This is a guest post by Mary J. Johnson, an educational consultant to the Library of Congress.
The Teaching with the Library of Congress blog regularly offers suggestions for helping students practice primary source analysis techniques. Since the launch of the interactive Primary Source Analysis Tool a year ago, thousands of students have analyzed maps, texts, photographs, political cartoons, and more the high tech way. Todays round-up of analysis strategies presents some of the past years low-tech ideas that will work in every classroom, no matter what the level of technology access.
In Observation in Primary Source Analysis: The Sticky Notes Solution, Cheryl Lederle lists ideas for recording observations on sticky notes and attaching them to a primary source. Students can easily annotate printed primary sources as part of an introductory lesson or in an expanding classroom display, learning from and building upon classmates observations.
In Maps: More Than Just a Tool for Navigation, Danna Bell-Russel suggests ways to analyze maps first in pieces and next in map-to-map comparisons. Even if your school does not own a large format printer, you can print maps in sections to focus student observations. Students can look for illustrations, historical language, dates, and geographical features in each section. Following a focused analytical exercise, students can piece together the entire map while also connecting their early observations. Next, through the Library of Congress sites More maps like this feature in the gallery view, teachers can identify additional maps to compare and contrast.
Moving on to more complicated historical events with no distinct beginning or end, how does a teacher guide a primary source analysis? How does a teacher go about selecting primary source examples when no single source represents an event in all its complexity?
Meg Steele considers this challenge in The Great Migration in Library of Congress Primary Sources. Based on two letters, students make inferences about the motivations that drove as many as two million African Americans from the South to northern cities by 1930. As students dig more deeply into the issues that prompted the Great Migration, they discover multiple perspectives in historic newspaper articles from Chronicling America. When students evaluate a variety of accounts from a range of viewpoints, they must think critically to integrate information and to form a thesis. This is primary source analysis at its best!
No matter the age of the student or the complexity of the issue under study, every primary source analysis begins with three simple steps: observe, reflect, question. You can find more detail about analysis strategies, as well as links to teacher’s guides matched to format, in Using Primary Sources.
What low-tech primary source analysis techniques have you used successfully?
How do you organize your activities to focus and differentiate primary source analyses?