Primary Sources World War 1 Causes Essay

Compiled by Kenneth Drexler, Digital Reference Specialist

The digital collections of the Library of Congress contain a wide variety of material related to World War I, including photographs, documents, newspapers, films, sheet music, and sound recordings. This guide compiles links to World War I resources throughout the Library of Congress Web site. In addition, this guide provides links to external Web sites focusing on World War I and a bibliography containing selections for both general and younger readers.

Furthermore, as part of our commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the U.S. involvement in World War I, the Library of Congress has created a World War I portal to its extensive holdings on the subject of the war. This page also includes WWI-related content for teachers, blog postings, and details on lectures, programs, concerts and symposia related to the conflict.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I

The Nation's Forum recordings were made between 1918 and 1920 in an effort to preserve the voices of prominent Americans; in most cases, they are the only surviving recordings of a speaker. The recordings fall into two distinct series. The 1918 series was devoted mostly to World War I topics. The 1919-1920 series was devoted mostly to postwar issues and the 1920 presidential election.

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1940

These life histories were written by staff of the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers' Project for the U.S. Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA) from 1936-1940. Search on the phrase "World War I" in order to locate life histories that mention World War I.

George S. Patton Papers: Diaries, 1910 to 1945

The diaries of U.S. army officer George S. Patton (1885-1945) are part of a larger collection of Patton papers available for research use onsite in the Manuscript Reading Room of the Library of Congress. The collection documents Patton's military career, including his attendance at the United States Military Academy at West Point, 1904-1909; his service on the Mexican border as a member of John J. Pershing's Mexican Punitive Expedition, 1916-1917; his service as an aide-de-camp to Pershing and later as a tank commander in World War I, 1917, 1918, and 1919; and his military career from 1938 to 1945.

John J. Pershing Papers

The diaries, notebooks, and address books of John Joseph Pershing (1860-1948), U.S. army officer and commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, are part of a larger collection of Pershing papers available for research use onsite in the Manuscript Reading Room of the Library of Congress. The entire collection spans the years 1882-1971, with the bulk of the material concentrated in the period 1904-1948. It consists of correspondence, diaries, notebooks, speeches, statements, writings, orders, maps, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, picture albums, posters, photographs, printed matter, and memorabilia.  This digital collection is comprised of the contents of Boxes 1-7 (Diaries, Notebooks, and Address Books, 1882-1925) and Boxes 395-397, containing similar items in the Addition series.

The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America

The Songs of America presentation allows you to explore American history as documented in the work of some of our country's greatest composers, poets, scholars, and performers. This presentation contains sheet music and audio recordings of popular music related to World War I.

This presentation also contains two articles concerning World War I and music:

Military Battles and Campaigns

This collection contains maps showing campaigns of major military conflicts including troop movements, defensive structures and groundworks, roads to and from sites of military engagements, campsites, and local buildings, topography and vegetation, including over twenty military maps from World War I.

Newspaper Pictorials: World War I Rotogravures, 1914 to 1919

This online collection is drawn from three primary sources: The War of the Nations: Portfolio in Rotogravure Etchings, a volume published by the New York Times shortly after the armistice that compiled selected images from their "Mid-Week Pictorial" supplements of 1914-19; Sunday rotogravure sections from the New York Times for 1914-19; and Sunday rotogravure sections from the New York Tribune for 1916-19.

Patriotic Melodies

Patriotic Melodies tells the stories behind many of the songs that have now become part of the American national heritage. The site includes songs from World War I.

Posters: World War I Posters

This collection makes available online approximately 1,900 posters created between 1914 and 1920. Most relate directly to the war, but some German posters date from the post-war period and illustrate events such as the rise of Bolshevism and Communism, the 1919 General Assembly election and various plebiscites.

Stars and Stripes: The American Soldiers' Newspaper of World War I, 1918 to 1919

This collection presents the complete seventy-one-week run of the World War I edition of the newspaper The Stars and Stripes. Published in France by the United States Army from February 8, 1918, to June 13, 1919, the eight-page weekly featured news, poetry, cartoons, and sports coverage, with a staff that included journalists Alexander Woollcott, Harold Wallace Ross and Grantland Rice. Written by and for the American soldiers at the war front, the paper offers a unique perspective from which to examine the wartime experience.

Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film

This collection features 104 films that record events in Theodore Roosevelt's life from the Spanish-American War in 1898 to his death in 1919. Contains films of Roosevelt performing various public functions in support of the war effort during World War I. Also, includes a film of Roosevelt's sons' regiments in France during the war.

Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

This collection contains Woodrow Wilson's speech notes, in shorthand, for his Fourteen Points address. Wilson frequently used shorthand to record his first thoughts on topics. Here in 1918 he outlined his famous Fourteen Points, the terms which he believed should be used as the basis for the peace treaty settling World War I.

World War I Sheet Music

From 1914 through 1920 the Library of Congress acquired over 14,000 pieces of sheet music relating to what ultimately became known as the First World War, with the greatest number coming from the years of the United States' active involvement (1917-1918) and the immediate postwar period.  America's entry into the war came at a time when popular songwriting and the music publishing industry, centered in New York's Tin Pan Alley, was at its height and a new musical form known as "jazz" was emerging.

This site is designed for elementary and middle school students.

Chronicling America

This site allows you to search and view millions of historic American newspaper pages from 1789-1924. Search this collection to find newspaper articles about World War I.

A selection of articles on World War I includes:

  • "Heir to the Austrian Throne Assassinated," New-York Tribune. (New York [N.Y.]), June 29, 1914
  • "Liner Lusitania Sunk by a German Submarine," Evening Public Ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), May 07, 1915
  • "U.S. Officially at War," The Daily Missourian. (Columbia, Mo.), April 06, 1917
  • "Germany Has Surrendered; World War Ended at 6 A.M.," New-York Tribune. (New York [N.Y.]), November 11, 1918
  • "War Officially Ends," The Washington Times. (Washington [D.C.]), June 28, 1919

In addition, the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room has created a series of topics guides to the newspapers included in Chronicling America, including a number of guides related to World War I.

Topics in Chronicling America:

American Treasures of the Library of Congress - World War I

This exhibition highlights material available at the Library of Congress related to
World War I, including photographs, posters, newspapers, and original documents.

Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I

This exhibition examines the upheaval of World War I as Americans confronted it— both at home and abroad. The exhibition considers the debates and struggles that surrounded U.S. engagement; explores U.S. military and home front mobilization and the immensity of industrialized warfare; and touches on the war’s effects, as an international peace settlement was negotiated, national borders were redrawn, and soldiers returned to reintegrate into American society.

From the Home Front and the Front Lines

This exhibition consists of original materials and oral histories drawn from the Veterans History Project collections at the Library of Congress, including World War I.

World War I: American Artists View the Great War

Heeding the call from artist Charles Dana Gibson to “Draw ‘til it hurts,” hundreds of leading American artists galvanized public interest in the Great War (1914–1918). Although the United States participated as a direct combatant in World War I from 1917 to 1918, the riveting posters, cartoons, fine art prints, and drawings on display chronicle this massive international conflict from its onset through its aftermath.

Maps of the First World War: An Illustrated Essay and List of Select Maps in the Library of Congress. (PDF, 38 MB) Second Edition, Ryan J. Moore (2016).

The Story of a World War I Mapmaker: The War Diary of Willard B. Prince Fifth Division Headquarters AEF Written and Compiled at the Front. (PDF, 12.9 MB), Ryan J. Moore (2017).

Finding Aids: Geography and Map

Highlights from the Geography & Map Division include:

The Library of Congress has digitized more than 2,800 books related to World War I that can be found in the Internet Archive. These World War I books were published prior to 1923 and are in the public domain.

World War I: Declarations of War from Around the Globe

From the death of the Archduke to the Armistice on November 11, 1918, over 20 countries issued various forms of declarations of war that can be found in the official government publications of the time.  This presentation highlights those declarations that are available at the Law Library of Congress.  The information can be accessed in alphabetical order by country.  A map illustrating years of entry into the war is also provided.

World War I: An Annotated Bibliography of Books in the Main Reading Room Reference Collection and World War I Military Newspapers in the General and Microform Collections

Finding Aids

Search online finding aids using the phrase World War, 1914-1918 to find manuscript collections that contain World War I-related materials.

Highlights from the Manuscript Division include:

On the Firing Line With the Germans (1915)

During the centenary observance of World War I, the Library of Congress has been prioritizing the preservation of films in our collection pertaining to the conflict. Foremost among these is a film called On the Firing Line With the Germans, shot in 1915 by William H. Durborough and his cameraman Irving Ries. The entire film is available for viewing on this site.

The National Jukebox includes more than 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925.

A selection of recordings related to World War I includes:

World War I in Pictures: An Overview of Prints & Photographs Division Collections

The Library of Congress Prints & Photograph Division (P&P) has more than 76,000 pictures relating to World War I, in a wide array of formats, including photographic prints and negatives, cartoons, ephemera, posters and drawings.

Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC)

Search PPOC using the phrase World War 1914-1918 to find additional images from World War I such as photographs, prints, cartoons and posters.

American Memory Timeline: U.S. Participation in the Great War (World War One)

Contains a short essay on U.S. involvement in World War I and links to related documents found within American Memory.

On the Homefront: America During World War I and World War II

This activity showcases a sampling of American Memory resources that illustrate homefront contributions during World War I and World War II.

Primary Source Set: World War I

This Primary Source Set includes images, documents, sound files, and analysis tools to help teach about World War I.

Student Discovery Sets: World War I

The Student Discovery Sets bring together historical artifacts and one-of-a-kind documents on a wide range of topics, including World War I. Interactive tools let students zoom in, draw to highlight details, and conduct open-ended primary source analysis. Full teaching resources are available for each set.

World War I: What Are We Fighting For Over There?

A lesson plan designed for grades 10 through 12, in which students create World War I era newspapers with different perspectives on American involvement in the war.

June 28, 1914

Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sofia were assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, setting off a chain of events that would culminate in a world war by August.

May 7, 1915

On May 7, 1915, a German submarine sank the British ocean liner Lusitania, drowning 1,198 civilians.

April 6, 1917

The United States formally declared war against Germany and entered the conflict in Europe on April 6, 1917.

September 12, 1918

On September 12, 1918, the American Expeditionary Forces under commander in chief General John J. Pershing launched their first major offensive in Europe as an independent army.

November 11, 1918

The Allied powers signed a cease-fire agreement with Germany at Rethondes, France on November 11, 1918, bringing World War I to a close.

July 28, 1932

On July 28, 1932, the protesters known as the "Bonus Army" gathered in the nation's capital to demand immediate payment of benefits for their military service during World War I.

July 15, 1948

John J. Pershing, military commander whose brilliant career earned him the title General of the Armies of the United States, died on July 15, 1948. General Pershing was the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces to Europe in World War I.

Veterans History Project Home Page

The Veterans History Project (VHP) collects and preserves stories of wartime service from World War I to the present. This site provides information about how to participate in the project, a database of participating veterans, and digitized materials from the collection. Search the Veterans History Project's database to view over 100 digital collections from World War I veterans.

In addiiton, the VHP has launched a web exhibit that complements the Library of Congress’s major exhibition “Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I.”  The three-part web companion, “Experiencing War,” will help tell the larger story of the war from the perspective of those who served in it. 

The Bonus Army: An American Epic

Paul Dickson and Thomas Allen presented a talk about their book, the compelling story of World War I veterans whose demands for better treatment became the Bonus Army March.

Harlem's Rattlers & the Great War

Jeffrey T. Sammons and John H. Morrow discussed their book "Harlem Rattlers and the Great War: The Undaunted 369th Regiment and the African-American Quest for Equality".

The Long Black Freedom Struggle: African American Soldiers in WWI & Korea

Adriane Lentz-Smith of Duke University and David Cline of Virginia Tech discuss the forgotten history of African-American participation in WWI and Korea, followed by a discussion facilitated by Robert Patrick, director of the Veterans History Project.

Navigating the Blood-Dimmed Tides: Was U.S. Military Intervention in the First World War Worth the Cost?

Bradford Lee performs a Clausewitzian critical analysis of how the U.S. waged war and negotiated peace from 1917 to 1919, and whether the value of victory was worth the costs of achieving it.

The Politics of Catastrophe & the Declaration of World War I

As members of Congress gathered in April 1917 to decide whether to declare war on Germany, some legislators arrived with battle scars. For Civil War veterans, the memory of that catastrophic war would inform their understanding of a new conflict. Historian Mary Dudziak revealed what it would take to generate sufficient support to enter a faraway war: a politics of catastrophe.

'Remember Belgium' -- Poetry as Propaganda During the First World War

Kluge Fellow Geert Buelens address the use of poetry as propaganda, using WWI poems about Belgium by poets such as e.e. cummings, Witter Bynner, Ford Madox Ford and prominent Russian, Italian and Scandinavian poets.

World War I Symposium

Gerard Toal (Virginia Tech), Paul Miller (McDaniel College) and retired US Ambassador Jacques Paul Klein discuss the territorial and ethnic conflicts that led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, and how Europe's great powers over-reacted, leading to "the Great War." The speakers then show how the First World War has affected the subsequent history of Europe, through the Second World War, through the Cold War, down to the present. Other presenters included Andras Simonyi, Erdal Trhulj and Jadranka Negodic.

The World Digital Library (WDL) is a project of the Library of Congress, carried out with the support of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), and in cooperation with libraries, archives, museums, educational institutions, and international organizations from around the world. The WDL contains hundreds of items related to World War I, including maps, posters, photographs, and books. The site also presents a World War I Timeline that links to primary sources from the war.

1914-1918 Online: International Encyclopedia of the First World War

This site is a virtual reference work on the First World War. The multi-perspective, open-access knowledge base is the result of an international collaborative project involving more than 1,000 authors, editors, and partners from over fifty countries.

Europeana 1914-1918

This site is a pan-European collection of original First World War source material, including letters, diaries, photographs, films, postcards, and official documents.

Military Resources: World War I

A compilation of resources on World War I from the National Archives and Records Administration, including links to external sites.

National World War I Museum and Memorial

The National World War I Museum and Memorial is America's leading institution dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War and its enduring impact. The site contains an interactive timeline and resources for educators and students, including primary sources.

Online Bookshelves: World War I

The U.S. Army Center of Military History provides the full-text of online books related to American involvement in World War I.

The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission

The Commission is responsible for planning, developing, and executing programs, projects, and activities to commemorate the centennial of World War One. This site links to a wide range of digital materials on the war, including resources for teachers and researchers.

Wars and Conflicts: World War One

This BBC site contains a wide variety of material on World War I, including a timeline, essays, films, audio, and photographs.

World War One

The British Library’s site offers curated access to nearly 500 historical items related to World War I. Collection items are complemented by over 50 newly commissioned articles from leading experts, short films and interviews with academics and authors, and a dedicated teachers’ area.

World War I Document Archive

An archive of primary source documents from World War I compiled by volunteers of the World War I Military History discussion group.

Finding Books about World War I

The Library of Congress online catalog contains hundreds of subject headings for books related to World War I. To find works on any of these topics, select Browse, and enter the wordsWorld War, 1914-1918 into the search box; then choose the Subjects beginning with option. You will get the list of World War I-related subject headings. Click on any heading to see a list of titles that have that subject heading; and click on any of the titles to access the book's bibliographic record.

From among the thousands of World War I-related titles in the Library of Congress collections, the selected bibliography below highlights works particularly useful to general and younger readers.

Capozzola, Christopher. Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. [Catalog Record]

Clark, Christopher M. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. New York: Harper, 2013. [Catalog Record]

Doenecke, Justus D. Nothing Less Than War: A New History of America's Entry into World War I. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011. [Catalog Record]

Eisenhower, John S.D., and Joanne Thompson Eisenhower. Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I. New York: Free Press, 2001. [Catalog Record]

Gilbert, Martin. The First World War: A Complete History. New York: H. Holt, 1994. [Catalog Record]

Hastings, Max. Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. [Catalog Record]

Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: A. Knopf; Distributed by Random House, 1999. [Catalog Record]

MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World. New York: Random House, 2002. [Catalog Record]

Reynolds, Francis J. The Story of the Great War. 16 vols. New York: P. F. Collier and Son, 1916-20. [Catalog Record] [Full Text]

Storey, William Kelleher. The First World War: A Concise Global History. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009. [Catalog Record]

Strachan, Hew. The First World War. New York: Viking, 2004. [Catalog Record]

Tucker, Spencer C., ed. World War I: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection. 2nd ed. 5 vols. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2014. [Catalog Record]

Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim. The Guns of August. New York: Macmillan, 1962. [Catalog Record]

United States, Department of the Army, Office of Military History. United States Army in the World War, 1917-1919. 17 vols. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1948. [Catalog Record] [Full Text]

Wagner, Margaret E. America and the Great War: A Library of Congress Illustrated History. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2017. [Catalog Record]

Winter, Jay, ed. The Cambridge History of the First World War. 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. [Catalog Record]

Adams, Simon. World War I. Rev. ed. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2004. [Catalog Record]

Barber, Nicola. World War I. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2012. [Catalog Record]

Clare, John D., ed. First World War. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1995. [Catalog Record]

Dolan, Edward F. America in World War I. Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook Press, 1996. [Catalog Record]

Freedman, Russell. The War to End All Wars: World War I. Boston: Clarion Books, 2010. [Catalog Record]

George, Enzo. World War I. New York: Cavendish Square Publishing, 2015. [Catalog Record]

Kent, Zachary. World War I: The War to End Wars. Hillside, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, 1994. [Catalog Record]

Pratt, Mary K. World War I. Minneapolis: ABDO Publishing Company, 2014. [Catalog Record]

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Primary Source Collections - Library Collections

  • The American Presidency Project
    Search the papers of the presidents from George Washington through Barack Obama (2011). Available documents include executive orders, press conferences, radio addresses, inaugural address, and more.

    Users can search by president, date, keyword, document type, and more.
  • Pamphlets on the Great War
    Call Number: STOR D 525 .P36 v. 1-33
    A collection of pamphlets on all aspects of World War I, gathered by Grove City College students and staff in an act of dedication and remembrance. Special emphasis on Belgium and on peace after the War, including the League of Nations. All pamphlets are bound together, under the general binding title of Pamphlets on the Great War.

    Click on the link above to access a list of the available pamphlets.
  • The Progressive Era by Elizabeth V. Burt
    Beginning with an extensive overview essay of the period, this book focuses on the issues of the Progressive Era through contemporary accounts of the people involved.
  • Defining Documents in American History: The 1910s (1910-1919)
    Call Number: Ref E 761 .A19 2016
    This brand-new title provides detailed insight into a wide spectrum of topics from the 1910s, including: The Mann Act; Establishment of Income Tax; The Clayton Anti-Trust Act; The Sedition Act of 1918; Standard Oil Co. v. United States; Creation of the Federal Reserve System; Entry of the United States into World War I.
  • World War I by Ross F. Collins
    Call Number: D 521 .C587 2008
    Primary documents from the World War I era bring to life the causes, events and consequences of those tumultuous and violent years.
  • Milestone Documents in American History
    Call Number: Ref E 173 .M62 2008 v.1-4
    Includes important primary sources related to American history from 1763 to 2003.

    Also available online via Salem History Online.
  • Milestone Documents of American Leaders
    Call Number: Ref E 173 .M62 2009 v.1-4
    The second title in the ground-breaking Milestone Document series, this new set pairs primary source texts with expert analysis by esteemed historians. Milestone Documents of American Leaders features important full-text sources written by presidents, jurists, legislators and other influential people who helped shape the nation.
  • Milestone Documents in World History
    Call Number: Ref D 5 .M55 2010
    Includes four volumes covering ancient history through the 21st century. Available via Salem History Online.

    Volumes 1-2 cover the Ancient World and Middle Ages. Highlighted documents include the "Code of Justinian" and "Usama Ibn Munqidh's 'A Muslim View of the Crusaders'."
  • Understanding U. S. Military Conflicts Through Primary Sources
    Call Number: Ref E 181 .U53 2016 v. 1-4
    * Covers benchmark documents in U.S. diplomatic and military history from 14 conflicts.

Primary Source Collections - Online Collections

  • The National Archives (UK)
    Access a variety of digital collections covering the history of Great Britain during WWI, including unit diaries, army nurses, prisoners of war, royal navy & air force service, and podcasts of first-hand accounts of the war (Voices of the Armistice).
  • American Memory
    [Library of Congress] -- Provides papers, photographs, maps, and more, covering all periods of American history.
  • Military & Government Collection
    Access to journal and magazine articles, books, government documents, speech transcripts, etc. relating to the military and government.

    Both primary and secondary sources are available here.
  • Military Newspapers, 1918-1919
    Stars and Stripes (from the Serial and Government Publications Division) – covers 8 February 1918 through 13 June 1919. [Part of American Memory]
  • World War I Rotogravures: 1914-1919
    (newspaper pictorials) -- Includes an essay: the sinking of the Lusitania, 7 May 1915. [Part of American Memory]
  • Western European Theater Political Pamphlet Collection, 1894-1918
    These pamphlets were collected by the Princeton University Library starting from the outbreak of World War I. The collection contains pamphlets published in Europe during and immediately after World War I. They cover a broad range of topics including the economy, the press, the military, arms, territorial disputes, and others. The collection also includes speeches, sermons, bulletins, calendars, and songbooks. The pamphlets are in multiple languages, including some in English (from Princeton University Library).
  • German History in Documents and Images
    "German History in Documents and Images (GHDI) is a comprehensive collection of original historical materials documenting German history from the beginning of the early modern period to the present."

    Oral histories, letters, speeches and other documents related to Nazi Germany are included in the collection.
  • Avalon Project
    Documents in law, history and government, from ancient times through the 21st century (from Yale Law School).
  • European History Primary Sources
    [WWW Virtual Library History] According to the site's information, it is "an index of scholarly websites that offer online access to digitized primary sources on the history of Europe."

    TIP: Use their options to limit by time period and select 20th century OR limit by country and select France, United Kingdom, etc.
  • Hansard, 1803-2005
    Provides the official parliamentary debates from Great Britain. You can read the information from specific dates or search a time period for a particular topic.
  • Imperial War Museums
    Provides access to primary and secondary sources relating to wars the U.K. was involved in, starting with WWI.

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