Digital National Security Archive: now via ProQuest

Digital National Security ArchiveOur subscription to the Digital National Security Archive has moved from its own site to be incorporated into the ProQuest platform. If you’re used to using our other ProQuest resources (Historic Newspapers, American Periodicals, Ethnic NewsWatch, Dissertations & Theses among others), the new search interface will be familiar to you, and as with our other ProQuest subscriptions, it will now be possible to cross-search these with the DNSA.

Using DNSA Collections on ProQuest

DNSA is arranged as a number of thematic collections, which could be searched individually. There are three ways to do this now it has moved to ProQuest:

  1. From the basic search screen, the collections are listed at the bottom of the page (click ‘show all’ to see the full list). Clicking on any of these collections will take you to a search screen for just that collection.
  2. From the advanced search screen, you can select some or all DNSA collections in the ‘search options’ underneath the search boxes.
  3. Using the ‘select databases‘ option in the blue bar at the top of the screen. Click where it says ‘searching 1 database’ to expand the list, and then you can select whichever ProQuest databases you choose. If you scroll down to select Digital National Security Archive you will see a + sign; clicking on that will expand a further list of the individual DNSA collections for you to select or deselect. This is also how you can cross-search DNSA with other ProQuest databases subscribed to by Oxford.

Cross-searching DNSA collectionsUsing DNSA Bibliographies, Chronologies and Glossaries on ProQuest

As well as the documents themselves, the collections were supported by additional descriptive materials, providing background information on the collections, history, and documents. These are still accessible via ProQuest but are a little bit less obvious to find. To get to them, click on ‘browse’ next to the advanced search link:

DNSA Browse for supporting materialYou can also search the bibliographies, chronologies and glossaries from the advanced search screen by selecting them in the first of the search options under the search boxes:

Including supporting material in searchExporting saved searches and references from My Archive – important!

If you used the My Archive feature on the old DNSA site, your saved searches and references will not have transferred to the new ProQuest platform. The old site will remain available at until late summer, so if you have saved searches and references you have some time to retrieve them before it gets shut down. ProQuest have written up a guide to how to export your data from My Archive so that you don’t lose them. On ProQuest, it is possible to save searches and documents in much the same way using their My Research feature, but you would need to recreate any searches or saved documents from DNSA manually there.

Further information


"Access to Presidential Paper and Records in the Presidential Libraries" Nancy Smith, Director of the Presidential Materials Division at the National Archives of the United States

This post was written by DPhil candidate Patrick Sandman, and first appeared on the RAI Events blog. It is reposted here with permission for the interest of VHL readers.

In a well-attended and interesting workshop, Nancy Smith, the Director of the Presidential Materials Division at the U.S. National Archives, discussed the history and accessibility of presidential papers to a group of undergraduates, graduates, and professional historians.

Beginning the discussion with FDR in 1939, Director Smith detailed the trajectory of presidential libraries and materials. Fifteen years after Roosevelt donated selected material to a library in Hyde Park, NY, Congress passed the Presidential Library Act in 1955. For the next two decades, presidents donated and distributed papers at their own discretion.  For Director Smith and millions of Americans, however, the tradition of presidential papers would change in July 1973.

During his testimony to Sam Ervin’s Senate Committee, White House Assistant Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of President Nixon’s infamous White House taping system.  As a result of the calamity, contention, and cynicism surrounding Watergate, Congress created the Presidential Records Act in 1978 to broaden public accessibility to the office of the President. 

During the last forty years, Director Smith has worked closely with Presidents and their records.  She highlighted the difficulty of cataloging executive information, particularly the often-contentious process of delineating the personal and private from the public and presidential. As such, she often deals with presidential staff and lawyers in order to properly archive non-classified information.

Interestingly, the advent of electronic records has added a new, complex dimension to presidential material. For George W. Bush’s administration alone, Ms. Smith and her staff will screen more than twenty million emails.  Despite the tremendous challenge of vast email compilation, the PMD, under the guidance of Director Smith, makes presidential material available faster than any other place in the world.

Before ending the discussion, Director Smith provided excellent advice to an audience of historians. She disseminated packets of information on various Presidential libraries around the United States and encouraged researchers to explore new collections and archives. 

Editor’s note: To add to Patrick’s interesting summary, there’s a lot of information about the Presidential Libraries on the National Archives website at, as well as links to the websites of the libraries themselves.  Most of the Presidential Libraries are engaged in digitisation projects to a greater or lesser extent, and their websites can be a good source of documents even without travelling to visit. The National Archives has also set up the Presidential Timeline website to provide a single point of access to digitised sources from the Presidential Libraries.

You can also follow the Presidential Libraries on Twitter and Tumblr – the Tumblr in particular is fascinating.

And for even more, if you’ll excuse the blatant plug, I visited two of the libraries myself last year as part of my Travelling Librarian trip – you might be interested therefore in my write-ups of my visits to the FDR Library and the JFK Library.

And finally, Nancy Smith also spoke later in the day about the role of the National Archives in presidential transitions. This talk has been written up on the RAI blog by both Skye Montgomery and Sebastian Page.

Introduction to the US Congressional Serial Set

At last, the long-promised introduction to the US Congressional Serial Set, one of our major resources.

What is the Serial Set?

The US Congressional Serial Set is the official collection of reports and documents of Congress. It began with the 15th Congress in 1817; older documents (from 1789-) can be found in the American State Papers. It is as important to get to grips what the Serial Set is not as what it is, as it is very specific as to which documents/reports are included and which are published separately.

The Serial Set contains the following named categories of documents:

  • House & Senate Reports
  • House & Senate Documents
  • House & Senate Journals (until the 82nd Congress in 1952)
  • Senate Executive Reports and Treaty Documents (from the 95th Congress in 1977 onwards). 

It does not include the text of debates (for which, see the Congressional Record), bills & resolutions, Committee Hearings or Prints, or other miscellaneous House or Senate documents.
House & Senate Reports are the official communications of the House & Senate Committees to the full House & Senate. They are mostly legislative reports, but also include special reports on various subjects. They are numbered as H.Rpt. or S.Rpt., so if you see a reference beginning with either of these terms you will definitely be able to find it in the Serial Set.

House & Senate Documents are less closely linked to legislation. Some examples of the type of publication that would be classed as a House or Senate Document are as follows:

  • Congress’s rules of operation
  • Memorials, ceremonial reports
  • Results of investigations (including occasionally transcripts of hearings)
  • Executive Department materials (annual reports, special reports)
  • Materials from outside the Federal Government which were of use to Congress

House & Senate Documents are numbered H.Doc. and S.Doc. One exception to be aware of is that from the 30th to the 53rd Congresses (1847-1895), Documents were further split into Miscellaneous Documents and Executive Documents, with the latter exclusively reserved for documents which came from the Executive Branch. Be careful not to mix these up with the entirely different Senate Executive Reports which are included in the Serial Set after 1977!

The House & Senate Journals are the daily record of business of each chamber. Unlike the Congressional Record they don’t record the debates verbatim, but you may find excerpts of speeches included on occasion. Like the Congressional Record, they also do not include the text of bills or resolutions.

Overall, the Serial Set is a vast collection of hundreds of thousands of documents, including thousands of maps and illustrations, covering every conceivable topic and both US and worldwide events – anything Congress had an interest in. Whatever you’re researching, you’re sure to find something of relevance in the Serial Set, but do be aware of the limitations of the set in terms of the types of documents included.

American State Papers

The American State Papers contain legislative and executive documents of Congress from 1789 to 1838. Documents within the American State Papers are arranged into ten topical classes, as follows:

I. Foreign relations
II. Indian affairs
III. Finances
IV. Commerce and navigation
V. Military affairs
VI. Naval affairs
VII. Post Office Department
VIII. Public lands
IX. Claims
X. Miscellaneous

How to access the Serial Set

We have access to the electronic version of the Serial Set from Readex for 1817-1994, which is available via SOLO/OxLIP+.  The easiest way to find it is to search for ‘Congressional Serial Set’ – the database you want is entitled US Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994 [in progress] (with American State Papers, 1789-1838).  There is also the American State Papers (with US Congressional Serial Set) and US Congressional Serial Set Maps, which allow you to search those specifically, but if you’re after access to the main thing, the option highlighted below is the one you want.

If you want to find documents in the Serial Set post-1994, they are freely available (and full-text searchable) via the GPO’s Federal Digital System site – links as follows:

The VHL also has an extensive run of Serial Set volumes from the 19th century (up to approximately 1880) in print down in the stack, as well as the printed volumes of the American State Papers. 

Searching the Readex Serial Set

The Readex interface offers several different ways to search or browse the Serial Set. I will concentrate here on the search and browse options available for the main Serial Set, but if you are searching the American State Papers via the Readex interface you will find it works in basically the same way.

The easiest way by far is if you know the exact document you are looking for, as you can then enter the reference in the publication search and it will take you straight to it.  However, in most cases you won’t necessarily know this, and will be wanting to carry out more speculative keyword searches.

When you click through from SOLO or OxLIP+, you will be taken straight to the advanced search screen. Here you can enter your search terms either in the top two boxes (which search the citations), and/or the third box down, which is the full-text search box. You can specify the Serial Set volume if you know it, and add a date range in the last box.  This latter is particularly useful as the Serial Set covers such a long time period.

(Note the links to the publication search and also the bill number search at the bottom)
As the Serial Set is such a large database, you may well find that you get back a lot of results, and it can be difficult to work out what terms to put in in the first place to bring back a manageable number. One really good feature of this database though is the ways in which it allows you to filter after you have carried out an intitial search. Once you have a set of results in the lower part of the page, you will still have your search boxes available at the top, but now you have the option to carry out further searches within your results set only:

This allows you to be quite speculative and broad in your initial search terms, and then throw more terms in in subsequent searches (and the full text is particularly helpful at this point I find) in order to reduce your results set to something more manageable and focused.

One thing to be aware of is the ‘also consider these topics’ feature, which you will see on the right-hand side of your results list. This lists various associated subject/person/geographic etc terms which you can click on, but if you do click on one of these it will not narrow your search, but rather broaden it to show you all documents that are linked to that term. If you find you’ve carried out too narrow a search, or what you’ve come back with is not actually useful to you, this can be a good way to broaden things out again, but don’t click on these terms expecting it to filter your existing results!

As well as search options, there is a whole variety of ways to browse the Serial Set. At the bottom of the main search screen you will see a set of tabs, which allow you to browse by a huge number of categories.  Within each tab there are subcategories, so that you can drill down to find the term you want and then the documents that are associated with that subject/person/organisation/committee etc. I find that sometimes these can be very useful, but for other things they are just too broad.  If you are wanting to find a specific person, or documents relating to a specific Act of Congress though, then this can be easier than conducting a keyword search. And as with searches, once you have selected a category you will find that you then have the option to conduct a search just within that category, which can again be a very useful way to start off broadly and narrow down.

Finally, it is also possible to search the Serial Set for documents relating to specific bills and resolutions if you know the bill number. To do this, select the bill number search from the options below the search boxes.
Working with documents
Once you have found the document you are after, there are several things that you can do. The documents are all scanned page images which you can zoom into and move around on the page (particularly useful for maps). You can download pages either individually or in bulk, as JPGs (single pages only) or PDFs.  Each document has a full citation, which you can view, download or print, and you can save documents to a temporary collection and then email yourself the links and references to come back to later.  There is also a full-text search box at the top of the document view page which allows you to search within that document for specific terms, which is particularly useful for lengthy reports. 
Other ways to access the Serial Set
As well as searching the Readex database, we do have a set of printed indexes to the Serial Set, which cover 1817-1969 (as well as the American State Papers from 1789-).  They are available in the reference section on the ground floor, and if you use these they will give you the exact publication reference which you can then use in the publication search in the electronic version. Another useful reference is an online guide to the Serial Set which allows you to browse by agency to find publication and volume numbers.
With thanks to August Imholtz for providing me with some of the descriptions used above.

Declassified Documents: DDRS and DNSA

In the week that the full Pentagon Papers were released online, and following the announcement of a new collection added to the Digital National Security Archive, a post on finding and accessing declassified documents seemed appropriate!

Oxford has access to two online databases of declassified documents, the aforementioned Digital National Security Archive and also the Declassified Documents Reference System, both available via OxLIP+.  These two databases are complementary in that they both aim to do the same thing but have a slightly different approach. 

The Declassified Documents Reference System (DDRS) provides access to over 500,000 pages of declassified government documents. The bulk of the documents (as advertised) cover 1945 to the 1970s, however I have found documents there from as early as 1910 and as late as 1992.  They originate from many government departments and organisations: the CIA, FBI, State, Justice and Defense Departments, National Security Council and the White House among others. It includes all kinds of different materials – memos, cables, correspondence, studies and reports, and covers nearly every major domestic and international event during the period.

The Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) also provides access to over 500,000 pages of declassified documents, starting in 1945 and going right up to almost the present day for certain topics.  The main way in which this resource differs from DDRS is that it is organised thematically, with documents arranged into collections on specific areas or events such as Afghanistan, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, or US military uses of space.  New collections are added relatively frequently, so even if your area of interest is not currently covered it is worth checking back periodically.   As with DDRS, DNSA includes a diverse range of document types and sources.

How to use the database: DDRS

 When you click through to DDRS from OxLIP+, you are brought to the basic search screen, which allows you to do keyword or full-text searches of the entire database. With so many documents to search, however, it can be difficult to enter search terms that are going to bring you back a useful (and not overwhelming) set of results.  I’d generally advise therefore going straight to the advanced search option, which gives you a lot of ways to narrow your search. 

At the top of the page you have the usual options to enter several search terms. Note that the default is to search keyword/subject, ie, the citation and not the full-text.  If you want to do a full-text search, you need to select full-text from the drop down menu.

Below the search boxes there are a whole lot of different ways to limit your search and ensure that you get really relevant results. The most useful one is the issue date, which means the date of the actual document itself and allows you to restrict your search to specific time periods.  Don’t confuse this with the ‘date declassified’, which will in most cases be much later.  Another useful limiter is the source institution, which allows you only to search for documents issuing from a particular agency if, for example, you’re interested in just the activity of the CIA or the White House etc. You can also restrict your search by document type, sanitization, completeness or number of pages.

The documents themselves can be viewed either as page images or as transcribed text. Page images is the default; to view the text, click on ‘view text’ next to the page navigation at the top.  What you can do with the document depends on which view you are in.  If you are viewing the page image, then you can download/print the entire document as a PDF.  If you are viewing the text, then you can print or email the text of the page you are viewing (but only that one page at a time).  DDRS also offers a fairly basic ‘mark records’ function, where you can create a list of specific records from your various searches as you go along to come back to. However, this is session-bound, so you can’t come back to it after exiting the database, and there is also no save/export function other than printing out the screen from your browser!  Within your session, it is also possible to view your search history and get back to earlier sets of results.

How to use the database: DNSA

As described above, documents within the DNSA are arranged into thematic collections, which can be accessed individually or in conjunction with one another.  Each collection also has a guide available, which provides lots of information about what it includes and any limitations, and are well worth taking a look at before you dive in to your research.

Depending on what you are looking for, there are several different ways to search the DNSA database.

Searching documents: Note that unlike DDRS, it is not possible to search the full-text of documents themselves. 

  • Quick search: From the box in the top left-hand corner. This performs a basic keyword search across all collections and is therefore likely to bring back a large number of hits.
  • Document search: This is the most useful search option for finding material. It offers advanced search options (keyword, name, date, document type) and the ability to select which collections you want to search – scroll down to find the tick boxes at the bottom of the page. You can therefore search only one, or a selected few, or the entire database as you choose and is the real way in which the thematic approach is beneficial as you’re only searching relevant documents from the off.

Background searches: These do not search the documents themselves, but provide background information and context to the documents.

  • Bibliography search: This searches the bibliography of materials used by the researchers at the National Security Archive when compiling the collections. It can therefore be useful as a background bibliography of the subject area, and will point you on to relevant books and articles, but is not designed to be comprehensive. 
  • Chronology search: This gives you a useful summary of key events pertaining to your search.
  • Glossary search: Allows you to search for basic descriptive information about significant individuals, terms and acronyms.

Documents can be viewed as page images or downloaded as PDFs, as with DDRS. However, DNSA also allows you to export citations both as plain text and directly into RefWorks and EndNote as well as print and email.  Another excellent feature is the cross-referencing, which allows you to click through to find further documents for people, organisations and subjects listed in any record.  As well as tracking your search history allowing you to mark records to come back to within a session, DNSA offers a ‘my archive’ feature where you can sign up for an account and save records and documents to come back to another time.

April 15, 1912: Sinking of the Titanic

A quick post this one, to point you in the direction of an interesting document we have available in the US Congressional Serial Set.  If you came to the talk on the Serial Set by August Imholtz from Readex in January you’ll have seen this before, and we’ve had it out on display a couple of times, so it may already be familiar. It is however an example of the way that the Serial Set contains documents and primary sources for a huge range of historical events.

Following the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, the US Senate’s Committee on Commerce held a series of hearings into the disaster. The Committee was directed by S.Res 283 ‘to investigate the causes leading to the wreck’, and a large number of people testified, including eye-witness accounts of the disaster itself.  One of these accounts, from a Mrs Emily Ryerson, a passenger on the boat, was used as a source for the 1997 film.  The full hearings document runs to 1170 pages, and you can also access the (much briefer!) final report, submitted to Congress on May 28. 

Link to the full hearings [Oxford users only] Mrs Ryerson’s testimony is on pages 1107 and 1108.
Link to the full report [Oxford users only]

I’ll be writing a fuller post on the Serial Set, what it contains and how to use it, in due course!  If you’re curious in the meantime though, there is a slideshow presentation embedded on our online US Government Publications Guide (click on the ‘Legislative/Congressional’ tab and then scroll down the page).

December 7, 1941: Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor

One thing I thought might be fun to do on occasion on this blog is to showcase some individual documents from our various resources that tie in with events and days in history.  Yesterday was the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and today is the anniversary of the USA’s declaration of war on Japan and entry into World War II (mutual declarations of war with Germany and Italy followed a few days later).  I’ve had a look through some of our e-resources to see what I could find relating to the Pearl Harbor attack, as follows:

Newspapers and contemporary reports
We have electronic access to the archives of both the New York Times and the Washington Post. You can search them individually or both at once, if you select them both on the first screen you come to after clicking through from OxLIP+.   Searching both for December 8, 1941 brings up a large number of articles and editorials, and you can also get to images of the front pages of both papers from that day.

Link to full page image (Oxford users only)

Link to full page image (Oxford users only)

The official response
The US Congressional Serial Set is our major e-resource for US government publications. I’ll write in more detail about it in forthcoming blog posts, but it contains all the reports and documents submitted to Congress from 1817-1994.  A search for ‘Pearl Harbor’ and ‘1941’ brings up both the House and Senate Documents from the Joint Session where President Roosevelt addressed Congress and requested that they declare war:

Serial Set Vol. No. 10599, Session Vol. No.22
77th Congress, 1st Session
H.Doc. 453

State of war between the United States and the Japanese empire. Address from the President of the United States before a joint session of the two houses of Congress requesting that Congress declare that there exists a state of war between the United States and the Japanese empire. December 8, 1941. 

Link to access the full document from the Congressional Serial Set (Oxford users only)

The President’s address can also be found in the Congressional Record, along with the resolution to declare war and the record of the proceedings in the Joint Session. We don’t have the Congressional Record as an electronic resource, but the print volumes are all held in the library – the volume that includes the proceedings on December 8th is v.87, pt.24.  The Senate record also includes various newspaper editorials in response to the attack that were entered into the record at the request of Senator Bridges.  This is the kind of material that is sometimes additionally found in the Congressional Record that you might not otherwise expect or be able to get hold of here in Oxford, as we don’t have holdings of many US newspapers for the 20th century.
Another Pearl Harbor-related document that you can find in the Serial Set is the report of the commission appointed by the President to investigate the attack, which was submitted to the Senate in January 1942.

Serial Set Vol. No. 10676, Session Vol. No.8
77th Congress, 2nd Session
S.Doc. 159

Attack upon Pearl Harbor by Japanese armed forces. Report of the commission appointed by the President of the United States to investigate and report the facts relating to the attack made by Japanese armed forces upon Pearl Harbor in the Territory of Hawaii on December 7, 1941.

Link to access the full document from the Congressional Serial Set (Oxford users only)

On the web: Eyewitness accounts and more
As ever, there is a huge amount of material available on the internet, including eyewitness accounts, oral histories, documents and images of all sorts.  Here’s just a sample of things available on the web related to the Pearl Harbor attack:

  • World War II diaries ( is a subscription website, but regularly makes parts of its collections free for a month at a time.  For December, they have opened up their World War II diaries collection.  Most of the content starts in 1942, but it does include this eyewitness account of the 1941 attack.
  • Hawaii War Records Depository Photos: a wealth of digitised photographs documenting the impact of World War II in Hawaii, which were deposited at the Hawaii War Records Depository at the University of Hawaii.  The collection includes 86 images related to the Pearl Harbor attack.
  • Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives (University of California): Not about the attack per se, but this online archive contains a huge number of images (photographs, paintings and drawings) and some documents relating to the internment of Japanese Americans following the attack.
  • Various oral histories can also be found on YouTube, and even some old film footage, such as the video embedded below.

For more links to freely available web resources, take a look at the VHL’s delicious page.