Thursday, March 04, 2004

Using Primary Sources on the Internet To Teach and Learn History.

Using Primary Sources on the Internet To Teach and Learn History. Primary sources are a good way to teach history. This paper gives some ideas for how to use the Internet to do this.

From the site:

The Internet enables teachers to enhance the teaching and learning of history through quick and extensive access to primary sources. This Digest discusses: (1) types and uses of primary sources, (2) using the Internet to obtain primary sources, and (3) exemplary World Wide Web sites providing primary sources.


Primary sources are the building blocks of history. These traces of the human past include ideals, customs, institutions, languages, literature, material products, and the physical remains of various people (Craver 1999, 8).

Primary sources are not limited to printed documents such as letters, newspapers, diaries, and poems. Artifacts (art, pottery, articles of clothing, tools, and food), places (ecosystems, dwellings, and other buildings and structures), sounds (music, stories, and folklore), and images (paintings, photographs, videos/movies) can also be considered primary sources.

A commonly overlooked type of primary source is historic places, the sites of significant events, which communicate the past to students in numerous ways. Historic places "speak through relationships to their settings, their plan and design, their building materials, their atmosphere and ambience, their furniture, and other objects they contain" (Harper 1997, 1).

Primary sources are keys to reconstructing and interpreting the past. Teachers and students alike might consider this adage: learning is not received; it is achieved. Introducing and using primary sources in the history classroom will almost certainly lead to active learning and development of critical thinking, reasoning, and problem solving (Craver 1999, 10-12). As students work with primary sources, they have the opportunity to do more than just absorb information; they can also analyze, evaluate, recognize bias and contradiction, and weigh the significance of evidence presented by the source (Percoco 1998).

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