Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Teaching Resources: Teaching the History of Education Using College and Local Archives

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Teaching Resources: Teaching the History of Education Using College and Local Archives

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article provides an overview of a shared teaching project between education department faculty members and the college archivist at Framingham State College. These instructors collaborated to teach the "normal school story" - the history of teacher training colleges - within the context of the history of education to students in the mandatory Foundations of Education courses. Through the program, students were exposed to diaries, letters, photographs, and other primary source materials of early normal school students from Framingham State College, the first state funded normal school in the United States. The specificities of the college's history functioned as a window into understanding the more general history of teacher education in the United States.


Chronological thinking, historical comprehension, analysis, interpretation, and research are key components to developing an historical perspective.2 The use of primary source materials, likewise, is essential to promoting historical understanding and thinking. According to the National Center for History in Schools, true historical understanding requires students to "raise questions and to marshal solid evidence in support of their answers; to consult documents, journals, diaries, artifacts, historic sites . . . and other evidence from the past . . . taking into account the historical context in which these records were created and comparing the multiple points of view of those on the scene at the time."3

The use of primary source materials, in accordance with the development of an historical perspective, is a valuable activity that can be extended to students in a variety of disciplines, including education, mathematics, and science. At first glance, students often view history as a series of unconnected and remote facts, particularly in courses that do not focus solely on the subject. Taking an historical perspective, however, can support understanding of the content, goals, and objectives of various fields. An historical perspective enables students to position a discipline's knowledge within a continuum of ideas, encourages them to grapple with concepts using a perspective that transcends their immediate situations, and allows them to engage in interpretation and critical thinking. An historical perspective can situate a discipline's sometimes arcane vocabulary and parlance, provide context to its practices, and introduce key thinkers in the field. It is an important tool to utilize with regard to the ways by which we define our values, culture, and future.

At Framingham State College, two education faculty members and the college archivist drew upon some of these insights in designing the Foundations of Education class. We believed that the development of an historical perspective, in connection with the usage of primary source materials and artifacts, was a technique that we could successfully use in our courses. Historians remind us that history tells us as much about our present selves as it tells us about the past. We believed that utilizing primary source materials would move "students from passive listeners to active investigators who analyze the past and connect it to their lives."4 Primary sources allow students to form an opinion of the past based on evidence and tools to develop an understanding of the present. We drew on these approaches when teaching the history of U.S. education, specifically the "normal school" story.

A unique feature of this project was the connection with the college archives as we drew upon local materials in the collection. Using the archives engaged the students in constructing an understanding of the concrete historical reality of their institution, Framingham State, the first state-formed normal school in the United States, through exposure to and interaction with primary and secondary sources of notable persons connected with the college. These included graduates, administrators, and those who supported the college's goals and purposes in its early years. …

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