This blog post is the second in a series discussing characteristics to consider when selecting primary sources to use with your students.
How many historians are there in your classroom?
When students think like historians, they go beyond memorizing names and dates. Instead, they construct their own understanding of historical events by piecing together evidence from multiple sources — both primary and secondary.
So how can you help your students think like historians? As discussed in Part I of this series, it starts with selecting accessible primary sources that will engage your students and invite them to investigate further.
If the goal is for students to analyze primary sources and piece together evidence to construct new knowledge, then it is important for teachers to select primary sources with enough information for students to place the photograph, diary entry, or map into historical context.
Understanding the historical context of a primary source is critical for understanding the attitudes and influences that shaped the creation of the primary source. If not placed into historical context, a primary source’s true meaning might be misinterpreted.
Here are some characteristics to look for when selecting primary sources that your students will be able to place in historical context:
- Bibliographic information: How detailed is the item’s bibliographic record? Do your students need a primary source with a more descriptive bibliographic record so they can find more leads for their research project?
- Creator name and creation/publication date: Are the creator’s name and creation date available on the primary source or in the bibliographic record? Are you studying point of view and therefore need to identify the creator of a particular primary source?
- Time and topic under study in your classroom: What is the time and topic under study in your classroom? Is the source considered a primary source (created at the time under study) or a secondary source (accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience)?
- Contextual clues: Are there clues within the primary source that will help students place the primary source into context? Will students identify clothing or technology from a certain time period?
- Extraneous markings or annotations: Will Library of Congress cataloger’s notes or other markings distract your students and interfere with their ability to place the primary source into historical context?
Take a close look at the primary sources included in this blog post. Select one primary source that you feel provides sufficient information for your students to place the item in historical context and tell us why you chose it. Don’t forget to let us know the grade level you teach!
Stay tuned. The next post in this series will focus on considering perspective when selecting primary sources.
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