I recently had a reference question from someone who was looking for film footage of President McKinley at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. The Exposition presented exhibits on technological advancements of the time, a wild west show, and an “Indian Village” in which Native Americans were actually displayed as side-show exhibits. History buffs might also know this event as the location where McKinley was assasinated. A brief search led me straight to the Library of Congress’ American Memory collection, where the collection of films are available for free online viewing.
The nice thing about getting reference questions like this is that I’m often reminded of great resources that I don’t always remember to use, like the American Memory collection. This collection documents the American experience with items like sheet music, sound recordings, photographs, films, and letters (among other things), and makes all of these little bits of history available digitally, for free. The variety of subjects is broad: interested in sports? In architecture? African-American history? Literature? The list is long, and you can browse by topic or search for a specific item.
This is a great place to find primary source material, but it’s also a lot of fun to browse. Some of my favorite things that I’ve come across in this collection are Walt Whitman’s notebooks (which also include this amazing cardboard butterfly); the collection American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera; and Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier, recordings of the Appalachian folk fiddler Henry Reed.
This isn’t the only great online collection that the Library of Congress has made available; you can find more of their digital offerings here. Happy browsing!