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Washington 101

This libguide is for the undergraduate students enrolled in the Washington 101 course at CUA. This course takes and interdisciplinary look at the past and present of Washington, D.C.

What is a primary source?

Those jokers at Princeton University have a helpful webpage that explains it!

Briefly stated, "A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event."

The American Library Association (ALA) also has a webpage that helps navigate primary sources, particularly using primary sources on the web. The section called "Evaluating Primary Source Web Sites" will be especially helpful.

MLK Memorial


Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

[photograph by Sarah Rice Scott]


Washington: Symbol and City

at the National Building Museum

Washington: Symbol and City explores how the capital expresses the tension between the demands of a working seat of government and the desire for a national symbol.

Unbuilt Washington

at the National Building Museum

November 19, 2011 - May 28, 2012

Unbuilt Washington features unrealized proposals for noteworthy architectural and urban design projects in Washington, D.C., and its environs from the 1790s to the present.

Some additional components of this exhibit include:

an Interactive Map

"What Should a Capitol Look Like?", an article by curator Martin Moeller

The Historical Society of Washington, DC

The Historical Society of Washington, DC preserves and shares the history of Washington, DC. They regularly have exhibits and they also have a research library (that is temporarily closed as of December 2012. Click here for updates). The Historical Society has many helpful resources on the webpage, includeing Frequently Asked Questions.

Researching in Archives: some helpful tips!

Washington, DC has many archives that feature primary material relating to the history of the city. Most archives request that you make an appointment and often have s (collection guides) posted online so that you can have a better sense of the material available. Whether you are researching neighborhood, political, religious, or social histories, there are a number of archives in the area with primary materials to help fuel your research.

The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives

In addition to records documenting the history of American Catholics, the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives also has records related to Washington, DC. This includes collections relating to the history of The Catholic Univeristy of America and the surrounding nieghborhood.

Two recent publications about CUA and Brookland that draw on the Catholic University archives audiovisual collections are

Brookland (Images of America) by John J. Feeley, Jr. and Rosie Dempsey

note: Catholic University Libraries does not yet have a copy of this title in its collection; both GW and AU appear to have copies.

The Catholic University of America (Campus History) by Robert Malesky

Special Collections at the DC Public Library


at the MLK Library

Established in 1905, Washingtoniana is the largest Special Collection at the DC Public Library. It houses a comprehensive collection of material on Washington, D.C., from the late 18th century to the present, including the reference library, the photograph collections and the D.C. community archives.

The Peabody Room

at the Georgetown Neighborhood Library

The Peabody Room is a special collections of Georgetown neighborhood history.  It includes subject vertical files, photographs, maps, neighborhood microfilmed newspapers, paintings, engravings and artifacts that document various aspects of Georgetown life.  It also features a house history file for nearly every home in Georgetown!  After a devastating 2007 fire that heavily damaged the Georgetown Neighborhood Library, a newly constructed third floor (opened October 2010) now houses the Peabody Room.

Local History & Genealogy Reading Room at the Library of Congress

Local History & Genealogy Reading Room at the Library of Congress

at the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building

The Library of Congress has one of the world's premier collections of U.S. and foreign genealogical and local historical publications. The Library's genealogy collection began as early as 1815 with the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library.

National Building Museum

National building Museum

Interior, National Building Museum

Washington, DC

[photograph by Sarah Rice Scott]

DC Metro photograph


DC Metro, Smithsonian Stop, Orange/Blue Line

[Photograph by Sarah Rice Scott]

The George Washington University Libraries Special Collections Research Center

The Special Collections Research Center is located on the seventh floor of the Gelman Library of George Washington University, 2130 H Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20052. Regular service hours are Monday - Friday, 10 am to 6 pm, and Saturday, 10 am to 3 pm.

Check out the Washingtoniana collections:

The Special Collections Research Center collects and preserves material relating to the history and cultural, social, and political aspects of the District of Columbia. These historical materials date from the 18th century to the present, with the bulk of the records dating from the 20th century. The literary and cultural collections extend to the present day.

note: some collections are stored off site, so PLAN AHEAD by contacting the Special Collections Research Center staff at GWU's Library.

Some example of the collections are listed below: