I’m a list maker. I make “to-do lists” for school and home because lists help me stay organized and ensure I accomplish certain tasks. Last academic year, thanks to a tip from my colleague Mr. Travis Kreider (US history and Latin teacher), I added “check out the Library of Congress’s primary sources” to my list of work projects. My initial research led me to an interesting and exciting discovery: six online, self-paced interactive modules for teaching with primary sources through the Library of Congress website. In turn, I added “complete the six Library of Congress primary source modules” to my 2014-2015 professional goals list (yes, another list!).
Primary sources are original documents and items created during the time of study. For example, historical documents, correspondence letters, speeches, and photographs are primary sources. In comparison, secondary sources are interpretations of events, such as analyses and criticisms, and we also teach the importance of these types of resources. The two types of resources serve different purposes, and we want our students to understand that research includes both types.
The Academy’s classroom teachers and I teach our students the importance of researching, analyzing, and using primary sources in their projects. The actual Library of Congress was established in 1800 and now occupies 3 buildings in Washington, D.C., with more than 145 million items, including the actual contents of President Lincoln’s pockets from the night he was assassinated, the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, and the original, handwritten copy of President Washington’s 1st Inaugural Address.
Although field trips to Washington, D.C. certainly are fun, the Library of Congress website brings over 19 million digitized primary sources to our fingertips, and this is the grand discovery I wish to share. The main website shows categories for historic newspapers, maps, photographs & prints, sound recordings, advertisements, manuscripts, books, and more. My goal is to continue sharing these priceless primary sources with my students when their research projects lead them down the path of history.