The Primary Source Librarian

Dedicated to Excellence in Teaching with Primary Sources
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    The Primary Source Librarian is a friendly professional space where you can find information, advice, and support for teaching with primary sources. Check out the links to primary source collections, discover the best primary source lesson plans, learn what's happening in the world of digitization, explore the links you find in each post, and share your own primary source experiences!
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    Three Blogs about Primary Sources

    Posted By on November 15, 2011

    I want to pass on three blogs that I regularly read for their teaching ideas and valuable links to primary sources.

    I hope you’ll add these to your own RSS feeds. Just look for this RSS icon to subscribe:

    This is a relatively new blog written by Library of Congress Educational Resource Specialists and other expert contributors. The posts appear every few days, and they are all of the absolute highest quality. They’re filled with links to primary sources. Many of them connect to events or holidays, and because they are so timely, they can rescue a teacher with a “just-in-time” lesson idea. For example, just for the month of November, you can find ideas for Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Native American Heritage Month. Over time, you can also pick up ideas for getting started with primary sources, find primary source analysis tools, and discover hidden treasures that simply enrich your understanding of the Library of Congress collections.

    Shaun Usher edits this fun and informative blog, and I look forward to reading a historical letter every weekday on this site. Shaun writes in his description of the blog: “Letters of Note is an attempt to gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos. Scans/photos where possible. Fakes will be sneered at.” In the past month I’ve read a letter from an American soldier daddy on Adolf Hitler’s personal stationery, an early informal resume from Madonna, a letter from Jimi Hendrix to his father, a leaked Jeffrey Katzenberg letter trying to refocus the Walt Disney company, an Albert Einstein letter to the father of a boy who has just died of polio, and many more. The variety of topics and famous people make for fascinating learning. You can follow Shaun on Twitter @lettersofnote.

    Like me, author Mary Alice Anderson is a former American Memory Fellow, and she is also an enthusiastic proponent of teaching with primary sources. In fact, she teaches a course called “Teaching with Primary Sources” at the University of Wisconsin – Stout. She has long been a leader in the school library world, and I’ve followed her writing for the past twenty years. Her blog offers an interesting mix of field trips, primary source teaching ideas, and school library issues.

    If you enjoy reading other blogs about primary sources in teaching, I hope you’ll pass them on through the comments. Thanks!

    Putting Students at the Center of QR Code Learning

    Posted By on October 5, 2011

    Something has been bothering me about QR codes. When teachers first learn about QR codes, they immediately start thinking of all the ways they can use them to make learning more exciting. Their minds race ahead to projects with QR codes, scavenger hunts with QR codes, QR codes that introduce students to new concepts, and much more. Just let the kids use the cool tools and the cool iPods or iPads or smartphones and school will be wonderful.

    Sounds good. So what’s my problem with all these ideas for using QR codes?

    They are all teacher-directed. The teacher chooses the questions. The teacher finds the answers. The teacher makes the QR codes. The student receives. I don’t really see this scenario as an improvement over the lecture method.

    Furthermore, if students are working with primary sources, teacher-provided QR codes do not take the place of solid historical analysis. They’re not much different from reading a textbook description of a primary source.

    What if we instead encouraged students to gain understanding of a primary source by selecting resources that build context? What if the students had to debate the merits of their choices of contextual resources? How would a group set norms to justify one choice over another? Should they write a caption for a primary source photograph or a contextual paragraph for each primary source? These decisions could all precede QR code production.

    Only after hashing out decisions about which sources best explain a concept or fill in the historical context around a primary source would the students…yes, the students…produce their QR codes.

    Catching Up…Again

    Posted By on September 14, 2011

    So often I think that I have to write something profound in my Primary Source Librarian posts that I simply decide not to write anything at all. I suspect that’s a challenge for many bloggers. So today I’m just going to catch up on a few of my summer workshop activities. Maybe that will help jumpstart more profound posts.

    I love being asked to teach for the Teaching with Primary Sources @Metro State (TPS) program, and if I’m not out of the country, I always say “Yes.” Over the summer, I helped with several workshops:

    • The Hispanic Experience in Colorado. This was a follow-up workshop to an earlier one in February. Activities included a preview of newly digitized Hispanic primary sources from around the state, a look at the new Auraria Casa Mayan Heritage Foundation.
    • A Primary Source Institute at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. I can’t say enough about how fabulous this workshop was for me personally. I shall never forget standing on the very spot in the dark basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters where Lee Harvey Oswald was felled by a bullet from Jack Ruby’s gun. Sharron Conrad, Curator of Education, was a superb organizer and presenter, as was everyone else at the museum. We also worked with the folks from Law-Related Education (LRE), the education arm of the Texas Bar Association. This is my second experience with LRE, and I continue to be thoroughly impressed with their contributions to learning in Texas. Every state should be so lucky! The week-long institute ended in a mock trial of Lee Harvey Oswald put on by the sixty educators in attendance. The result? A hung jury!
      Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
    • A two-day workshop in my former (and beloved) Academy School District 20 in Colorado Springs. This was the first time TPS had fully incorporated a model of inquiry that encouraged participants to experience primary sources as both learners and teachers. Thanks to my able co-presenter, Stevan Kalmon, we finally ensured enough time for reflection – a piece that so often gets short-changed. I also used this workshop to experiment with my first QR code activity from the point of view of learners rather than teachers.

    So what happens next? TPS never rests on its laurels, so we are busy planning for 2012. Here are a few of our upcoming projects:

    • Two primary source workshops focused on teachers of gifted and talented students. Thanks to Ruthie Freeman, Assistant Director for TAG in Academy District 20, I will have the pleasure of returning to my old district early in January. The other GT workshop will include participants from the Pikes Peak Regional GT program, coordinated by Elaine Derbenwick. That means we’ll have teachers from a wide range of urban and rural districts, but we’re splitting the workshop into a day for K-5 teachers and a day for 6-12 teachers to make it more useful.
    • Teacher Librarian Day. This is the flagship conference of the TPS-Colorado program, and preliminary plans are to do a follow-up of our successful 2011 TED format. Unless I can talk someone else into it, I’ll be the returning emcee, too. It’s a stretch for me.

    Of course, my work with the TPS program doesn’t even begin to cover all the “irons in the fire.” For example, TPS-Colorado Director Peggy O’Neill-Jones and her staff are also constantly working on Western Regional programs for the following states:

    Alaska     Arizona     California     Colorado     Hawaii     Idaho     Montana     Nevada     New Mexico     North Dakota     Oregon     South Dakota     Texas     Utah     Washington     Wyoming

    I expect to see some 2013 programs developed around the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The 4-year-long 150th anniversary of Civil War events is also a natural fit with Library of Congress primary sources. We’re also beginning to investigate the Common Core Standards as they relate to primary sources. I’m pleased that we have perfected a workshop plan that can change according to content and curriculum focus but always includes Library of Congress materials using an inquiry model.

    Every workshop also introduces technology tools that support learning with primary sources. If you haven’t had a chance to look at the PSI21 wiki–a GOLD MINE of technology tools for working with primary sources–the TPS staff and consultants have recently updated it. Check it out!

    Finally, no matter where you live, I hope you’ll check out the Teaching with Primary Sources Regional Grant Program nearest to you. You don’t have to live near the Library of Congress to take advantage of incredible opportunities and expert trainers!

    A Personal Memorial Day Journey Part 2

    Posted By on May 28, 2011

    Hmm. Is it possible that a blog post in WordPress can be too long? I hope my readers will click on the “More…” link in the last post. Now I’m going to try posting the photos here. Oh, for a little more coding knowledge!

    Juvigny 1918. Some villages we visited were reconstructed, while others had not suffered much damage during the Great War. In a tiny 11th century church in Drovegny, a French woman told us that there had been very little damage to her village. She did say that supply trains had gone through the valley nearby.

    Juvigny Today. Juvigny is a tiny village that was located on a strategic hill overlooking a large plateau. This made the capture of Juvigny an essential step in retaking territory previously held by the Germans.

    Trenches near Juvigny Today. I’m not certain that these were old trenches. The farm land is quite flat near Juvigny, but ravines and woods remain. Soldiers had to clear out the woods of German machine gun nests after the battle was essentially over. Since Anton Bastian died a day after the “end” of the battle, I think it is possible that he was in the woods nearby when he died. Poppies bloom everywhere today.

    Road to Roncheres. Anton Bastian began fighting between Roncheres and Fismes on the Vesle River in early August, 1918. Because the Germans held the high ground, the fighting here was fierce and deadly. The bravery of the 32nd Division soldiers here earned them the name of “Les Terribles” from the French 1st Army general.

    Monument to Quentin Roosevelt, Son of Theodore Roosevelt. Quentin died July 14, 1918, near the village of Chamery. Across the road is an old stone farm.

    Note: If you missed the narrative that accompanies the photos above, go to “A Personal Memorial Day Journey Part 1.”

    A Personal Memorial Day Journey Part 1

    Posted By on May 28, 2011

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    When Learning Connects

    Posted By on April 5, 2011

    I’ve been thinking lately about how often our students experience the joy that comes with connected learning. Nothing delights me more than those moments when I can connect whatever sources I’m reading, listening to, or viewing with each other and with my world. Here’s a recent example:

    So what connects these seemingly disparate pieces of my learning at the moment? Let my illustrate just a few ways I’ve made connections:

    • Louis Zamperini, hero of Unbroken, was the kind of student who would have driven most teachers crazy. He was a real pill, even what one might have called a juvenile delinquent.

      Louis Zamperini, America in WWII, http://www.americainwwii.com/stories/luckylouie.html

      BUT…he was also a perfect model for “critical thinking and problem solving” – you know, the kind of student we are trying to create! In the chapter I’ve just finished, Louis ties two parachutes to his severely crippled and bullet-ridden bomber to deploy in case there’s not enough hydraulic fluid left to brake before the end of a too-short runway on a tiny Pacific atoll. No matter what came out of the Industrial Revolution, creative problem solvers like Louis Zamperini will always push the limits of technology. Our students are still doing that today, long after the Industrial Revolution.

    Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, 1893

    • In For the Soul of France, politics and industry are intimately linked. A long section on the life of Gustave Eiffel made me appreciate his élan and his brilliance far beyond his “Eiffel Tower” achievement. You must read this book to discover how everything connects: politics, the Catholic church, the growth of cities, republicanism, monarchism, anti-semitism, industry, the military leadership, and even Eiffel.
    • The Chicago book is the complete Industrial Revolution package. Nearly everything I’ve read so far connects with the ideas in all the other sources I’ve mentioned. Canals, railroads, the growth of cities, labor relations, tycoons, sanitation, transportation, Chicago as emporium to the West, competition, environmental impacts, immigrant workers, child labor, minority groups,war,  factories, inventions, energy, power, capitalism…I don’t know where to begin.
    • All of these sources have informed my current work with Teaching with Primary Sources at Metro State (TPS). For example, I contributed a list of historical search terms for use with the Library of Congress collections based on my reading. One of the most important points to make with kids when they’re searching for primary sources is that they’re not working with Google. Databases of primary sources are quite unforgiving. You must match search ideas to the terminology of the time period. That’s why I offered the list below to the TPS folks who were doing much of the searching:

    canals, plank roads, sewers, docks, wharfs, bridges, railroads, reaper, smoke, smoke stacks, manufacturing, factories, mechanical, iron, laborers, iron finishers, lumber, steel, power, trade, economic development, bricks, agricultural implements, steam boilers, steam power, ship building, capital, (un)skilled workers, (un)skilled laborers, commerce, hoisting machine, ovens, “Automaton Bakery,” hopper, stockholders, enterprise, production, drainage, pollution, tunnels, workers, labor, labor unrest, unions, strikes, child labor, factories, tenements, immigrant workers, cities, saloons, merchants, trade, meatpacking, steelmaking, mining

    So I’m making all sorts of connections, and I’m having a ball.

    Am I just an oddity, or can our students experience this same kind of joy at making connections?

    Is this something we can teach?

    How can we help students CONNECT pieces of learning to each other and to their own experience?

    What tools and strategies can help us help them CONNECT?

    What do you do in your teaching to enable your students to CONNECT during their daily inquiries?

    When Learning Connects

    Detail of Alexander Graham Bell’s Telephone Sketch

    Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers at the Library of Congress 1862-1939

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    The Hispanic Experience in Colorado

    Posted By on February 23, 2011

    Last week I helped out at an all-day workshop in Denver for 3rd and 4th grade teachers called “The Hispanic Experience in Colorado.” The grant-funded workshop was the result of a collaboration among History Colorado, the Center for Colorado and the West at Auraria Library, and Teaching with Primary Sources – Colorado (Library of Congress). The teachers who attended are required to teach Colorado history, and they seemed truly grateful to discover ways to enrich their lessons with Hispanic materials.

    As presenters, we had a few goals. First, we wanted to introduce teachers to the new legislature-approved Colorado State Social Studies Standards that took effect in December, 2010. Second, we wanted to show participants some of the rich resources available at the Library of Congress as well as those that the Center for Colorado and the West has been collecting to fill significant gaps in the Western history collections of the Denver Public Library. Third, we wanted to help participants learn ways to incorporate primary sources into their teaching.

    I’m excited not only about the wonderful Hispanic resources that we introduced to the teachers, but also about the next six weeks of online follow-up training. Teachers will be developing lessons based on their “annotated resource sets,” and they will be sharing them with the “TPS Connect” group online.

    I was thrilled that our workshop was covered by Yesenia Robles, a reporter from the Denver Post. You can imagine, then, how shocked I was at the 127 often rambling and astonishingly vitriolic comments that followed the Denver Post article. You’d have thought our workshop was all about turning the United States government over to illegal immigrants! Some of the comments just sickened me. So much for reasoned public discourse. Sigh.

    At any rate, I did learn some interesting facts from our workshop speakers about the history of Hispanics in Colorado, so I think I’ll pass them along here:

    • Historians today prefer the term “borderlands history.”
    • Hispano history in Colorado goes from south to north rather than from east to west as is normally the focus of “westering.”
    • San Luis, founded in 1851, is the oldest non-Native American community in Colorado.
    • The R & R Grocery in San Luis was founded in 1857. It still exists.
    • Denver proper was 38% Latino in the 2010 census. Denver metro was 13% Latino.
    • “I didn’t cross the border; the border crossed me.”
    • In 1936, in the middle of the Great Depression, the governor of Colorado closed the southern state border to anyone coming north who spoke Spanish. The fear was that the Spanish speakers would take what few jobs were available. (Hmm. Where have we heard this argument?)
    • Hispano traders dominated the trade along the Santa Fe Trail.
    • A man named Rivera made the first mining expedition into Colorado in 1765.
    • The first Colorado State Constitution was written in three languages – English, Spanish, and German!

    Obviously, I have much more to learn. To that end, tomorrow I plan to pick up a book at the public library that one speaker recommended: No Separate Refuge, by Sarah Deutsch.

    And I will keep telling myself, “You cannot argue with a closed mind.” And I’ll take a deep breath.

    Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection

    Young Spanish-American Potato Picker, Rio Grande County, Colorado, 1939

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    Adding Hispanics to 4th Grade State History

    Posted By on February 9, 2011

    Two days ago I attended a grant planning meeting for “The Hispanic Experience in Colorado” – a collaboration among Teaching with Primary Sources-Colorado, The Center for Colorado & the West, and History Colorado. We developed an agenda for a one-day face-to-face workshop, to be followed by six weeks of online collaboration. We are expecting about forty 4th grade teachers to attend.

    Why 4th grade teachers? Because they teach Colorado History.

    Why “The Hispanic Experience in Colorado?” Because in spite of a major Hispanic presence in the state since long before people of European ancestry moved West, Hispanic history has rarely been taught. Typically in 4th grade Colorado State History, kids learn about Mesa Verde, Native Americans, pioneer ranchers, mining, and…get this…dinosaurs!

    Because our Colorado History Museum has been closed during the demolition of the old building and the construction of a new History Colorado Center, the History Colorado staff has been working from temporary quarters. Much of their work has focused on developing exhibits for the new museum. According to History Colorado’s “Moving Memories 2009/2010 Annual Report“:

    “Staff lived up to History Colorado’s new exhibit development model—“audience first”—by launching four audience research projects. Staff and volunteers engaged with more than 400 patrons of museums, libraries, and coffee shops to examine their knowledge, interest level, and perspectives about History Colorado’s exhibit and program concepts.

    Based on that research, staff developed a History Colorado Center exhibit plan that will invite audiences to experience Colorado history thematically—by meeting people throughout the state and the places they have built; discovering the landscape that has shaped us and that we have shaped; and exploring the dreams, visions, and folklore that Colorado has always inspired in the people who have come here.”

    I learned in our planning meeting that History Colorado soon noticed a distinct lack of primary sources from the Hispanic communities they sought to include. As a result, they sent out a researcher to gather photographs and other artifacts from Hispanic communities throughout the state. They also added metadata so the resources can be easily shared online. I was delighted with the photographs that I viewed during the meeting, and I’m convinced that this effort will fill in a major gap in our visual knowledge of Hispanic culture, labor, and civil rights in Colorado.

    As the staff develops exhibits, they will also develop Web-based curricula and educational outreach programming. Hence the grant mentioned above.

    Sadly, museums across the country are suffering from the high-stakes testing squeeze put on social studies curriculum. Our 4th graders are lucky to receive 25 minutes per week of social studies instruction. This situation creates some difficult logistical challenges, such as:

    • If we start with the new Colorado history standards, will teachers be overwhelmed?
    • If we start with the typical social studies topics covered in 4th grade, will teachers resist unfamiliar Hispanic content?
    • How do we insert Hispanic materials and content into 25 minutes a week?

    We wrangled through some of these difficulties, and we’ll soon see how effective our plan is. We’ll be doing the first workshop next week (Feb. 17th).

    Wish us luck!

    “Bunch of genuine old-time cowboys and bronco busters at Denver, Colorado” – 1905

    Prairie Settlement Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters

    American Memory, Library of Congress

    Finding My Twitter Voice

    Posted By on January 22, 2011

    About a year ago, with encouragement from my friend Nancy White (@nancyw), I began to use Twitter. One year later, I agree with Nancy 100% that it has become my professional development tool of choice. The 500 or so educators I follow on Twitter supply me with endless links to thought-provoking education-related articles, blog posts, Web tools, conference presentations, and just plain great ideas.

    But what do I have to offer? I’m just a retired school librarian with a special interest in teaching with primary sources. How long does it take to lose one’s relevance in this fast-changing world of education? I have no students with whom to test ideas and tools. I’m not a history teacher, so I cannot talk about the day-to-day use of primary sources…what worked, what didn’t, what I would change. I cannot go to the much-discussed conferences such as Educon or ISTE or meet educational movers and shakers in person.

    Still, in my own Twitter way, I enjoy an enriching dialog with many of the influential education thinkers of today. Even when I don’t engage in personal conversations, I am still able to soak up their ideas, both practical and profound. Sometimes just being a “lurker” makes for powerful learning.

    And what do I contribute? Well, a librarian is nothing if not a connector. So I connect people with ideas. Often these are ideas for teaching with primary sources, as this tweet shows:

    Or sometimes I tweet out a link to an upcoming primary source professional development opportunity:


    I help teachers save time by providing links to support materials for documentaries:

    I tweet links to news from primary source Web sites:


    But there’s more! I retweet other people’s tweets, often adding a hashtag or comment when I think a particular group will benefit:


    Sometimes my “twitter voice” finds surprising outlets. For example, in February I will be the emcee at the Teacher Librarian Day for the Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) program at Metro State in Denver. The TPS folks hope to demonstrate a survey instrument throughout the day, so I tweeted a request for examples of survey tools used in classes. Within minutes, I was “followed” by @SurveyGizmo, @Zoomerang, and @polleverywhere! I’ve sent links to TPS, but I’ve also passed one on to a history teacher in Massachusetts (@gregkulowiec) who was asked by a teacher in Venezuela (@mshuflin) if he knew of a free international survey tool. Convoluted? Yes! Helpful? Maybe.

    In other words, you just never know where a single tweet might lead. Again, it’s all about connecting ideas with people, and that is where I have found my Twitter voice to be most effective.

    When I can, I participate in various “hashtag” chats: #sschat, #tlchat, #eltchat, #edchat. Sometimes I contribute primary source ideas, but I also enjoy putting in my two cents on general education topics. The education community is so enthusiastic that some chats whiz by at an astonishing speed. No matter what may be the topic du jour, I always pick up new and creative ideas.

    And once in awhile, a simple comment makes it all worthwhile:


    So you see, even a retired Twitterbrarian can make a difference in a teacher’s life…and that of her students. It seems I’m not quite ready to be put out to pasture.

    See you on Twitter!

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    Zoom into Maps

    Posted By on November 24, 2010

    I spent the past week writing an article about ways to teach with maps. Along the way, I discovered hundreds of rich collections and outstanding lesson plans. In fact, there are so many map-related websites that it’s nearly impossible to know what to include. And what to leave out.

    Believe me, I am no expert in maps. That’s why a Library of Congress Teacher Page activity called “Zoom into Maps” was so helpful. It introduces teachers to map terminology and map analysis (forms and all). Someone at the Library of Congress has also done teachers the huge favor of selecting the most teachable and interesting maps in the American Memory collections. What a relief! I really didn’t have time to look through 4.5 million maps.

    Zoom into Maps” points out what can be learned from historic maps, and I agree:

    In addition to teaching geographic understanding, maps do an excellent job of illustrating change over time. They personalize history by giving evidence of familiar landmarks and of people, their beliefs, and the political policies of an era.

    Zoom into Maps” is organized by topic, and the first one – Hometown USA: Local Geography – is one of my favorites because I LOVE the Panoramic Maps collection. I just wish every town in the USA had its own hand-drawn panoramic map. I guess those 19th century artists and map makers weren’t thinking ahead to teachers’ needs in the 21st century.

    There’s enough map material here to enrich an entire year of U.S. History studies without even looking further. Here are all the categories:

    Each category links to a “featured map” and additional context for each.

    My second favorite category (after the panoramic maps) is “Unusual Maps.” Here you can find fun maps for teaching:

    • Kingdom of France, 1796 (in the form of a ship)
    • Eagle Map of the United States, 1831
    • Gerry-mander: a new species of monster, 1812

    I hope you will enjoy the “Zoom into Maps” activity as much as I did. I guarantee you’ll be more comfortable in the virtual Map Room of the Library of Congress once you’ve gone through it.

    Gerry-mander, a new species of monster, 1812

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