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Using American Archive of Public Broadcasting Resources to Engage Students in the Past and Present

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This post is by Jen Reidel, the 2019-2020 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.

Have you ever wanted students to hear the words of a historical figure or their description of a landmark event? Searching for audio and video clips appropriate in content and quality, and representing varied voices within the American story, can be difficult. The American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), a collaboration between the Library of Congress and WGBH in Boston, offers a robust collection of some 52,000 public radio and television resources representing the past sixty years of American life.  While a search function allows the user to look for a specific person or event, the Special Collections  and Exhibits offer easy entry points for classroom use.

A collection focuses on a specific series or topic.  Viewers may search the collection for specific events and people or view it in its entirety. For example, with the recent events in space exploration, educators and students might be interested in the To the Moon Interviews Collection. In a secondary U.S. history class, teachers might want to explore the well-known BackStory collection (now podcast) as a way to introduce historical context to a current issue. For a deeper understanding of an event, consider having students engage with a collection such as The Great Depression Interviews. Encourage students to listen to one or more of the oral histories. Interviewees in the collection reflect diverse backgrounds and experiences. Prior to evaluating an oral history, students can access the “other resources” section in the collection to contextualize interviews within the historical moment of the Great Depression.

Detail: AAPB Exhibits page

Detail: Special Collections page

Prompt student analysis of collection items with questions selected from the Analyzing Oral Histories Teacher’s Guide, such as:

  • What format is being used for the oral history you are examining?
  • What can you tell about the person telling the story and that person’s point of view?
  • What does this oral history make you wonder about?

After students have completed their analyses, they might come back together and participate in a Socratic seminar using their research to discuss the question “How did the Great Depression affect people’s lives?”

The Exhibits portion of the AAPB website hosts a variety of subjects to explore by theme or topic. For example, Civics and U.S. history teachers might introduce students to how individuals used their First Amendment rights within the Speaking and Protesting exhibit and Voices from the Southern Civil Rights Movement. In the Voices exhibit, students might be interested in Commentary of a Black Southern Bus Rider/Rosa Parks or student Priscilla Stephens’ speech about The Sit-ins and the New South.  Teachers can support students listening to speeches within the AAPB offerings through use of the  Analyzing Sound Recording Teacher’s Guide.

The American Archive of Public Broadcasting is a treasure trove of audio-visual primary sources to engage students with the past and help them interpret the present. Let us know how you use ideas in this blog and AAPB resources with students.



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