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Historical and Cultural Contexts newspaper

About this Interactive

Introduction | Goals | How to Use This Site | Credits


Historical and Cultural Contexts is an interactive Web site that introduces students to different types of primary source documents from periods throughout history and invites them to identify the cultural and historical origins of those documents. The documents include newspaper articles, journals, letters, and speeches. Students will also answer multiple-choice questions based on what they've read.


This activity combines skills and content related to both Social Studies and English and, while addressing both disciplines, covers a number of curricular goals. According to the National Center for History in the Schools, students should develop a capacity for historical thinking by consulting documents, journals, diaries, artifacts and other evidence from the past. Familiarity and facility in handling documents -- extrapolating information from them, gaining a literal understanding of them and interpreting them -- enables students to embark upon true historical understanding, which involves collecting evidence in support of their opinions and going beyond the facts. An understanding of historical documents created by participants or witnesses of historical events allows students to explain connections, change and consequences -- the foundation of true historical thinking.

According to the National Council of Teachers of English, students should apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. This interactive requires students to critically read documents and analyze, infer, and synthesize information.

According to the National Center for History in the Schools, grades 9-12 students should be able to:

  • Engage in historical thinking which, in turn, leads to historical understanding: Letters, journals, speeches, and newspaper articles bring events and people of the past to the present day and real life understanding.

  • Practice and strengthen observation and critical thinking skills as they analyze a variety of written documents, including newspaper articles, journal accounts, letters, and speeches.

  • Make inferences after reading a multitude of historical documents.

With these expectations in mind, the specific goals of Historical and Cultural Contexts are to:
  • Become familiar with a variety of document categories and their general structure, purpose and content.

  • Read for specific purposes. In order to identify time and place, students will read the documents. Looking for Time and Place Markers, which include references to people, events, customs and language use. In order to answer the multiple-choice questions, students will read the document critically to make inferences, extract specific information, understand the sequence of events, and identify tone and purpose.

In keeping with the expected knowledge of students in grades 9-12, Historical and Cultural Contexts will help assess the skills needed to be successful in analyzing historical texts and understanding their meaning.

The use of multiple choice questions gives teachers the opportunity to test students' ability to retain specific information. A printed score results sheet will be provided at the end of the interactive.

How to Use This Site

Historical and Cultural Contexts instructs students on how to examine different categories of primary source documents. Students will figure out the area of the world from which the document originates and then locate the specific country of origin. Next, they will identify the historical era during which the event took place and then narrow it down to a more specific time period. Finally, students will read each document more carefully and critically to answer three multiple-choice questions. When all the document categories are completed, students will be invited to play the "speed round," a timed game that enables students to rapidly accrue points toward their overall score.

As students read the documents, keep the following questions in mind:

  1. Who created the source and why? Was it created through a spur-of-the-moment act, a routine transaction, or a thoughtful, deliberate process?

  2. Did the creator have firsthand knowledge of the event, or did the creator report what others saw and heard?

  3. Was the creator a neutral party, or did the creator have opinions or interests that might have influenced what was recorded?

  4. Did the creator produce the source for personal use, for one or more individuals, or for a large audience?

  5. Was the source meant to be public or private?

  6. Did the creator wish to inform or persuade others? (Check the words in the source. The words may tell you whether the creator was trying to be objective or persuasive.) Did the creator have reasons to be honest or dishonest?

  7. Was the information recorded during the event, immediately after the event, or after some lapse of time? How large a lapse of time?

  8. * Reprinted courtesy of the Library of Congress and the National Digital Library Program.

The Historical and Cultural Contexts interactive can be used to reinforce document decoding skills actively taught in class. Students can work individually or in pairs, completing each session of the activity. After students have completed each document, encourage them to reflect on their thought process and method of identifying time and place. Students can jot down key words, context clues, and time markers, as they read the documents. Students can then share what they noticed about the documents to help one another become more critical readers. They can also share their multiple-choice strategies. You might even consider having two students of similar abilities compete for the highest score.

Technical Requirements

  1. Browser using Internet Explorer 5 (and higher) and Mozilla 5 (and higher). Best results will be with using latest browser versions

  2. Flash player 7 minimum requirement

  3. Javascript in browser is turned on


Production Credits

Historical and Cultural Contexts is a production of Thirteen/WNET New York. Copyright 2007, Annenberg Media. All rights reserved.

Content Production

Janine Polla Werner, Writer
Janine Polla Werner is the English Department Chair at Eastchester High School in Westchester County, New York. In addition to her responsibilities as Chair, she has created online companion lessons and instructional material for various PBS programs, including Great Performances and EGG, The Arts Show. In addition, Werner is a Master Teacher for Channel 13's National Teacher Training Institute (NTTI) and was named Channel 13's Teacher of the Year in 2004. Werner was formerly Assistant Principal for Humanities at the High School for Arts and Business, a New York City Department of Education school in Queens, where she wrote and received several private and government grants.

Lesile Kriesel, Lisa Weinberger, Copy Editors

Interactive and Broadband Unit

Anthony Chapman, Director of Interactive and Broadband
Mikki Monkolchayut, Producer
Ariel Jacobs, Associate Producer
Marcel Ray, Flash Action Script Programmer
Radik Shvarts, Designer
Ying Zhou-Hudson, Graphics Production
Brian Santalone, HTML Implementation

Related Resources

Primary Sources: Workshops in American History
Bridging World History
Social Studies in Action: A Teaching Practices Library, K-12
A Biography of America

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