Want to capture the attention and imagination of your students, and get them involved in history in an immersive way – explore incorporating primary sources into your curriculum. Primary sources are the voices of the past. They are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects which were created at the time under study. They differ from secondary sources, accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience. Documents, letters, posters, film, artifacts, photographs, maps, etc. can all be primary sources that tell the story of people, places, and events of the past.
There are many online sites that share quality primary source materials and ready made primary source sets, the Colorado Department of Education being one of them. Several years ago, 15 Colorado educators and digital collection professionals from the Denver Metro area got together to create a series of primary source sets aimed at K-6 teachers and students. The results of this effort total more than 20 primary source sets, covering topics from the History of the American Bison to the Games and Toys of Yesteryear, and can be found on the CDE website at: http://www.cde.state.co.us/cosocialstudies/pssets. The CDE primary source sets are comprised of three parts: Lesson Overview, Primary Source Set and Lesson Ideas, and a Resource Set. If you have not already seen these wonderful resources, check them out. They may be just what you need to make a topic pop for your students.
Another great location for exciting primary source sets and their related primary sources is the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). The DPLA is a free, national digital library that provides access to primary and secondary sources from libraries, archives, and museums across the United States. The thousands of contributors to DPLA represent cultural institutions large and small, from the National Archives and the Smithsonian, to college and university special collections, to local historical societies, museums, and public libraries. Libraries and museums in Colorado and Wyoming are contributing to this growing collection through the Plains to Peaks Collective Service Hub, so our unique primary sources are available through the DPLA for your use as well.
The DPLA has created primary source sets that use primary sources to tell stories of national significance. DPLA’s Primary Source Sets are specifically designed for use by teachers and students in middle school through college. DPLA has worked with a team of educators to design, create, and peer review more than 100 Primary Source Sets on topics in US History, American Literature, Art, and Science, which draw from the vast and diverse primary sources found in DPLA. Each Set includes an overview with background information, ten to fifteen primary sources, and a teaching guide with discussion questions, activities, and tools for primary source analysis. These “highlight reels” from DPLA are free, classroom-ready resources designed to save teachers and students time while offering instructional ideas intended to spark educator creativity.
DPLA also creates and makes available online exhibitions that offer in-depth explorations of important events and ideas in American history, such as the Race to the Moon, Japanese Internment, the New Deal, America during the Age of Imperialism, and Outsider Candidates in U.S. Presidential Elections. Pairing archival sources with contextual information, these exhibitions narrate the how and why of important historical moments and showcase the wealth of materials available for study.
There are other locations where expertly crafted primary source sets can be found including the Library of Congress and other national entities. But, there are even more places where you can actually find primary sources to fashion your own teaching resources and tools. Take your classroom to the next level by incorporating primary source materials into your teaching and help bring history alive. Here are some great resources to start you on your primary source journey.