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Washington, D.C., History Resources

A guide to the local history resources available on the District of Columbia.

Research Libraries and Archives -- Introduction

Exhibition Hall of Congressional Library 1903

Exhibition Hall of Congressional Library by T.W. Ingersoll (1903). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This guide includes repositories and collections that document metropolitan Washington, including local and state repositories in Maryland and Virginia. This approach will enable researchers to research the lives of people whose economic interests and families were divided between the states. In addition, the impact of the transformation of the regional economy on the city -- from one dominated by tobacco agriculture to the present-day urban sprawl dominated by government agencies, professional consultants, and tech firms -- cannot be fully appreciated without using sources held by the repositories of the cities, counties, and states. In addition, key changes in the form of the District government shape record keeping.

Since the federal government had direct jurisdiction over the nation's capital, the National Archives and Records Administration and Library of Congress have significant resources for those interested in the history of the District of Columbia. This guide will help researchers find resources on Washington history within these large collections with national audiences. The District of Columbia Archives acquired some of the records held by the National Archives. This guide will point out how they were separated where relevant.

There are numerous smaller repositories. University Archives document local history, but universities also maintain manuscripts reflecting their benefactors, students and faculty, neighborhoods, and other well-established collecting areas. Other repositories include the D.C. Public Library, D.C. History Center, and historic houses.

Using this section, researchers can become acquainted generally with each repository, its principal digital portals, and its collecting areas. There also is information on their locations, reference procedures, and other information for those who want to visit each repository.

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