Using Primary Sources on the Internet To Teach
and Learn History. ERIC Digest.
by Shiroma, Deanne
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
TYPES AND USES OF 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,
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).
Primary sources enhance the learning process by allowing students to
construct their own understandings of people, events, and ideas. Students
can "uncover, discover, and reflect on content and their conceptions of
such through inquiry, investigation, research, and analysis" (Marlow &
Page 1998, 11).
USING THE INTERNET TO ACCESS PRIMARY SOURCES.
The Internet is a virtual gateway to an abundance of on-line educational
resources; it is important to remember, however, that much of the information
on the Internet is uncensored and unregulated. Students may be exposed
to inappropriate Web sites. Therefore, teachers may wish to take precautionary
measures to maintain safe learning environments, such as searching the
Web to locate and screen the primary source material for appropriateness
and validity prior to using it in class. This conserves classroom time,
overcomes the limitations of the one-computer classroom, and reduces the
need to purchase Internet filtering software.
Until recently, "surfing" was the typical approach to finding information
on the World Wide Web. Surfing begins when the user starts on a particular
World Wide Web site and follows links from page to page (making some educated
guesses along the way), hoping to sooner or later arrive at the desired
information. When you have time to explore, surfing can be fun. But when
you need to find information quickly, surfing can be inefficient and ineffective.
A number of tools exist that enable users to find information on the World
Wide Web more effectively and efficiently. One such tool is a search engine.
Though they are similar, not all search engines are created equal. Selecting
the best search engine depends upon the user's experience level and an
understanding of which elements in the documents are indexed by each search
engine. Meta-search engines, which search multiple search engines simultaneously,
are preferable. One example of a meta-search engine is Ask Jeeves http://www.askjeeves.com.
Its user-friendly interface allows searching using either questions or
keywords. Another meta-search engine is MetaCrawler http://www.metacrawler.com,
which pools and collates pages found on several of the major search engines
with consistently reliable and accurate results.
For those wishing to avoid sites unsuitable for children, several strategies
can be used. The first and most desirable strategy is to encourage appropriate
use and good decision making by students. This does not, however, eliminate
the risk that students will inadvertently or unintentionally come upon
sites containing offensive material. Another strategy is to use "child-safe"
search engines that index age-appropriate sites and focus on the specific
needs and interests of children. One of the best "child-specific" search
engines is Ask Jeeves For Kids http://www.ajkids.com, which allows children
to search by asking questions in plain English (also known as "natural
language" searching) and offers options to help narrow the search in cases
of broad or ambiguous questions. Other major search engines for children
are CyberSleuth Kids http://cybersleuth-kids.com/, a search guide for K-12
students, and KidsClick Web Search http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/KidsClick!/,
created for children by librarians (Braun & Risinger 1999).
EXEMPLARY WEB SITES WITH PRIMARY SOURCES.
One of the best Web sites for obtaining primary sources is the American
Memory Historical Collections for the National Digital Library http://rs6.loc.gov/ammem/amhome.html.
Maintained by the Library of Congress, American Memory features an extensive
collection of documents in original format, including manuscripts, sheet
music, printed texts, maps, motion pictures, photos and prints, and sound
recordings. The following are examples of sites that focus on more specific
types of primary source material.
The National Security Archive http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/ was founded
in 1985 by a group of journalists and scholars that had obtained documentation
from the U.S. government under the Freedom of Information Act. Associated
with George Washington University's Gelman Library, the Archive is one
of the world's largest non-governmental repositories of declassified government
documents on international affairs. Current collections include Chile,
China, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, India-Pakistan, Iran, Japan, Mexico,
Russia, Eastern Europe, and nuclear history.
Authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and
administered by the National Park Service, the National Register of Historic
Places http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/nrhome.html features over 2,300 National
Historic Landmarks. Properties listed in the Register include districts,
sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are significant in American
history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture.
National Anthems of the World http://www.emulateme.com/anthems/ contains
audio clips of many national anthems. The site also contains information
about the economy, geography, history, people, and government of the countries.
There are so many Web sites offering a wide variety of primary sources
that it is beyond the scope of this Digest to list them all. Here is a
brief list of additional sites:
* National Archives and Records Administration: The Digital Classroom:
* On-line Archival Collections - Center for Women's History & Culture:
* Eye Witness: History Through The Eyes Of Those Who Lived It: http://www.ibiscom.com/index.html
* Repositories of Primary Sources: http://www.uidaho.edu/special-collections/Other.Repositories.html
* Euro Docs: Primary Historical Documents From Western Europe: http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/eurodocs/homepage.html
* Social Studies Sources: http://www.indiana.edu/~socialst/
By encouraging their students to locate and work with primary sources
available through the Internet, teachers empower them to develop inquiry
skills through active learning methods. Students learn to ask questions
and seek answers independently. Thus, they are challenged to process information
and comprehend their complex world.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of resources includes references used to prepare
this Digest. The items followed by an ED number are available in microfiche
and/or paper copies from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS).
For information about prices, contact EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite
110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852; telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400
and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number, annotated monthly
in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE), are not available through
EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal section of most larger
libraries by using the bibliographic information provided, requested through
Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from commercial reprint services.
Braun, Joseph A., and C. Frederick Risinger. SOCIAL STUDIES: THE INTERNET
BOOK. Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies, 1999.
Craver, Kathleen W. USING INTERNET PRIMARY SOURCES TO TEACH CRITICAL
THINKING SKILLS IN HISTORY. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.
Harper, Marilyn. INCLUDING HISTORIC PLACES IN THE SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULUM.
ERIC Digest. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social
Science Education, 1997. ED 415 178.
Kobrin, David. BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK: TEACHING HISTORY USING DOCUMENTS
AND PRIMARY SOURCES. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, Inc., 1996. ED 396 981.
Lynn, Karen. TEACHING WITH DOCUMENTS: A BIBLIOGRAPHY. Washington, DC:
National Archives and Records Administration, 1991. ED 339 626.
Marlow, Bruce, and Marilyn Page. CREATING AND SUSTAINING THE CONSTRUCTIVIST
CLASSROOM. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc., 1998.
Milbury, Peter. "Primary Sources: Second to None on the Web." BOOK REPORT
18 (May-June 1999): 45-48. EJ 589 886.
Milbury, Peter and Brett Silva. "Problem Based Learning, Primary Sources,
and Information Literacy. MULTIMEDIA SCHOOLS 5 (September-October 1998):
40-44. EJ 574 027.
Nash, Gary B., and Linda Symcox. "Bring History Alive in the Classroom:
A Collaborative Project." OAH MAGAZINE OF HISTORY 6 (Summer 1991): 25-29.
EJ 445 194.
Percoco, James A. A PASSION FOR THE PAST: CREATIVE TEACHING OF U.S.
HISTORY. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, Inc., 1998. ED 431 657.