magazines.

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Imagebase
Focus on maps and other data on Chicago neighborhoods, especially those around the university, and downtown.

Urban Experience in Chicago
A mammoth collection of primary sources based on turn of the century Chicago through the work of Hull House-but the wealth of materials makes it a must-search for many topics based in the time period.

Canal Corridor Association
Information about the Illinois and Michigan Canal; will link to the archives at Lewis University

Illinois Digital Archives
Digitized the collections from the Illinois State Historical Library and other libraries and historical societies from around the state.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute

Illinois State Archives


Women and Social Movements in the United States 
Primary sources on women include a number who were active in Chicago such as Ida B. Wells and Florence Kelley

Primary Sources on Illinois History from a teacher at IMSA

Making of America  
19th century publications scanned and searchable., History Gateway
The National History Education Clearinghouse’s History Gateway page provides a valuable search engine for all your historical inquiries.

The Internet Archive
The Internet Archive offers permanent access to historical digital collections. The collections include texts, audio, moving images, and software, as well as archived web pages.

National History Day, Research Central
National History Day’s Research Central page provides suggested web links designed to help students, teachers, parents, administrators, and visitors in their research.

Audio-Visual Resources

Chicago’s public cable station, is a great source for recordings that may be useful for either primary or secondary sources depending on the whether it is an interview/panel with participants or interview/recorded speech of an expert or scholar.

Chicago Daily News photos at Explore Chicago Collections
Previously available on the Library of Congress’ American Memories site, the Chicago History Museum’s collection of Chicago Daily News photos can now be viewed on Explore Chicago Collections. To search within the collection, add additional topics to the search field, or just browse the collection.

Chicago in Maps
Chicago in Maps, curated by Dennis McClendon, is a simple website devoted to gathering together links to various historic maps of Chicago.

Curious City
Many times the CuriousCity folks will investigate historical questions and development some great products. Look for their resources too!

Galaxy of Images
The thousands of images on this site represent only a small portion of the more than 1.5 million printed books and manuscripts in the collections of Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Use the quick or advances search options to see what’s available!

LIFE Magazine Photo Archives (Hosted by Google)
Search millions of historic photos from the 1860s to 1970s!

Media Burn Documentary Archives
A collection of documentaries by Chicago independent filmmakers. Some real treasures!

Associated Press (AP) Video Archive on YouTube

New York Public Library Digital Collection
New York Public Library Digital Collection has over 4,000 images related to Chicago history and over 1,500 images related to Illinois history. The collection includes photos and other items from the 1893 World’s Fair and the Great Chicago Fire, as well as images from the 1919 race riots, local architecture and landscapes, portraits of individuals, and advertisements. HINT: Search for “Chicago” to browse through all the items related to Chicago history.

Local Archival Collections from Research Centers With On-Line Finding Aids or Lists of Collections

Explore Chicago Collections (formerly Chicago Collections Consortium)
An excellent portal to many of the special collections’ holdings that can be found in the city. “Explore Chicago Collections lets researchers, teachers and students search many locations at once. Our unified search lets you locate thousands of archival collections and digital images at member institutions all over the Chicago area.”

University of Chicago Special Collections
Links to special collections in Chicago area, including the Chicago Archvists’ “repository finder”-doesn’t THAT sound worth checking out?!

Mapping the Stacks: a Guide to Black Chicago’s Hidden Archives
Mapping the Stacks provides information about a variety of uncatalogued archival collections that focus on Black Chicago between 1930s and 1970s. The collections include literary manuscripts and visual illustrations; rare books and home movies; correspondence and photographs; ephemera and tape-recorded sound.

Black Metropolis Research Consortium Survey
The Black Metropolis Research Consortium Survey serves as a database of collections pertaining to the Black Chicago Metropolis.

Center for Research Libraries
a consortium of university libraries and research centers

Chicago Public Library Special Collections

University of Illinois at Chicago 

Northwestern University, McCormick Special Collections

DePaul University Special Collections

Loyola University Chicago Digital Special Collections

Loyola University Chicago, Women & Leadership Archives

Roosevelt University Archives

Illinois Institute of Technology Digital Collections

Art Institute of Chicago Archival Collections

Chicago State University Archives & Special Collections


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