Four Presidents Together: President Reagan made some remarks at the Diplomatic Entrance of the White House prior to the departure of three former Presidents, Nixon, Ford and Carter, for Egypt and President Anwar Sadat’s Funeral. October 8, 1981. (C4361-12A)
With President’s Day coming up on February 20 students in America’s schools are faced with daunting questions as teachers assign research projects: which President should they study and where can they research them? Maybe you are happily finished with your formal education but love to learn about the Presidents and want to really dig in. How can you do that? Fear not, we have compiled a list of some of the great resources out there regarding the history of the American Presidency. In fact, let’s start the list with this great article about the history of Presidents’ Day, officially known as Washington’s Birthday.
As you read through, remember that not all of the links in this article are maintained by the National Archives, and a link does not imply endorsement or affiliation with any entity, individual, or organization. Users are responsible for complying with copyright law and use all websites at their own risk. Most of these resources are best for folks at the high school level or above, younger students may need help from parents finding resources appropriate to their educational level.
National Archives Presidential Libraries
We have to start by tooting our own horn, right? The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) maintains a system of Presidential Libraries. The idea was essentially the brainchild of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which means that the NARA system of Presidential Libraries only goes back as far as Roosevelt’s immediate predecessor, Herbert Hoover. These libraries are all built with private funds before being turned over to NARA who then takes over the duties of preserving the Presidential records, including official gifts to the President. Each of the libraries has a physical location which houses the records and artifacts in its custody. which are open to the public for research, a website with many digital resources, and social media accounts which often highlight their unique records. The private foundations which raise funds for the libraries often also maintain their own websites that may have additional resources.
Here is a link storm with a ton of Presidential Library resources, note that the website links will take you to the portion of that library’s page with online documents and resources. Sometimes the social media pages and blogs may have additional resources and information. The Youtube channels often have large collections of entire speeches.
United States National Archives and Records Adminstration: There is a comprehensive listing of many social media accounts here. There are also more than a dozen National Archives blogs, including this one, many of which feature articles on history using primary source documents and you can find a list of them here.
PBS’ The American Experience – Some films from this PBS documentary series about American history are available in their entirety online. Even for the films that are not available online, there are often biographies, primary sources, and other resources available. Many of their documentaries focused on specific Presidents, including Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon, Abraham Lincoln, Bill Clinton, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Other films focus on topics of Presidential history like Mount Rushmore, Murder of a President about James Garfield’s assassination, and more.
The Library of Congress has a ton of resources. There are databases of photos and images of Presidents, First Ladies, and Vice Presidents. This Inauguration Resource Guide is full of facts, photographs, and illustrations – did you know that former President William Taft administered the oath of office to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 as part of Taft’s duties in his then-role as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. This list of resource guides includes resources for the first five Presidents: George Washington, John Adams,
The White House Transition Project – These White House transition interviews discuss the organization of the White House staff in the presidential administrations from Richard M. Nixon through William Jefferson Clinton. They also discuss the transitions between the presidential administrations, and the successes and lessons learned during these periods.
The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies – information about inaugurations going back to 1901.
The White House – Along with communications about current policy, many of the videos and resources provide basic information about how the Presidency works
National Parks Service List of Presidential Historic Sites – Listing and linking to historic sites for every President.
The White House Historical Society – “a private, non-profit organization founded in 1961 by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy with a mission to protect, preserve, and provide public access to the rich history of America’s Executive Mansion.”
The American Presidency Project – From the University of California Santa Barbara, this site contains data and documents on the American Presidency from George Washington to the present.
The Miller Center – The Miller Center is an institute at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville dedicated to the study of the Presidency. Resources available include photos, essays, oral histories, and more. Covering every U.S. President.
The National Security Archive – From George Washington University, this site has declassified documents, mostly from the twentieth century, relating to national security issues and policies under various Presidents.
Mount Vernon – The site for the museum at George Washington’s home and plantation in Virginia has some online articles, fact sheets, and databases about our first President.
Center for Presidential History – Southern Methodist University in Dallas maintains this center of Presidential scholarship. While the website does not have a lot of information for younger students, their past events with scholars speaking on Presidents from every era are archived on YouTube and Vimeo.
Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s plantation home in Virginia is a wonderful museum, and their website offers a lot of resources, including curricula, images, blog posts, and more to help students and teachers explore Jefferson’s life and legacy.