Why Use Primary Sources?
1. By reading and analyzing primary source documents, students are able to arrive at their own conclusions based on their understanding of the documents. This empowers students as they find themselves in the roles of historians. Indeed, they will often find contradictions between the views expressed in a document and the material they have read in a textbook. This can inspire students to conduct further research into the area they are studying.
2. Use of primary source documents can enhance student understanding of a historical time period. Primary sources provide windows into the daily lives of individuals living in the past. An analysis of documents can reinforce the themes and content learned from the textbook or in class discussion.
3. Another useful strategy when using primary source documents is the use of two or more documents that represent varying viewpoints on the same issue. There are many opportunities for teachers to develop lessons using two or more documents. Any of the classroom strategies described above can be employed with multiple documents. For example, students could read newspaper articles published in the Revolutionary War period from America and Great Britain to better understand the feelings on both sides of the Atlantic.
One of the great things about the Internet is its ability to transmit primary source documents right into our classrooms! Archives and museums are constantly digitizing photos, diaries, notes, manuscripts, and more. The sites below will give you a start as you begin to search for appropriate primary source materials.
- The Library of Congress is the best place to start.
- National Archives Digital Classroom is impressive.
- Digital Vaults is a Flash powered site where kids can create posters and movies with primary sources.
- Making Sense of Evidence is a learning site that helps students better understand primary sources and how to use them/how they are used.
- Primary Source from Sharon, Connecticut- a Diary of an Enlisted Man (Civil War)