Documenting Local History: Using the Library of Congress Site, Primary Sources, and Community Resources for Teaching Social Studies

By Cantu, Dean; McMullen, David et al. | The Councilor: A Journal of the Social Sciences, June 2017 | Go to article overview

Documenting Local History: Using the Library of Congress Site, Primary Sources, and Community Resources for Teaching Social Studies


Cantu, Dean, McMullen, David, Pardieck, Sherrie, Hanlin, Mary Ann, Herridge, Chris, Janovetz, Katie, Alcaraz, Cindy, The Councilor: A Journal of the Social Sciences


Introduction to Teaching with Primary Sources

Using primary source artifacts and documents has long been considered "best practice" for teaching social sciences content. Historians understand the importance of connecting original items for the construction of "whole" stories of people, places, and events (Danzer & Newman, 1991). The challenge for educators is to provide authentic learning experiences for the teaching and learning of Social Studies and all content areas.

Every human being creates primary sources throughout their lifetime. Primary sources are records of existence. Throughout our lives, we communicate and create a myriad of documents such as letters, journals, birth announcements, photographs in a family album, records of vacations, and art work that children have created through their school years. Primary source artifacts are original records of people, places, events, and objects. Some primary sources have specific dates labeling them as to their origination and others can be connected to a general timeline (Pardieck, 2008).

The local history research project evolved out of a federally-funded initiative through the Federation of Illinois Independent Colleges and Universities. The Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) project was composed of four participating higher education institutions in the State of Illinois. The objective of the project was to aid educators' with the use of the Library of Congress digital primary sources. TPS combines technology and the history/social studies curriculum, in an effort to assist with the use and creation of learning activities.

The intent of the TPS project was to provide PreK-12 preservice and inservice teachers with tools necessary to enhance students' skills as they analyze photographs, make personal connections, use map and location skills, work with informational texts, and create projects using primary sources for teaching and learning in the content areas. To this end, all resulting instructional practices integrated primary source materials from the Library of Congress website, www.loc.gov.

During the 2011-12 academic school year, a central Illinois junior high school and a private university initiated a partnership to create a local history research project. Through a grant from the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Project at the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, school teachers and university professors collaborated to identify potential primary sources to research and to design the inquiry's final product for the project. With guidance from their teachers, seventh and eighth grade students engaged in research, analysis, and evaluation of primary source documents from the Library of Congress and local community archival sources. Historical inquiry included the identification of the town's origination and seminal events that occurred in the community from 1830 through 2012. Students also engaged in oral history by developing questions and conducting oral interviews of local residents. The students analyzed audio recordings, visual documents, and written primary sources to trace the growth of the town through the years, culminating in the development of a video documentary. The documentary continues to be used each year as part of the social studies curriculum in the local school district of Elmwood, Illinois.

Benefits of Researching Local History

Researching local or community history connects meaningful learning opportunities (Zemelman, Daniels & Hyde (2012) as students assign value to primary sources. Using the inquiry method, students utilize primary sources to uncover the history of their community, as they research the founding of their town and identify past cultures, traditions, and celebrations. According to the Explore Your Community in the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress (2015), studying the history of your hometown:

* enhances performance in interdisciplinary learning, team participation, and presentation skills. …

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