My husband showed me a marvelous website today, both for teachers and for writers--the updated Library of Congress website. The benefits of this site are the following:
1) Large amounts of the LOC's collections are now digitized. That means, without actually visiting its site in DC, you can view rare materials like maps created by George Washington, newpapers from the time of the Civil War, and political cartoons from the Great Depression.
2) The award-winning interactive site offers the opportunity to virtually "visit" the current exhibitions at the LOC, play "Knowledge Quest," and make your own personal collection of favorite items.
As writers, we can benefit enormously from this resource. Setting a story in the past? We can find letters, diaries and journals of historical figures and be able to quote them in our work. Wondering what should be in the bedroom or office of your main character? You can see the books they read, find out from their diaries what their favorite foods were, places they visited, who they knew, see photos (from 1860s on) of how people dressed in those days, or paintings or woodcuts of where they lived. Need the characters to sound real? You can find out how people felt about historical events while they were still happening through personal correspondence, letters to the editor of newspapers, and political cartoons.