Economic History of the United States Research Guide

Reverse $1 Colonial currency from the Province of Maryland. Signed by John Clapham and Robert Couden. National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.

This page highlights key resources for conducting effective research on the Economic History of the United States.

If you need assistance identifying additional resources, search terms or strategies, please schedule a research consultation.

 If you need assistance organizing, analyzing, or visualizing data sets, please visit the Empirical Research Center (ERC)

Personal Librarian 
Jennie Correia
Social Sciences Librarian
103 LeFrak Center, Barnard Hall

Background Information 
Primary Sources on U.S. History Topics
Primary Sources - U.S.  Government Documents
Primary Sources - Historical Newspapers & Magazines
Primary Sources - Historical Quantitative Data
Secondary Sources - Books  
Secondary Sources - Scholarly Journal Articles
Writing and Citing

Finding Background Information

Consult scholarly reference tools to get an overview of a topic, an introduction to a theory, definitions to discipline-specific terms, and more. Most encyclopedia entries also include helpful listings of suggested readings. 

Finding Primary Sources on U.S. History Topics

Searching the Library Catalog for Primary Sources

CLIOOnline catalog of the Columbia University Libraries, including Barnard Library, but excluding Teachers College and some information from the Law Library. Use the Catalog search to find primary sources (qualitative or quantitative) by adding one of the following potentially helpful keywords to your search, or look for them in your search results:

annual reports
catalogs (trade)
financial documents and records
government documents
sources - this can be a particularly helpful!
tax returns

You can also try to search for documents created by a company, association, etc. by searching for the organization in the Author field. 

Primary Source Databases & Search Engines

  • Ancestry Library is a searchable database that includes digitized images of the United States Federal Census from 1790 forward, as well as records of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and military service.  It also includes court, land, and probate records; prison records; voter lists; obituaries; passenger lists and other immigration data; U.S. telephone directories; United Kingdom and United States Directories (1680-1830); as well as digitized yearbooks, photos, maps, and more. 

  • ArchiveGridIncludes over four million records describing archival materials, bringing together information about historical documents, personal papers, family histories, and more from over 1,000 different archival institutions. Search all collections by keyword, or find archives by location (scroll down the list on the home page and locate archives by state).

  • Everyday Life & Women in America: This digital collection provides access to rare primary source material on American social, cultural, and popular history from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History, Duke University and The New York Public Library. It comprises thousands of fully searchable images (alongside transcriptions) of monographs, pamphlets, periodicals and broadsides addressing 19th and early 20th century political, social and gender issues, religion, race, education, employment, marriage, sexuality, home and family life, health, and pastimes, emphasizing conduct of life and domestic management literature, the daily lives of women and men, and contrasts in regional, urban and rural cultures.

  • Hathi Trust: Digital preservation repository and access platform for many of the United States' great research libraries, bringing together the immense collections of partner institutions. Individual items cataloged in Hathi Trust will also show up in CLIO search results.

  • Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises 1800-1926: A fully searchable database of more than 21,000 Anglo-American legal works including casebooks, local practice manuals, form books, works for lay readers, pamphlets, letters, speeches and more. 

  • National Archives Catalog: Provides access to over 2 million electronic records currently in the Electronic Records Archives (ERA), which are not available elsewhere online.

  • ProQuest Historical Annual Reports: Corporate annual reports for selected U.S. companies from 1884 to the present. Key data (financial, Fortune 500 ranking, industry classification, key people, geographic location, auditor, and related companies) are indexed in the citation and can be searched. Reports can be browsed by company name, industry or date.

  • ProQuest History Vault: Southern Life and Slavery: Digitized archival records (including letters, financial records, diaries, legal records, photographs, and more). Collections relevant to this course include Slavery and the Law and Southern Life and African American History, 1775-1915, Plantations Records.

  • Sabin Americana, 1500-1926Contains works about the Americas published throughout the world from 1500 to the early 1900's. Included are books, pamphlets, serials and other documents that provide original accounts of exploration, trade, colonialism, slavery and abolition, the western movement, Native Americans, military actions and much more. Includes over 6 million pages from 29,000 works.

  • Twenty Years in the Life of New Yorkers, 1900-1920If you are researching the first "great migration," you can find primary data on a sample of New Yorkers from 1900 to 1920 on this website maintained by Prof. John Logan from the Brown University sociology department. The sample includes native-born white and black residents and first- and second-generation immigrants and for many shows the neighborhood location of their residence.

Other Barnard research guides

Materials beyond Barnard/Columbia Libraries

Finding Primary Sources - U.S.  Government Documents

  • 1870 Atlas: Seee Donald Dahmann's commentary at the Library of Congress' American Memory website. 

  • A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: From the Library of Congress. Includes the records and acts of Congress from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention through the 43rd Congress (1774-1875), including the first three volumes of the Congressional Record, 1873-75.

  • ProQuest Congressional: Information produced by or pertaining to the United States Congress from 1789 to the present. You can find the full text for many titles, generally from the early 1990's to the present. The database includes bills, laws, legislative histories, committee prints, House and Senate documents and reports, the Congressional Record, Code of Federal Regulations, and Federal Register. It also includes the full text of Congressional Research Service reports, 1916-present; full text of Congressional hearings, 1824-present; full text of Committee Prints, 1830-2003; and full text of the Serial Set Collection with Maps, 1789-1969.

  • St. Louis Fed Resources: The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (St. Louis Fed) research division offers a wealth of historical economic data and information for economic researchers. See below for more quantitative data sources from St. Louis Fed. Here are some potentially helpful documents on the site:

    • Compilation of Basic Banking Laws. Revised through May 1, 1995: This compilation was created for the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services to bring together in one publication the major statues affecting insured depository institutions and their customers.

    • History of the Legal Tender Paper Money Issued During the Great Rebellion, Being a Loan Without Interest and a National Currency: E. G. Spaulding, Chairman of the Subcommittee of the Ways and Means at the time of the 1862 Legal Tender Act, compiled this history of paper legal tender. At the time of the Act, the United States had no national currency and no means to support the Union effort in the Civil War. The Act was passed to authorize the creation of paper money not backed by gold or silver, legal tender for "payment of all taxes, internal duties, excises, debts, and demands of every kind due to the United States." The Act laid the foundation for the creation of a permanent currency in the decades after the Civil War. 

    • Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market: This work, originally published in 1873,was one of the first to practically address the management of financial crises and the role of an expanded "central bank" in England. The author, Walter Bagehot, worked in the shipping and banking industries, co-founded the "National Review", and became editor-in-chief of The Economist.

  • U.S. Government Documents Division at Columbia University Library: Includes subject guides providing access to federal, state, and local documents as well as guidance for finding U.S. government documents at Lehman Library.

Finding Primary Sources - Historical Newspapers & Magazines

  • America's Historical Newspapers, 1690-1922: Search thousands of U.S. historical newspapers published between 1690 and 1922, including titles from all 50 states.

  • 19th Century U.S. Newspapers: Search and view digital page images of numerous newspapers from a range of urban and rural regions throughout the U.S., covering the entire 19th century. 

  • American Periodicals Series Online: Provides searchable full text and page images for more than 1,100 American magazines and journals that originated between 1740 and 1940, including special interest and general magazines, literary and professional journals, children's and women's magazines and many other historically-significant periodicals.

  • Periodicals Archive Online: Hundreds of digitized American, British, and European journals published in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and areas of general popular interest.

  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Full-text and full-image articles, dating back to their first issues for American newspapers including the New York Times (1851-2012), the Wall Street Journal (1889-1998), the Washington Post (1877-1999), the Atlanta Constitution (1868-1945), the Boston Globe (1872-1984), the Chicago Tribune (1890-1992), and the Los Angeles Times (1881-1992). The link will take you to an advanced search page for all the newspapers in the database. If you'd like to restrict your search to one paper in particular, click on the "Publications" link at the top left of the page to find your preferred source(s). You will then be on a page that allows you to "Search within this publication." 

  • Women's Magazine Archive: A searchable archive of leading U.S. women's interest magazines, dating from the 19th century through to the 21st. Subject coverage includes consumer culture, economics/marketing, family life, fashion, gender studies, health and fitness, home/interior design, popular culture, and social history. The magazines are all scanned from cover to cover in high-resolution color and include non-article items, such as advertisements. Detailed article-level indexing, with document feature flags, enables searching and navigation.

Finding Primary Sources - Historical Quantitative Data

  • Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States: This is a digital edition of Charles O. Paullin and John K. Wright's Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, first published in 1932.  The site reproduces all of the atlas's nearly 700 maps, many of them animated to show changes over time or made clickable to view the underlying data.

  • Eh.Net databases recommendations: ​This site lists a number of possible data sets which may be relevant to this course.

  • Historical Labor Statistics Project: Provides machine-readable format detailed data on American labor markets selected from over 150 separate investigations undertaken between 1874 and 1920 by the Bureaus of Labor Statistics established by the governments of 29 states. To date the project has collected, coded, documented, and distributed 36 data sets. Thirty-five of the data sets are cross-sectional surveys of workers with information on working conditions, living standards, family demography, and household economy. One data set contains two cross-sectional surveys of firms.

  • Historical Statistics of the United States: A compendium of quantitative data series covering areas ranging from the demographic trends and characteristics (in volume A) to government revenues and outlays by level and international trade and finance (in volume E).

  • A portal for historical statistics, macro and micro, of a number of countries including the U.S.

  • NBER Macrohistory Database: The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) assembled an extensive data set that covers all aspects of the pre-WWI and interwar economies, including production, construction, employment, money, prices, asset market transactions, foreign trade, and government activity. Many series are highly disaggregated, and many exist at the monthly or quarterly frequency. The data set has some coverage of the United Kingdom, France and Germany, although it predominantly covers the United States.

  • Statistical Abstracts of the United States, 1878-2012The Statistical Abstracts contain lots of demographic, economic, financial (private and public), and related data. These large volumes can be downloaded as zip files, which contain a number of pdf files. To see which pdf file contains the information that you're looking for, first consult the table of contents posted as a separate pdf file.

  • St. Louis Fed Resources: The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (St. Louis Fed) research division offers a wealth of historical economic data and information for economic researchers.

    • Databases on the site:

      • FRED compiles macro data from a variety of government and other sources. FRED is a database of over 383,000 economic time series from 82 sources. You can download data in Microsoft Excel and text formats and view charts of data series. 

      • FRASER is a collection of scanned historical documents. Some historical statistics that are not available in FRED may be found in FRASER.

      • GeoFRED alows you to create, customize, and share geographical maps of data found in FRED®.

      • ALFRED (Archival Fred) allows you to retrieve vintage versions of economic data that were available on specific dates in history. In general, economic data for past observation periods are revised as more accurate estimates become available. As a result, previous vintages of data can be superseded and may no longer be available from various data sources. Vintage or real time economic data allows academics to reproduce others' research, build more accurate forecasting models, and analyze economic policy decisions using the data available at the time.

    • Potentially helpful documents on the site:

      • All Bank Statistics 1896 - 1955: The publication is a useful statistical history of banking developments in the United States and provides a reliable basis for relating banking and monetary forces to changing levels of economic activity. Included are annual balance sheet items, particularly on a standard basis (segregation of loans into real estate, collateral, and other loans), as well as data on hundreds of unincorporated (private) banks. Data is provided for both States and for major bank categories.

      • Annual Report of the Comptroller of the Currency: The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is a bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury. Annually since the late 1860s, the OCC has reported to Congress and the public the status of the national banks chartered, regulated, and supervised.

      • Business Booms and Depressions since 1775 [Chart]: A chart of the past trend of price inflation, federal debt, business, national income, stocks and bond yields for the United States from 1775 to 1943.

      • Federal Banking Laws and Reports: This is a compilation of major Federal banking documents from the period 1780 to 1912. It includes founding documents for the Bank of North America (1781), ordinances for the First and Second Bank of the United States (1791, 1816) as well as reports and proceedings. It was published for the 50th anniversary of the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency in 1963.

      • Rand McNally Bankers Directory: Bankers' Directories contain banking information on banks in the towns and counties of the United States at the turn of the 21st century. The names of bank directors, officers, and their capital and deposits are included, as well as lists of lawyers and current banking laws. They include colored maps of the states and some major cities.

  • U.S. Census Bureau data, including the Decennial Census and the American Community Survey (ACS) can be accessed in various places:

  • Warren Weber's Data ArchiveOn Weber's page, you can download an Excel spreadsheet containing balance sheets of national banks (by state and reserve city) on the call dates each year for the period 1880 to 1910. With these data for example you could analyze the position of New York City or New York country banks before, during, and after a panic period.

Finding Secondary Sources - Books 

CLIO is the online catalog of the Columbia University Libraries, including Barnard Library, but excluding Teachers College and some information from the Law Library. 

Catalog search tips:

  • If you know exactly what book (journal, video, etc.) you are looking for, you can search by Title, Author, ISBN, etc.

  • To find items about a specific topic, first try a keyword search in All Fields.

  • Use "quotation marks" to search for an exact phrase: "economic growth".

  • Use * for truncation (to find variant spellings and endings of a word): wom*n will find woman, women, womyn

  • For more complex search, use AND and OR (note that AND and OR must be in ALL CAPS for this to work correctly):

    • AND finds records which have ALL the search terms you entered.

    • OR finds records which have one of the search terms you entered, as well as records which have more than one of the terms. OR finds MORE.

    • For more help with using AND and OR, check our guide to advanced/Boolean keyword searching.

  • Use parentheses ( ) to group terms:  slave* AND (narratives OR "oral histories")

Find books and other materials in other libraries:

  • Pegasus: This is the catalog of the Columbia Law Library - you can search here directly. You can find law library materials in CLIO, but you need to click on the link to Pegasus to see if the book is available for you to check out.
  • WorldCat: Search for items in libraries worldwide.

  • Request items from other libraries through Borrow Direct or interlibrary loan (ILL).

Finding Secondary Sources - Scholarly Journal Articles 

  • America: History and Life with full text: Index of literature covers the history and culture of the United States and Canada, from prehistory to the present. The database indexes journals from 1964 to present and includes citations and links to book and media reviews.

  • EconLit with Full Text: Provides access to economic research dating back to 1969. Contains journal articles, books, collective volume articles, dissertations, working papers, and full text book reviews from the Journal of Economic Literature.

  • GenderWatch: Provides abstracts and the full text of journal articles covering the topics of women's history, feminism, women’s studies, gender studies, and LGBTQ studies.

  • Google Scholar: Very useful for seeing if a book, article, etc. has been cited by other scholars. Search on the title, and then follow the "Cited by ..." link.

  • Historical Abstracts with full textProvides access to the scholarly literature  on the history of the world (excluding the United States and Canada) from 1450 to the present, including world history, military history, women's history, and the history of education. It provides selective indexing of historical articles from more than 1,800 journals in over 40 languages back to 1955 as well as the full text of more than 300 journals and over 130 books.

  • JSTOR: Provides the full text of back issues from core scholarly journals in anthropology and other fields in the humanities and social sciences from the earliest issues to within a few years of current publication. Please note that, generally, this database does not include issues published in the last few years. You can search just the economics journals in JSTOR by using the Advanced Search "NARROW BY DISCIPLINE AND/OR JOURNAL" feature.

  • Social Sciences Citation Index: Multidisciplinary database with searchable author abstracts, covering the journal literature of the social sciences. It links publications based on citations allowing you to search the "web" of communication surrounding a topic. You also can search Science Citation Index and Arts & Humanities Index simultaneously with the Social Science Citation Index - click on "MORE SETTINGS" to select the databases you want to search.
  • Worldwide Political Science Abstracts: Database is devoted to scholarly literature on North American and international politics.

Writing and Citing

Last updated September 25, 2017