At the end of the twentieth century, the Library of Congress (LOC) began archival digitization of its holdings in order to share its rich collections with the public. The digitization process has made available, via the internet, over ten million items, many of which are primary source items (LOC, 2006, para. 5). These digital primary sources are defined by the LOC (2006) as “actual records that have survived from the past, like letters, photographs, articles of clothing and music. They are different from secondary sources, which are accounts of events written sometime after they happened” (para.4). As result of the digitization process, access to these primary sources is no longer limited to people physically present at the Library of Congress. Additionally, other libraries and organizations have begun to digitize and make their primary sources available to the public via the internet. We have listed the URLs of several of these organizations at the end of this article. The ease of accessibility through the internet creates an opportunity for teachers within K-12 settings to begin integrating these digital primary sources into the classroom. This article discusses the research on primary sources in the classroom, defines primary source-based instruction (PSBI), connects practices used in PSBI to higher order thinking skills, and offers examples of PSBI practices.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Contextual Corroboration: refers to the development of concepts, ideas and understanding, through the activity of reviewing several different primary sources related to a topic or event, through the context of both the time and the place associated with topic or event.
Utilization: PBSI practice that involves using the primary sources to demonstrate students’ understanding and comprehension of content knowledge. The outcome of this practice is applying of the student’s contextual understanding of an event or topic in a new situation or to solve a problem.
Primary Source Base Instruction (PBSI): the use of primary sources as tools to provide contextual corroboration, deepen students’ content understanding and encourage higher-order thinking processes as related to a particular issue or event. Specific practices related to PBSI include Illustration, Association, Utilization, Examination, Incorporation, and Interpretation
Incorporation: PBSI practice that involves the use of varied primary sources to integrate content knowledge, and understandings to create their own explanations of a topic or event. The outcome of this practice is students own ideas, thoughts, or theories about a topic or event based on the primary sources.
Digital Primary Source: A primary source (e.g. original manuscript, photo, audio or film recording) that as been transferred into a digital format and made available via the internet.
Examination: PBSI practice that involves the use of primary sources for the purpose of having students develops inferences and explanations about a topic or event. Students generate contextual corroboration in this practice. The outcome if this practice is the deconstruction of the primary sources to discover underlying meanings in order to explain of the topic or event.
Illustration: PBSI practice that involves the use of primary sources as examples to illustrate an event or some fact for students. The primary sources are used principally to assist student’s basic acquisition of knowledge of the event and to simply present a focal point, or to communicate facts or information. The outcome of the practice is the simple recall facts or information about the event.