Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the category “General History”

Images from the History of Medicine (National Library of Medicine)

Images from the History of Medicine – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/ihm/

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What did quarantine signs look like in the 20th Century?
  • Where can I find examples of AIDS posters?
  • How did the US Armed forces encourage soldiers to use their mosquito nets during World War II?
  • Where can I find health posters in Chinese?


From the website:

Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) provides access to over 70,000 images in the collections of the History of Medicine Division (HMD) of the U.S National Library of Medicine (NLM).

The collection includes portraits, photographs, caricatures, genre scenes, posters, and graphic art illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine dated from the 15th to 21st century.

The records from the Images from the History of Medicine database are also searchable in LocatorPlus.

This database assists users in finding and viewing visual material for private study, scholarship, and research. This site contains some materials that may be protected by United States or foreign copyright laws. It is the users’ responsibility to determine compliance with the law when reproducing, transmitting, or distributing images found in IHM. Please note that some content in this database may contain material that some viewers may find to be challenging, disturbing or offensive. Viewer discretion is advised.

Strangely, it does not appear to be possible to do a straightforward date search in this resource. Using the faceted browsing on the left hand of the screen may help in your search. This database can be browsed as a single collection, by category, subject or geography. It may also be searched by the following fields:

  • Appears In
  • Call Number
  • Cited in
  • Contributor
  • Contributor (Conference)
  • Contributor (Organization)
  • Copyright Statement
  • Creator
  • Creator (Conference)
  • Creator (Organization)
  • Language
  • Manufacturer Information
  • Physical Description
  • Publication Country
  • Publication Information
  • Publisher Information
  • Series
  • Series Statement
  • Series Title
  • Subject (Conference)
  • Subject (Genre)
  • Subject (Geographic Name)
  • Subject (Keyword)
  • Subject (MeSH Term)
  • Subject (Organization)
  • Subject (Person)
  • Subject (Title)
  • Title
  • Title (Alternative)
  • URL

There is a very small subset of images from this library in Flickr Commons.


Historic medical instruments (NIH History Office)

Historic medical instruments (NIH History Office) – http://history.nih.gov/museum/virtual_instruments.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What would you use a micrometric gasometer for?
  • What does a refractometer look like?
  • What could a planimeter be used for in medicine?


From the website, “The following exhibit features a cross section of precision instruments from the Intramural (in-house) Research Program at the National Institutes of Health, used between 1945 and 1965.”

If you have a medical story set in the mid 20th century and can’t tell a tensiometer from a colorimeter, this site could be for you.

A Finding Aid to National Archives Records Relating to the Cold War

A Finding Aid to National Archives Records Relating to the Cold War – http://www.archives.gov/publications/ref-info-papers/107/

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How was the Soviet bloc portrayed during the 1950s, 60s and 70s?
  • How did the National Security Council react to Cold war events?
  • How did people dress in Cold War times?


The Cold War and scenarios inspired by it continue to become books and movies. This is a guide to primary resources from the American side of that conflict. The guide is broken down into the following areas:

  • Records in Presidential Libraries
  • Comprehensive Subject Matter Records
  • Records of the Military
  • Intelligence Records
  • Foreign Policy Records
  • Records of Congress
  • Appendix I: List of Record Groups (RG) Cited in Reference Information Paper 107
  • Appendix II: Sources of Additional Information About Records or Finding Aids Described in Reference Information Paper 107

The records include text, photographs and moving images. For the most part, accessing these records will require a trip to one of the offices of the National Archives. See http://www.archives.gov/locations/ for a list of locations.

Search Tips:

Some material is available online. To find it, go to the National Archives “Online Public Access” search at http://www.archives.gov/research/search/ and click on “advanced search.” Uncheck all boxes except “Archival Descriptions with Digital Objects.” Then type in words related to your search. For example, “universal newsreel” or “movietone” will pull up newsreel footage. It may be a full newsreel or a 1-2 minute sample with an opportunity to purchase a DVD. A search on usia attitude surveys should produce a number of “daily telegraph files”

U. S. Strategic Bombing Survey: The Effects of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, June 19, 1946.

U. S. Strategic Bombing Survey: The Effects of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, June 19, 1946. President’s Secretary’s File, Truman Papers – http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/bomb/large/documents/index.php?documentdate=1946-06-19&documentid=65&studycollectionid=abomb&pagenumber=1

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What are the effects of a nuclear attack?
  • What is a flash burn like?
  • How would an average US city be affected by a nuclear blast?


The purpose of the this 51 page report was to document the effects of atomic attack. The general outline of the report was:

  • Introduction
  • Effects of the Atomic Bombings
  • The attacks and damage
  • General Effects
  • Casualties (flash burns, other injuries and radiation disease)
  • How the Atomic Bomb Works
  • Signposts
  • The Danger
  • What We Can Do About It

Page 42 of this report has a table comparing the effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs with the Tokyo firebombing on 3/9/1945 and against an average derived from 93 attacks on Japanese urban targets.
Section IV of this report, which begins on page 44 and concludes the survey speculates on possible nuclear damage to US cities and what defenses might exist to atomic attack.

Aside from documenting the effects of a nuclear attack on buildings and people, this document is useful in showing American attitudes of the time.

Ansel Adams’s Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar

“Suffering Under a Great Injustice”: Ansel Adams’s Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What were the Japanese-American internment camps like?
  • What were some fashions from the 1940s?
  • What were the official reasons for the Japanese-American?


In one of the worst incidents of racial profiling in American history, World War II saw tens of thousands of American citizens stripped of their property and sent to relocation camps simply because they were of Japanese descent. The one place where this did not happen was Hawaii. No acts of sabotage were ever traced to Japanese-Americans in Hawaii or anywhere else.

This is a collection of a couple of hundred photographs which may be browsed by subject or searched by keyword. There are a number of people featured in these photographs, making it useful as a resource for fashions in the 1940s.

Worth reviewing on this website is the supplemental item “Born Free and Equal”, a digitized copy of a book of selected photographs from Adams’ work that was published in 1944. It is notable for the anti-racist forward acknowledging Japanese-American suffering from Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. He quotes President Roosevelt as saying “Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.” This is the same President and Interior secretary that oversaw the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans. Also, although the forward was published in 1944, the Manazar camp wasn’t closed until November 1945, according to its Wikipedia article.

Records of the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany

Records of the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany – http://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/466.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How much did occupying Germany cost the United States?
  • How is an occupation organized?
  • Where can I learn more about German war criminals?


This is a finding aid to some of the materials generated by the Allied occupation of Germany. The finding aid lists groups of records. Some of the more notable groups are:

  • 466.1 Administrative History
  • 466.2.4 Records of the Office of Economic Affairs
  • 466.2.5 Records of the Office of Political Affairs
  • 466.3 Records of the Land Commissioners 1945-52
  • 466.5 Records of the U.S. Element of the Military Security Board 1947-55
  • 466.6 Records of the U.S. Element of the Extradition Board 1945-55
  • 466.7 Records of U.S. Courts of the Allied High Commission for Germany 1944-55
  • 466.9 Records of the Combined Travel Board of the Allied High Commission for Germany 1945-54

The extradition board had jurisdiction over war criminals and worked with various governments to secure their return to Germany.

As far as I can determine, very few of these records have been digitized. You’ll need to visit the National Archives to see the vast majority of records. If you’re within driving distance of Maryland and are interested in the day to day details of an occupied country, this series would probably help you.

Records of Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II

Records of Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II – http://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/331.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How might an occupier change the educational system of an occupied country?
  • Where can I find records of Japanese war crimes trials?
  • Where can I find information on POWs held by Japan?


This set of records relates to the Pacific and European theaters and include many postwar occupation records. It may be the best source of primary source records on the occupation of Japan. Some of the relevant series include:

  • 331.37.6 Records of other general and special staff sections – This group includes dockets of war criminals.
  • 331.38 Records of the SCAP Diplomatic Section 1945-52 – This group includes correspondence accusing the Soviet Union of obstructive actions in postwar Japan.
  • 331.39.1 Records of the Office of the Chief – Includes items relating to war crimes trials, 1946-49, including court proceedings, affidavits and statements, and related records.
  • 331.39.2 Records of the Administrative Division – Includes records on Japanese POWs, POWs held by the Japanese, aerial photo of the route of the Bataan Death March, information on War crimes trials and instructions to the government of Japan.
  • 331.39.4 Records of the Legislation and Justice Division – Among other things, contains a compilation of Japanese laws from 1884-1947
  • 331.39.5 Records of the Prosecution Division – Contains case files and transcripts for war crimes trials, including war crimes committed in Korea, China and the Phillippine Islands.
  • 331.39.6 Records of the Investigation Division – Contains completed questionnaires from former prisoners of war of the Japanese.
  • 331.40 Records of the SCAP International Prosecution Section (IPS) 1907-48 (bulk 1945-48) – additional records of war crimes trials, including newspaper clippings, trial transcripts and at least one diary kept by a Japanese government minister. Also includes a Japanese newsreel showing interrogation of captured U.S. Pilots and photographs of Japanese soldiers and Alliewed POWs
  • 331.41.1 Records of the Headquarters Division – Contains records relating to public welfare, 1945-1951.
  • 331.42 Records of the SCAP Government Section 1945-52 – Contains instructions to the government of Japan as well as the Japanese civil service and records relating to religious, cultural, economic, and other organizations in Japan.
  • 331.45.3 Records of the Education Division – Records including teacher training materials and collections of approved and rejected textbooks.

These record groups could be very helpful in providing backgrounds for occupied countries or planets where the invaders have decided to alter just about all aspects of the invaded society. It will also be useful in studying how war crimes cases are established and tried. Unfortunately, it appears none of this material is available electronically, though some of it of it is available in Microfilm. See the “Plan your visit” page from the National Archives at http://www.archives.gov/research/start/plan-visit.html to see how you might go about accessing this material.

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