The collection of an archive of primary source materials will be an exciting component of a year-long American Studies class focusing on historiography and the use of primary sources. Students collect primary source materials from their families or local communities. In analyzing these primary sources, students examine the interplay between national, state, local, and personal history. Over a period of several weeks, students may produce a digital collection modeled on the Library of Congress' digital collections.
Teachers and students from other states and localities may easily follow this model to create local history Memory Projects of their own. Teachers may choose to limit the lesson to a single unit in which students build the archive of primary source materials, or may extend the lesson to a year-long project by including units in which students create Web pages and lesson plans based on their archives.
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
- Identify and collect artifacts related to key themes or events in American history.
- Describe and analyze primary sources.
- Locate primary and secondary sources that are related to other primary sources.
- Compare/contrast materials to articulate relationships between artifacts and events or themes in national, state, and local history.
- Digitize selected documents, along with related materials and student analysis, for presentation on the Internet.
- Learn key facts/concepts of American history.
- Understand historiography as a process parallel to the scientific method.
- Understand and articulate the interplay between national, state, local, and personal history.
During this unit of study, students will demonstrate that they "know key facts and issues" about a given time period, that they can "think like a historian," and that they can become a "producer of useful knowledge." Students will use the skills they have learned for conducting professional historical inquiry. They will analyze primary documents, search for related secondary texts, and correlate individual documents with the key facts and issues of a particular time period. Students will use their online search skills to survey and critique Web sites on American, state, and local history.
Introduction to Assignment (1 class period)
- Explain or review the concept of a primary source.
- Discuss the different types of primary source materials that may be collected in an archive.
- Discuss the concept of field work in collecting primary source materials, referring to Explore Your Community: A Community Heritage Poster for the Classroom as needed.
Introduction to Digital Collections (1 class period)
- Introduce students to the digital collections, showing examples of the different types of materials collected and digitized.
- Introduce students to concepts of online searching. Use different approaches to searching the collections, such as keyword and title browsing, and searching by region, time period, or materials format (see Search Help for more information on effective ways to search the collections).
- Provide ample classroom time and guidance so that students may explore Library of Congress digital collections as a model for their own archival projects.
- Show the students ideas for project topics on Explore Your Community.
Formulating Individual Student Projects (2-3 class periods)
- Students propose possible topics for collections and relate these topics to themes in state or U.S. History.
- Provide students with information about where and how to search for primary source materials in their own localities.
- Provide students with information about where and how to search for secondary source materials in support of their projects.
- Students determine criteria for assessment checklists based on the assignment.
- Students choose their topics. Students produce written statements describing their topics and outlining their plans for collecting materials (by end of ninth week of class).
Collecting the Archive (approximately 16-18 weeks, time outside of class, and 6 class periods for peer review)
- Students collect primary source materials, research related materials, and analyze their findings, using the Teacher's Guides and Analysis Tool.
- Referring to the criteria for assessment checklists that they have created, students monitor each others' progress through monthly roundtable discussions during the period of researching, collecting, and analyzing materials.
Written Analysis of Archival Collection
- Teachers may choose to culminate this unit with a written analysis of the archival collection and/or other demonstrations of mastery of the concepts of archival collection and analysis (1-2 class periods and/or time outside of class).
- Teachers may also choose to extend the unit by having students scan original items and produce Web pages for their collections.
Oral Presentations of Memory Projects (2 class periods)
Students present their final Memory Projects in class. Their formal oral presentations are illustrated by the artifacts themselves.
Collecting Primary Source Materials
Peer Review Assessment
- Students determine criteria for assessment checklists of the archive.
- As students continue to collect, analyze, and research related materials, the progress of their project is monitored by their peers. Classroom teams meet for a monthly roundtable discussion and evaluation of their projects, using their criteria for assessment.
- The peer review process may be used in evaluating the final project, the written analysis, and the oral presentation.
- By the end of the ninth week of class, each student produces a written statement describing his or her topic and outlining a plan for collecting materials
- Students turn in peer review after each monthly roundtable.
- Teachers may choose to culminate this unit with a written analysis of the archival collection and/or other demonstrations of mastery of the concepts of archival collection and analysis.
- Teachers evaluate oral presentations of final projects.
Overview of Project
The project is a digital archive of primary source materials designed for use by students and teachers in Arkansas classrooms. It is a collection of official documents, publications, maps, letters, narratives, recordings, photographs, art, and other artifacts from Arkansas.
Your assignment is to build an archival collection for your Memory Project. You will find and archive a set of primary documents that capture family, local, or state history. In analyzing the primary sources you collect, you will examine the interplay between national, state, local, and personal history. See the list below for examples of project topics chosen by students.
Examples of Project Topics
- Civil War Handwritten Letters
Handwritten letters with a transcription.
- The History of a Bohemian Immigrant Family
Photographs and other documents.
- An Arkansan in WWII
Patch from a World War II uniform.
- Plight of Black Farmers
Certificate of award.
- Camden Native Captures Oswald!
- The McCullough-Chichester House
Local historical architecture photographs.
- The Old Hot Springs Bath House Row
Photographs of historical architecture--from American Memory.
- In God We Trust
Carbon copies of typewritten letters plus a telegram.
- The White River
Black and white photographs from a personal collection.
- The Ark Tuberculosis Center of Booneville
Oral history interviews with patients.
- Marion's Military Road
Arkansas History Topics:
- Photos of Arkansas During Great Depression
Black and white photographs from American Memory.
- The New Madrid Earthquake
Nineteenth century newspaper accounts.
- Women's Suffrage in Arkansas
Early twentieth century news clippings.
Second Year Student Projects:
- Cassette tape recordings of the student's grandparents singing.
- Merchandise Web page of Elvis Presley's Graceland estate.
- Supposed grave marker of an Indian found on a historic farm site.
During this unit of study, you will demonstrate that you "know key facts and issues" about a given time period, that you can "think like an historian," and that you can become a "producer of useful knowledge." You will use the skills you have learned for conducting professional historical inquiry. You will analyze primary documents, search for related secondary texts, and correlate individual documents with the key facts and issues of a particular time period. You will use your online search skills to survey and critique Web sites on American and your state's history.
Choosing Content for Your Collection
In building your collection of primary sources you may choose to focus on:
- Family history
- Hometown history
- Traditional art, customs, and celebrations of your community
- Documents in existing archives (Library of Congress, museums, etc.)
- Original documentaries
You may find these materials in a number of different places using many different means. Possibilities include:
- Examining your family’s photo albums and keepsake drawers;
- Listening to the stories told at family reunions;
- Collecting recipes for the traditional dishes served at your family's Thanksgiving dinner or other holiday gatherings;
- Asking your neighbors and friends to share with you their family lore, keepsakes, and traditions;
- Viewing artifacts in the local museum or the county historical society in your area;
- Finding documents in the clerk’s office at your county courthouse;
- Examining your church's scrapbook or other records;
- Attending community festivals or the county fair;
- Collecting examples of local folk art by visiting craft fairs around the state;
- Exploring existing digital archives outside as well as in your state; and
- Creating original documents yourself. You may create your own primary sources by:
- recording the oral history of a business;
- photographing scenes at historic sites and comparing them to early images of the site; or
- taping traditional local events as they continue in the present day.
See Explore Your Community: A Community Heritage Poster for the Classroom for more ideas about how to find and select content.
Analyzing the Collection
Analyze the primary sources to help you observe details, uncover new questions, and draw conclusions about what each primary source reveals about the topic that you are researching.
You will have to answer these questions in regard to your collection:
- Is it interesting to you, to other students, to other historians?
- Is it well analyzed? Is your commentary insightful, accurate, and cited?
- Is it placed in context? Are your artifacts related to similar documents or background history?
- Is it significant? Does it illustrate key events, important trends, or recurring themes in state and/or national history?
- Is it useful to other students and to teachers?
The real power of your Memory Project will come from two ingredients. It can personalize a bit of history, showing the connection between larger events in American history and the events in your home state, hometown, or even your family's history. Secondly, it captures some small, but real, pieces of history and lets your viewers see for themselves how people looked, what they said, what they did, and (in some cases) why they did it.
Evaluating Your Product
This will be an ongoing project and you will be continually assessed. Roundtable discussions are scheduled to help you generate new questions, develop research strategies, better articulate the significance of your collection, and make progress at a steady pace. The unit ends with a written analysis of your archive and a final oral presentation to your class in which you will defend your work as both an historian and as a producer.