The resources in this primary source set are intended for classroom use. If your use will be beyond a single classroom, please review the copyright and fair use guidelines.
To help your students analyze these primary sources, get a graphic organizer and guides: Analysis Tool and Guides
“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.”
The historical record is made up of factual evidence, but history becomes meaningful for students only when they personally engage in determining what that evidence reveals. Primary sources can help students perform the critical thinking necessary for them to develop a personal understanding of the past.
Primary sources are the raw materials of history—the documents and objects left behind by the eyewitnesses and participants in past events. Because they are incomplete and often come without solid information about their historical context, they require that the student move from making concrete observations to making inferences about the materials. Primary sources encourage students to ask questions about point of view: What is the intent of the speaker, of the photographer, of the musician? How does that color one’s interpretation or understanding of the evidence?
It can be difficult for students to understand that we all participate in making history every day, that each of us in the course of our lives leaves behind primary source documentation that scholars years hence may examine as a record of the past. The immediacy of first-person accounts of events is compelling to most students and can provide a link between the lives of people who lived long ago and students’ own lives. Primary sources thus help students relate in a personal way to events of the past and come away with a deeper understanding of history as a series of human events.
After you have engaged your students in analyzing and interpreting historical primary source content, in synthesizing the information, and in making personal connections with history, ask them to articulate their understanding. Retelling history from one’s own perspective can help them make the learning their own. While there are many ways that students can “retell” history, one very effective strategy is the writing of “found” poetry. Using rich primary source texts, students select words that allow them to retell the historical content in poetic form. Evocative images of an era, theme, or topic contribute to historical understanding and can spark writing ideas. Careful observation and analysis of an image will provide historic details and to historical understanding and can spark writing ideas. Careful observation and analysis of an image will provide historic details and supportive information, and may even offer rich language for the found poem. Have your students use the tools provided in this Primary Source Set for document analysis. Notations about objective and subjective observations will be invaluable when they begin to retell history through their own poems.
To create a found poem, students select words, phrases, lines, and sentences from one or more written documents and combine them into a poem. Raw material for found poems can be selected from newspaper articles, speeches, diaries, advertisements, letters, food menus, brochures, short stories, manuscripts of plays, shopping lists, and even other poems. A set of Library text resources written by well-known authors is provided in this Primary Source Set.
There is no single strategy for creating a found poem. The words and phrases selected to make the poem depend upon the student’s initial purpose. Here are some strategies you may suggest to your students:
Teachers may find these Library of Congress primary source documents of particular support to interdisciplinary teaching. This set provides evidence of the writing process, as well as historical evidence about persons, periods, and events.