|The Library of Congress
Suggestions for using primary sources were compiled from the National Digital
Library's Educators' Forum held in July, 1995 and from the Library staff. Educators
at the Forum, like many throughout the country, know that history comes alive
for students who are plugged into primary sources. These suggestions for student
activities can help you enhance your social studies curriculum using authentic
artifacts, documents, photographs, and manuscripts from the Library of Congress
Historical Collections and other sources.
I. Source Type: Objects
Sample Primary Sources: artifacts, tools, weapons, inventions, uniforms, fashion
Make a hypothesis about the uses of an unknown object pictured in an old photograph. Use online and library research to support or refute the hypothesis. Make a presentation to the class to "show and tell" the object, hypothesis, search methods, and results.
Sample Primary Sources: tombstones
Write an obituary for a person memorialized on an old tombstone. Use information from the epitaph and research about the era in which the person lived. Research the meaning of stone carvings that appear on the tombstone. Study epidemic illnesses or other circumstances the might explain common causes of death at the time.
II. Source Type: ImagesSample Primary Sources: photographs, film, video
Use a historic photograph or film of a street scene. Give an oral description of the sights, sounds, and smells that surround the scene, presenting evidence from the photograph itself and other sources about the time period. Examine the image to find clues about the economics and commerce of the time.
Sample Primary Sources: fine art
Select a piece of fine art that appeals to your senses. Research the artist, the date of the piece, and the medium. What does information about the artist, the medium, the subject, and the composition tell you about the prevailing attitudes and conditions of the time period? (For example, what symbolism is used? how is perspective used? in what roles are people portrayed? what is left out of the composition?)
III. Source Type: AudioSample Primary Sources: oral histories, interviews
Research your family history by interviewing relatives. Use letters, audio recordings, and videotape to compile a report on an important time for your family. Make note of differing recollections about the same event.
Sample Primary Sources: music
Sample Primary Sources: audio recordings
Introduce an audio recording of a famous political speech. Ask students to think about and write down impressions while they listen to the speech. What is the speaker's key message? What is the speaker's point of view? How does the speaker's oratory style affect the impact of the message? If the text of the speech is available, have students compare impressions from hearing the speech to impressions from reading the speech.
Sample Primary Sources: census data, land surveys, maps, ordinances, blueprints, or architectural drawings
Study historical maps of a city, state, or region to find evidence of changes in population, industry, and settlement over time. Use other resources to find and report on causes for the changes you find. Use maps to illustrate your descriptions of these changes.
V. Source Type: Text
Sample Primary Sources: cookbooks
Research the recipe for a common food (examples: bread, cake) in cookbooks of different times. Report on differences in the vocabulary of the cookbooks over time. How have terms for measurement, ingredients, portion size, and accompaniments changed? Prepare the food from recipes of two of the time periods you find. Hold a taste test of the end results.
Sample Primary Sources: advertisements
Use old catalog pages to research fashion trends, household articles, cost of living, and lifestyles of a particular period. Use other sources of information to reconstruct a picture of family life at the time. Who did the household purchasing? What were considered necessities of the time? What were considered luxuries? How do the catalog pages highlight attitudes of the time?
Sample Primary Sources: journals, letters, diaries
Find first hand accounts of historical events written by children or young people (example: Diary of Anne Frank). Analyze how first hand accounts give context to historical events. Have students begin keeping their own journals with an emphasis on including current events topics in their entries.
Sample Primary Sources: documents in the original handwriting or language
Decipher the original text of a famous document (examples: The Constitution, The Bill of Rights) by decoding historical lettering, spelling, grammar, and usage. Compare the original writing with printed versions of the document today. What has changed?
VI. Source Type: The Community
Sample Primary Sources: family photographs (of ancestors and their homes), memorabilia, souvenirs, recipes, ancestors' clothes, ancestors' papers, oral histories, local historical societies, genealogical information
Make a record of family treasures (books, tools, musical instruments, tickets, letters, photographs) using photographs, photocopies, drawings, recordings, or videotapes. Put the treasures into the larger historical context of local, state, country, or world events. What was happening in the world when ancestors were using the family treasures? How did those events affect your family?
Sample Primary Sources: physical surroundings
Research the history of famous buildings and popular sites in your community through the local library or historical society. Use disposable cameras to make a visual record of those sites in the community as they appear today. Compare historical descriptions and older pictures of sites with your own photographs. What changes have occurred? Why?
|The Library of Congress | American Memory
|Last updated 09/26/2002