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Washington, D.C., History Resources

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

Digital Projects and Collections -- Introduction

Community and academic historians, archivists and librarians, and archaeologists have imaginatively created a broad range of digital projects that explore a wide range of topics in Washington history. Explore the digital collections curated by archivists and librarians digitized to simplify searches among similar types of manuscript collections or make available digital objects of materials still held in private hands. The other projects highlighted in this section are interpretive, but ambitious in scope. They make it possible to explore detailed research on slavery, residential segregation, the civil rights movement and the Black Power movement, and other numerous landmarks that suggest ways of using some of the sources described in this guide.

Digital Collections

DC Punk Archive

In 2014, the DC Public Library began to document the vibrant DC Punk scene which originated in 1976. This digital collection includes published materials (books, zines, and articles), posters, programs, and flyers. The People's Archives maintains the audio and video recordings.

DDOT Back in Time

Digitized photographs from the library collection of the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) that are organized into several collections, such as Postcards, DDOT Historical Reports, Construction Projects, Rivers and Bodies of Water, and D.C. Buildings, Churches, and Landmarks. The items were selected from nearly 300 loosely organized boxes of archival materials held by DDOT.

Lee Family Digital Archive

The largest online repository of digitized papers that document the Lee family of Virginia. Every generation of the Lee family is represented. It dates from 1640 when Richard Lee arrived and established himself as a successful planter. Successive generations invested in tobacco agriculture and owned hundreds of enslaved people. Commander of the Confederate Army and head of the household at Arlington estate, Robert E. Lee is well-represented in this digital collection, as are several members of the Custis and Washington families. Project staff have collected letters, diaries, and other published and unpublished primary sources, and transcribed them. Contributing repositories include Stratford Hall, Arlington House The Robert E. Memorial, and Virginia Historical Society. 

The project which has been hosted by Stratford Hall since 2014 is funded by the Ratcliffe Foundation. The search portal for the project is located here.

Poor People's Campaign

Organized by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and other civil rights organization, the Poor People's Campaign sought social programs for the poor, particularly an Economic Bill of Rights, that culminated with the creation of Resurrection City, a protest encampment on the National Mall that began on May 21, 1968 and ended when the police cleared it on June 24. This collection includes digitized newspapers, handbills, songbooks, and memorabilia. It was created by the librarians of the D.C. Public Library, which hosts the collection on its site.

Rainbow History Project

The online repository of community archivists interested in preserving the documentation of the LGBTQ+ community, this site features oral histories, recorded panel discussions, photographs, and ephemera that are highlights of the Archive collected and maintained by this organization since 2000. The Historical Society of Washington, D.C., is the repository of the papers and other textual materials that comprise the broader Archive. The site also includes information for researchers and prospective volunteers.

The Washington Library Digital Collections

The papers of George Washington and his family included some of the most prominent families in early Washington, including the Custis-Lee and Peter families. Collectively, these papers provide insight into the social relations of slavery and the strong connections between the plantations and the cities. The Washington Library at Mount Vernon maintains the textual collections that form the basis of this digital resource.

Community and Activism

Anacostia Unmapped

During 2016, playwright John A. Johnson, co-owner of a local radio station Kymone Freeman, and housing activist Schyla Poindexter-Moore compiled a series of stories on the history of the Anacostia neighborhood based on the recollections of its residents that aired on WAMU (produced by Katie Davis). This site includes these audio files and a blog written by the contributors.

Black Broadway on U: A Transmedia Project

For the first half of the twentieth century, the greater U Street community was the center of a self-reliant Black community that was the center of the Harlem Renaissance in Washington, D.C. This site tells the story of these residents based on oral histories, photographs and other sources in a variety of digital formats: maps, videos, and exhibitions. This site was compiled by Shellee M. Haynesworth, Karen Harper, and Michelle Delino.

Black Power in Washington, D.C., 1961-1968

In 1967, Stokely Carmichael launched the D.C. Black United Front because he believed that Black organizers could have their deepest impact in Washington, D.C. This site tells the story of Black Power activism using maps, photographs, and narratives to explore the impact of this movement on D.C. politics and society.

This site was created by Dr. G. Derek Musgrove, Associate Professor of History, University of Maryland Baltimore County

Boundary Stones, WETA's Local History Blog

Short, illustrated blog posts on the local history of Washington, D.C., suburban Maryland, and northern Virginia. The posts frequently bring out the history of local landmarks, biographies of key figures, and the role of activists in the breakdown of Jim Crow Washington.

D.C. Historic Sites

An illustrated guide to historic sites throughout the capital region that are organized into walking tours that tell stories about overlooked aspects of the District's history, particularly residential segregation and the Civil Rights Movement. The tours include:

The D.C. Preservation League has created this site with the financial assistance from the D.C. Office of Historic Preservation and National Trust for Historic Preservation. Its partners include Prologue D.C., Downtown D.C. Business and Improvement District (BID), and D.C. Historic Sites Team.

dc1968 Project: 365 stories re Washington DC in 1968

This digital storytelling project of the year of 1968 in Washington, D.C., goes beyond the story of the uprising following the assassination of Martin Luther King and shows the changing culture of Washington. Its curator Dr. Marya Annette McQuirter selected an event for every single day of 1968, providing narratives and illustrations based on oral histories, newspaper articles, photographs, and ephemera found in public repositories and provided by eyewitnesses of these events.  

Dr. McQuirter is now assistant professor of history and director of the Public History Collaborative, University of Arizona, Tucson.

Georgetown African American Historic Landmark & Project Tour

A walking tour of Georgetown that is rich in imagery showing the vibrant institutions built by the Black people who lived in Georgetown. It has identified close to 100 sites associated with the Black community, providing illustrations of each of them. This site was built by the Georgetown African American Historic Landmark Project with the support of Humanities DC.

Glover Park History

A rich compilation of historical information on the northern extension of Georgetown, including Burleith, Glover Park, Cathedral Heights, Wesley Heights, and Massachusetts Avenue Heights. Compiled by community historian Carlton Fletcher, the site includes entries on landmarks, slavery and emancipation, estates and farms, and institutions.

Histories of the National Mall

This site allows visitors to explore the history of the Mal, learn about its uses before it became a monumental space in the early twentieth century, and how Americans have used the site for public events. The site consists of well-illustrated interactive maps, timelines, and portraits of people who shaped the Mall. The site was created by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

Indigeneous D.C., Guide to

A walking tour of the sites in the District of Columbia related to indigenous peoples. It includes sites that reinforce negative stereotypes, memorials to Native Americans, and the National Museum of American Indian. This link leads to an application available via the Apple App Store. It was developed by the George Washington University AT&T Center for Indigenous Policy and Politics.

Mapping Segregation D.C.

This site provides online resources to help visitors visualize segregation in Washington, D.C., during the first half of the twentieth century. Its maps show the impact of racially restricted covenants, local zoning codes, and segregated public housing on residential neighborhoods. The site also provides a timeline of the public policies that institutionalized segregation and displaced Black residents and an online exhibition "The Fight for Fair Housing in D.C."

Conceived and implemented by Mara Cherkasky and Sarah Schoenfeld of Prologue D.C. and GIS mapping specialist Brian Kraft, this site has received funding from Humanities DC, the DC Preservation League, and National Park Service.

Remembering YoU

A community archiving initiative developed by GU History Professor Ananya Chakravarti, this site presents stories about U Street and its gentrification as told by its community members and Georgetown students.

Streets of Washington

A regularly updated blog consisting of short, illustrated articles on sites throughout Washington that often provide insight into its society and culture. Several of the illustrations are reproductions from the personal collections of the author, John deFerrari, who is also a Trustee of the D.C. Preservation League.

Washington, D.C., History Resources

This blog brings together frequently updated bibliographies on key topics in Washington history, interviews with notable authors of books and websites on D.C. history, population tables, timelines, and maps that can assist researchers in D.C. History.

The site has been compiled and maintained by Matthew Gilmore, the editor of H-DC and librarian.

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