Primary Source Images: The Recent Past

Revolutionary technological change, unprecedented global flows of goods and people and capital, an amorphous and unending “War on Terror,” accelerating inequality, growing diversity, a changing climate, political stalemate: our world is remarkable, frustrating, and dynamic. But it is not an island of circumstance–it is a product of history. The last several decades of American history have culminated in the present, an era of innovation and advancement but also of stark partisan division, sluggish economic growth, widening inequalities, widespread military interventions, and pervasive anxieties about the present and future of the United States. Through boom and bust, national tragedy, foreign wars, and the maturation of a new generation, a new chapter of American history will be written, and when it is, it will be based in part on sources such as the these.

Ground Zero in New York City (2001)

The back of a man's head in a construction hat (with an American flag log) who looks into the massive pile of rubble from the 9/11 attacks.

“911: Ground Zero; 10/03/2001.” From Records of the White House Photo Office, via National Archives (Identifier: 5997364).

A worker stands in front of rubble from the World Trade Center at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan several weeks after the September 11 attacks.

Obama and Philadelphia 2009

5-year old boy touches Obama's hair in the Oval Office.

Pete Souza, White House, reference number P050809PS-0264, via Flickr.

In 2008, Barack Obama became the first African American elected to the presidency. In this official White House photo from May, 2009, 5-year-old Jacob Philadelphia said, “I want to know if my hair is just like yours.”