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EIU Teaching with Primary Sources

Why Use Primary Sources?

primary source header

For years historians and educators have understood the value of primary sources in K-12 education.

1. Primary sources expose students to multiple perspectives on great issues of the past and present. History, after all, deals with matters furiously debated by participants. Interpretations of the past are furiously debated among historians, policy makers, politicians, and ordinary citizens. Students of the Union Trade SchoolWorking with primary sources, students can become involved in these debates.

2. Primary sources help students develop knowledge, skills, and analytical abilities. When dealing directly with primary sources, students engage in asking questions, thinking critically, making intelligent inferences, and developing reasoned explanations and interpretations of events and issues in the past and present.

Develop critical thinking skills…

Primary sources are snippets of history. They are incomplete and often come without context. They require students to be analytical, to examine sources thoughtfully and to determine what else they need to know to make inferences from the materials.

Understand all history is local…

Local history projects require students to "tell their stories" about familiar people, events, and places. Memories from an adults perspective provide a glimpse of history not available in a textbook. What evolves is the sense that world history is personal family history, which provides a compelling context for student understanding.

Acquire empathy for the human condition…

Primary sources help students relate in a personal way to events of the past coming away with a deeper understanding of history as a series of human events.

Consider different points of view in analysis…

In analyzing primary sources, students move from concrete observations and facts to making inferences about the materials. "Point of view" is one of the most important inferences that can be drawn. 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?

Understand the continuum of history…

It is difficult for students to understand that we all participate in making history everyday, that each of us in the course of our lives leave 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.

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