Thank you to Joe Ross for this post about his new project Early American Sources. Joseph Thomas Ross received his BA at The Ohio State University and his MA at Ohio University. He is currently an Adjunct Instructor at the University of Missouri. His research focuses on Anglo-American imperialisms in the North American interior from 1763 to 1825, with an emphasis on Indian and land policies. He is the author of “Strange Doings with Respect to Pre-Emptions”: Federal Power and Political Networking at the Chillicothe Land Office, 1800-1802, which appeared in Ohio Valley History in 2020. You can follow him on Twitter @joeross1800.
For me, finding primary sources has been the most exciting part of being a historian. When I am researching through a manuscript collection or doing a keyword search in a database, nothing is more rewarding than finding a source that either confirms or complicates my understanding of a historical topic. I even have a Word doc specifically for primary source collections, whether they are related to my own research or not. It is this love for research that inspired me to create Early American Sources.
Early American Sources (EAS) is a website that connects scholars of the early Americas to primary sources. It provides detailed lists of archives, research libraries, online databases, digitized collections, published sources, and fellowship opportunities organized by geographic location. Each institution or resource is hyperlinked to their respective website to provide ease of access. EAS also offers advice and guidance on conducting archival research, finding printed sources, and writing fellowship applications.
I first had the idea for EAS when I discovered the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. This resource compiles statistical data on all recorded slave voyages from Africa to the Americas, including information on embarkations, disembarkations, names of ships, captains, and owners, the number of enslaved people transported and offloaded, etc. It was immensely helpful to me in reconstructing Caribbean privateering during the American Revolution. I remember thinking not only how amazing this resource is, but also how disappointed I was that I had only learned about it in my fourth year of graduate school. It had me thinking: what other resources were out there that I did not know about?
The answer: a lot.
After finding the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, I kept coming across similar digital resources. There was the Native Northeast Portal, Colonial North America at Harvard Library, the Virginia Company Archives, Caribbean Newspapers, Corporate Reports Online, the Race & Slavery Petitions Project, and many others. I was fascinated with the amount of information readily available online and felt it needed to be shared.
Having already amassed a sizeable list of primary sources from archives, digitized collections, and printed sources, I felt I could compile these resources into a single website to make them available to a wide range of early American scholars. I had never created a website before and chose Squarespace as my website builder. It took several months of trial and error before I started creating webpages that I felt were both engaging and informative.
My first goal for EAS was to list Archives and Research Libraries in the United States. I started with the original thirteen. Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York were easy enough. These spaces have long been the center of attention for early American historians and their citizens have provided significant financial support to collect, preserve, and make available the documentary heritage of their states. However, some archives (and frankly, some states) are not as popular among researchers and patrons. EAS seeks to remedy that by listing prominent research libraries next to lesser-known institutions. Delaware is not a state that has received as much attention as its mid-Atlantic neighbors. Yet, its repositories boast extensive collections of manuscripts and rare prints related to early America, including maritime history. For example, the Delaware Historical Society has several collections related to early American shipping that can be searched via its Archives Catalog.
Another goal was to provide information about digital sources. In the wake of both the COVID-19 Pandemic and the academic job crisis, digital history has become more important than ever. The lack of both in-person research and traditional funding opportunities necessitates new approaches to conducting historical research. EAS thus provides lists of both Online Databases and Digitized Collections. Such resources provide a wealth of statistical data and scanned documents that historians need to effectively chronicle the past, and many of them are free to use! For instance, two databases listed by EAS are American Offshore Whaling Voyages and the Connecticut Ship Database. Both databases display statistical information about American maritime history that may be of interest to GMH followers, and both are open access.
EAS also provides details about Published Sources. Since the late 19th century, archivists and historians have been collecting the papers of governments, institutions, and individuals in print form. One that many GMH followers may have heard of is Naval Documents of the American Revolution, an ongoing, multi-volume project to publish records related to the maritime history of that conflict. There are countless publications of this sort, some more thorough than others, spanning all manner of subjects. Thankfully, a lot of printed collections used by historians are old enough to be out of copyright and have been digitized on various platforms such as HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, and Google Books.
As the website expands, it will continue to update and add new entries to its lists of archives, databases, digitized collections, and published sources. My hope is for EAS to connect scholars to available resources not just in the United States, but also in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. If we are to think about the early Americas as “vast,” then we need to be vast in our historical research. Early American Sources will be one way to accomplish that.