American Eras Primary Sources fills a niche that encyclopedias, almanacs, books, and articles can’t. This multi-volume set “reproduces full text or excerpts of primary sources that illuminate a particular trend, event, or personality important to [the] understanding of the time period. Each volume includes about one hundred entries organized into topical chapters” (Parks, 2013). By examining one volume in the electronic version covering the Civil War and Reconstruction, 1860-1877, I will describe and evaluate the series.
The volume begins with section called “Using Primary Sources” which includes an explanation of what a primary source is and advises readers on how to approach the use of such sources to avoid faulty reasoning. Next there’s an eclectic chronology of world events, which provides an interesting perspective that a history book may not. For example, this chronology lists major natural disasters, military battles, treaties (e.g. the First Geneva Convention protecting the rights of war prisoners), fashion trends and firsts such as the first indoor ice hockey game, which was played in 1875 in Canada.
The heart of American Eras Primary Sources is the primary sources organized in categories such as the arts, business, government and politics, communications, law, fashion, science, medicine, social trends, and education. Each category begins with an overview and chronology to provide context. Each entry lists basic information on the creator of the primary source, introduces the item. This volume includes and describes Currier and Ives prints, recipes, patents, illustrations, poetry, photos of Grand Central Station, text from the children’s book The Anti-Slave Alphabet, sheet music, military orders and more. After each entry there is a short passage describing its significance and a list of further resources including websites with click-able links.
The end of the volume contains a general index and primary source type index. Entries may be viewed as text or PDF. Users may easily email or download entries for further examination.
American Eras Primary Sources contains a wide variety of sources that illuminate disparate aspects of American society thereby expanding users’ understanding of the era. Given that an electronic version doesn’t take up shelf space, I would have liked more entries particularly sources from lower level Civil War officers and representatives of minorities other than women and African Americans who are included, but mainly in the conventional ways, i.e. as housewives, suffragettes or slaves. Including sources written in languages other than English with translations would make this important resource even more comprehensive. Still history buffs, students and researchers will find this book highly valuable.
Verdict: American Eras Primary Sources offers a unique perspective on history and should be a part of any public, secondary school or university library collection.
Check this out at your public library if you like history at all!
American Eras Primary Sources. Ed. Rebecca Parks. Vol. 2: Civil War and Reconstruction, 1860-1877. Detroit: Gale, 2013. . Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.
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