6. Examining Primary Sources

(This is the Learning Episode 6 for Carol Buswells teaching unit, “Exploring Your Community.)

Secretary Gale Norton, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Superintendent Gerard Baker, Fort Belknap Indian Reservation Vice Chairman Darrell Martin, Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Aurene Martin, left to right, at opening of Lewis and Clark Bicentennial mobile exhibit, Washington, D.C. (National Archives: Department of the Interior, Photographic Services) http://research.archives.gov/description/5612418

Secretary Gale Norton, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Superintendent Gerard Baker, Fort Belknap Indian Reservation Vice Chairman Darrell Martin, Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Aurene Martin, left to right, at opening of Lewis and Clark Bicentennial mobile exhibit, Washington, D.C. (National Archives: Department of the Interior, Photographic Services) http://research.archives.gov/description/5612418

Providing an American Indian context to history makes for a greater understanding of world history.

Native Knowledge 360°: Framework for Essential Understandings about American Indians, National Museum of the American Indian, 2015.

 

APPLICABLE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS

Grade 4

  • RI.4.8: Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.
  • SL.4.3: Identify the reasons and evidence a speaker provides to support particular points.

Grade 5

  • RI.5.6: Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.
  • W.5.8: Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; summarize or paraphrase information in notes and finished work, and provide a list of sources.

 

ENTRY QUESTIONS

  • How can I tell if something is a primary source by looking at it carefully?
  • How important is it to know where a document came from?
  • Who will ever care?
  • How can I create a citation for a primary source?
  • What is a census?
  • How can a census return help me figure out more about my own community?

 

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

The students will examine and analyze each other’s primary sources as well as sources from various institutions including the US Census Bureau and Bureau of Indian Affairs, create a classroom timeline to be used throughout the remaining lessons, and explain the importance of citations.

 

MATERIALS AND RESOURCES

For a complete listing of all materials necessary for the entire curriculum by episode, see Curriculum Materials and Resources at a Glance.

Materials

  • Butcher paper or similar long paper strips to be made into a timeline. You will be adding primary and secondary documents and artifacts to the timeline as you go based on decisions made by a rotating “editorial board” consisting of students from the class. Since this is the first time you will be using the timeline, mark the approximate date of the earliest inhabitants of your community at the far left of the timeline. You can either do this before class or discuss the date with the class and add it then.
  • A census page from your local community for every available United States (or other nation’s) census.

The United States census was taken every 10 years from 1790 to 1940, with exceptions. The 1890 census is not available because nearly all of it was lost in a fire in St Louis, Missouri. Some pre-1820 censuses were lost in the fire when Washington D.C. was burned in the War of 1812.

  • US Census pages are available free of cost on the following websites.
    • 1790-1930 (with exceptions) on Heritage Quest online. This database is available at many public libraries and historical societies. It can usually be accessed by logging into the public library website and using your library card number to log into the database. See your local library for details. (ProQuest)
    • www.familysearch.org has many US Census returns available free of charge.
    • The 1940 US Census is available free of charge at http://1940census.archives.gov/
    • Censuses are available online for countries outside the United States. Google the web for locations of these documents.
  • Various subscription (paid) websites also have census records for a fee. Most are also available through your public library, historical society, or genealogical society. You usually have to go to the facility to access these records.
    • Ancestry.com
    • Fold3.com
  • Primary source materials about your local community, such as census returns, land and property records, photographs of the town during different time periods, tribal enrollment lists, treaties, tax records, business licenses, journals of prominent citizens, records of police and fire departments, court records, and the like.
    This material can be gathered over time to become a rich resource for future classes. For the first few years, you might divide your class into groups and let each group search for material online using resources such as those below. Teach your students to ask archivists for advice for finding more information in their location and in other archives. Archivists can be contacted by email or in person.

    • Government Repositories
      • The US National Archives at www.archives.gov (Records of most US Federal agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs).
      • The state archives of the state in which you live. (Google the state name and the term “archives.”) State archives usually hold records of state agencies, but sometimes hold other records as well. Usual holdings are records of birth, marriage, death, divorce, adoption, state courts, and some land records.
      • The county archives of the place in which you live. (Google the county name and the term “archives.”) County archives usually hold county records such as those from the county court, sometimes birth records, and land records.
      • The municipal or city archives of the place in which you live. (Google the city name and “archives.”) City archives hold records of city government, such as police and fire departments, city administration, buildings, and city events.
    • Special Collections
      • Collections of original documents are held in university and public libraries as well as historical societies and some museums.

Resources

 

SUGGESTED LESSON DEVELOPMENT

Introduction

  • Show the students different ways in which they might describe their playground by using their body rather than words. (large, small, quiet, loud, empty, full, etc.)
  • Ask the students to close their eyes and then use the gesture that they feel best describes their playground to them.
  • When they open their eyes, are they all using the same gesture? Why or why not?

Journaling

  • Ask the students to take out their journals.
  • In small groups, have the students compare the descriptions they have already written of the same event or location. Do they all say or illustrate the same thing in the same way? Why? Why not?
    • Point out that no matter whether primary or secondary, documents are still created by humans and humans have their own individual points of view.

Analyzing Documents

Classroom Timeline

  • Point out the paper timeline and explain to the students that you will be adding sources to the timeline.
  • Discuss with the students how the story of their community is reinforced and sometimes questions about our communities are raised because of the sources we find.
  • Discuss with students which sources they believe are most accurate, most revealing, etc., based on their analysis.
  • Assign the first group of students to an Editorial Board. The Board will be used three times, for primary sources, secondary sources, and artifacts. This group will decide which primary sources about their community should be posted on the timeline (original photos, documents, maps, drawings, or references to audio or video recordings).

Discussion

  • In a classroom discussion, make a list of important events discovered thus far about the local community based on the primary sources that have been found and mark them on the timeline.

 

VOCABULARY

Review these words briefly with your students and explain further if necessary (see Glossary).

  • census
  • analysis
  • challenging words from primary sources you have gathered

 

DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION (FOR ADVANCED AND EMERGING LEARNERS)

Learners of all levels may benefit from the DocsTeach activity called “Coming to America: the Immigrant Experience” by Christopher Zarr of the National Archives (Zarr).

 

SUGGESTED FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING OUTCOMES

Review the photograph analysis worksheets completed by individual students, watching for background details in the photo itself and in the display, as well as noticing details about the people. Record any student difficulties in the “teacher’s observation notebook” and discuss with the students as you observe.