Learning with Primary Sources

Since many students are engaged in virtual learning, I am starting a new blog series that shares digitized primary sources that can be incorporated into class lessons.  I am including digitized material from our collections, but am using collections and lessons from Library of Congress and Digital Public Library of America also.

What are primary sources

Primary sources are first hand accounts of events. They come in a variety of formats including, but not limited to, photographs, meeting minutes, correspondence, newspaper articles, diaries, social media posts, autobiographies, oral histories, and news clips. They do not have to be historic events —documenting one’s every day life provides evidence of how we live now to future generations. Think of how much life has changed from when you were a kid to now, much less the lives of older generations.

Why should primary sources be included in the curriculum?

Using primary source materials

  • improves critical thinking and research skills,
  • engages students by making historical events more personal which helps them view history as a sequence of human events instead of distant historical events, and
  • encourages students to use evidence for their research.

Bomb (Iowa State University’s Yearbook)

The Bomb was Iowa State’s yearbook from 1893–1994 and the digital collection includes the full run of yearbooks.

  • Take 10 minutes flipping through a yearbook, any year (though you can also assign a year if that fits in with other lessons). Pick out another yearbook, at least 2 decades apart from first yearbook and spend 10 minutes browsing.
    • What did the yearbooks have in common? What was different? Give 3 possibilities that explain the differences.
    • What do the yearbooks tell you about student life at Iowa State? What information about student life is missing that you would be interested in knowing about?

Rosa Parks: A Primary Source Gallery

This is from the Library of Congress and is appropriate for students of all ages.This gallery highlights pieces from the Rosa Parks Papers and includes teaching ideas, a primary source analysis tool, and access to additional teaching guides for analyzing primary source materials.

Lyrical Legacy: 400 Years of American Song and Poetry

This is from the Library Congress and includes songs and poems represented by digitized primary source documents from the Library of Congress’ collection, along with historical context for the songs and poems. This site includes analysis tools and activity ideas.

The United Farm Workers and the Delano Grape Strike

This set of primary sources comes from the Digital Public Library of America. It contains digitized material from various institutions and includes additional online resources and a teaching guide.

My selections for today’s primary source sets and collections is random because I want to give you all an idea of the various subjects and types of materials that are available. Stay tuned for my next installment in April!


Iowa State University Library Digital Collections

Library of Congress: Teachers

Digital Public Library: Primary Source Sets


2 thoughts on “Learning with Primary Sources

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