Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Primary Sources - Workshop in American History Using the Videos and Web Sitelink-primary sources homelink-site map

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The unfolding of our national narrative is never static. New historical sources and the addition of fresh voices, perspectives, and creative interpretations endlessly enrich the study of American history. Primary Sources helps to encourage new interpretations and to foster the notion that history did not have to happen the way it did; that events are contingent on the actions of live human beings, on intention as well as invention, on accident as well as plan. The historiographic dimensions of the study of history are an important element of Primary Sources.

Image map of links to different sections of this page.

  Watching Primary Sources Videos

To get the most out of Primary Sources: Workshops in American History:


Watch the lectures and teacher activities in their entirety.


If you have limited time, go to Lectures and Activities for each workshop for ideas for watching the videos in short segments.


While watching, reflect on the questions posed on each workshop's home page.


Use the lectures to spark group discussion or personal reflection.


Identify topics or activities you can use in your classroom.

  Structuring Workshops

Each Primary Sources workshop consists of five sections. Use the following list to help you structure your workshops.


Before You Watch

This section lists the primary source documents and images that should be read and viewed prior to each workshop. Click on each primary source to read the full text or view the image and to access background information and questions that should be considered while examining these primary sources.


Lectures and Activities

This section describes the workshop activities and reflections that participants will do after viewing Primary Sources. Three grids are included to help you structure your workshop based on the length of your session. First, you can choose whether you want a two-hour, 1.5-hour, or 45-minute workshop, then you can select the workshop in that timeframe that best suits your needs. You can also access the transcript for each workshop in this section.


Homework Assignment

Refer to the Before You Watch section of the next workshop you will be doing to access the primary source documents and images that should be read and viewed prior to that workshop.


Classroom Applications

This section provides lesson ideas for each of the eight topics contributed by the onscreen Primary Sources teachers. Use these ideas to design your own lessons or to start a general discussion about using the eight topics in middle and high school classrooms.



This section lists additional resources for furthering research and understanding or exploring the eight topics with students. The resource lists, which can be accessed from the About the Workshops section or through each individual workshop section, include print and Web resources.

  Using Primary Sources Web Materials

Primary Sources workshops can be used by individuals or groups to explore eight topics in American history in depth. Each workshop is designed to be flexible, with multiple time options to fit your needs. Customize your workshop using the charts in the Lectures and Activities section of each workshop, then follow the instructions for the activities that you have chosen.

If you are working on your own:


Identify your goals.


Use the questions to generate self-reflection.


Write responses to questions in a journal.


Review the journal at a later date.

If you are working with colleagues:


Read the documents and draw conclusions before meeting with the group.


Compare your observations with those of your colleagues. How are they the same? How are they different?


During role-play activities, try to take a position that is different from your own beliefs.

Image of Louis Masur

"I suspect seasoned teachers already have a good sense of how complex history can be. I hope one of the things that they'll take away is an appreciation for the whole range of new kinds of sources that are becoming available, [sources] that people are using to try and rethink exactly what it is that happened in the past.... There are new sources, and as a result, there are new understandings of events such as Lowell and the role of women at Lowell, or the experience of emancipation, or any variety of other topics that we'd be looking at."
— Louis Masur
The City College of New York

  Watching A Biography of America Videos

The video programs for A Biography of America will provide you with both context as well as detail for thinking about and using the Primary Sources videos and associated materials. The programs are full of images, visuals, and maps that bring to life abstract ideas and illustrate the compelling narratives told by scholars of national stature. In some programs, discussions among the historians reveal the contention and disagreement historians bring to controversial topics. In other programs, interviews enlarge and connect content. But in every case the viewing experience can launch and contextualize your engagement with Primary Sources. A Biography of America's Web site includes interactive features, listings of key events, maps, and extensive sets of annotated Web links (Webographies). Viewing A Biography of America is optional.

  Suggestions for Facilitators

If you plan to facilitate a Primary Sources workshop, structure the lectures and activities based on your group's interests, experience, size, and time allowance to create a session that best fits the group's needs. Use the facilitator notes throughout the Web site to guide you. Also:


Print and duplicate documents ahead of time.


Have participants read documents prior to meeting.


Identify participants' skill levels and build from there.


Begin with the suggested questions and continue with other questions that interest you and your colleagues.


Follow up a response with another question.


Allow enough "wait time" for responses.


Foster interaction among participants, as well as between facilitator and participants.


Organize participants into different groups for different activities to give everyone a chance to work with everyone else.


Encourage debate and discussion to help trigger and focus controversial content.

  Teaching Controversial Content

The teaching of American history is in part the unlayering of our individual and national identity. Who we are is almost always a point of contention, particularly within a classroom of students from diverse backgrounds. Their debate and disagreement about issues in American history is an important part of their study. Primary Sources acknowledges this and helps teachers with activities and documents that help trigger, as well as focus and manage, controversial content.

Primary Sources Home | Map | About the Workshops

Using the Videos and Web Site | Examining Documents and Images| Workshop Summaries | Who's Who | Resources

Watching Primary Source Videos Structuring Workshops Using Primary Source Web Material Watching  A Biography of America Videos Suggestions for Facillitators Teaching Contreversial Content About the Workshops Workshop Summaries Examining Documents and Images Who's Who in Primary Sources Primary Sources Resources

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