Teaching with Primary Sources

Teaching with Primary SourcesHemispheres is pleased to be the recipient of a grant from the Library of Congress's Teaching with Primary Sources Western Region Center to promote the use of primary sources to teach world studies! Breathe realism and immediacy into learning by harnessing primary sources—the raw materials of history—in your classroom. Housed, protected and now digitized by the Library of Congress by the millions, such primary sources are available and free to anyone:

  • Letters
  • Manuscripts
  • Diaries and journals
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Advertisements
  • Speeches
  • Photographs
  • Interviews
  • Recordings (video and audio)
  • Items from “pop” culture

What was once the sole domain of top scholars and archivist is accessible to teachers at all levels. White gloves, special permission and a trip to Washington, D.C., not required.

Primary sources catapult students into high-level thinking and help teachers meet the demands of standards-based education in new and creative ways. The virtual doors to the Library of Congress are open. Let us show you what’s possible so that you can do great things for yourself, your peers and the students in your life.

How can you access these right now?  We've prepared some Annotated Resource Sets for you to use in your classroom:

American Anti-Japanese Propaganda Posters World War II
With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered the war against Japan and Germany.  Propaganda posters were created in order to recruit soldiers, sell war bonds, and motivate the nation to fight, sacrifice, and produce for the war effort. What variety of purposes were American propaganda posters created? How are the Japanese portrayed in American propaganda posters and what affect might that have had on American attitudes towards the Japanese?

Buddhism in Japan
The arrival of Buddhism in Japan is ultimately a consequence of the first contacts between China and Central Asia, whereby Buddhism was introduced into China. These contacts occurred with the opening of the Silk Road in the 2nd century BCE. Buddhism has been practiced in Japan since at least 552 CE. It has had a major influence on the culture and development Japan over the centuries, and remains an important part of the culture. Japan has seen a minor decline in Buddhist practice in the 21st century, with roughly 100 temples a year closing. However 70% of Japanese people still follow Buddhism in some form, and 90% of Japanese funerals are conducted according to Buddhist rites. Due to syncretism in Japan, many Buddhists also profess adherence to Shinto—these are not exclusive, and there is substantial overlap. How would you describe the worship practices, rituals, and leadership within Buddhism?

Cartography of the Americas (1500-1650)
After the first Europeans arrived in the Americas, explorers set out on voyages to learn more about the region while mapmakers depicted what they found. Early maps reveal limited knowledge of the region, which expanded over the course of the following centuries. Comparing early maps to contemporary maps of the Americas will reveal the process of discovery in which Europeans were engaged, as well as the geographic features that they observed during their travels. Early maps reveal which countries dominated mapmaking, as well as which countries were interested in various parts of the Americas. How did European knowledge of the geography of the Americas expand over the first two centuries after their arrival in the region?

Character of a Place: Tunisia at the Turn of the 19th Century
The French occupied the city of Tunis, Tunisia from 1881 to 1956, having established a protectorate system of administration that recognized the nominal authority of local government. In those years there were a large number of European colonists (like the Tunisian Italians) in Tunis. Europeans formed half the population. The city expanded and created new boulevards and neighborhoods. The creation of the French protectorate in 1881 was a turning point in Tunis's history, causing rapid redevelopment of the city in the span of two or three decades. The city rapidly spread out of its fortifications: it divided into a traditional Arab-populated old city, and a new city populated by immigrants, with a different structure from that of the traditional medina. Tunis also benefited from French construction of a water supply, natural gas and electricity networks, public transport services, and other public infrastructure. How was the character of Tunisia at the turn of the 19th century related to its social, political, economic, and cultural elements?

Colonial Attitudes Toward 19th century Southwest Asia and North Africa in Photographs
Beginning with France’s short-lived occupation of Egypt (1798-1801), European powers began to re-discover the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, which was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Rich Arab and Ottoman families could occasionally afford to hire a photographer for important family events and portraits, but early Christian and Jewish pioneers frequently documented life in the region, often for the purpose of fundraising back home. Photographs of the region by Ottoman and Arab photographers frequently depict the region as modern; photos by European and American photographers tend to emphasize tradition, backwardness, and underdevelopment. This ARS will provide examples of each and ask students to consider the aspects of selected photos that demonstrate these characteristics, and to consider the reasons why each group of photographers might choose to depict the region in a particular way. How do photographs reveal different attitudes and opinions?

Commonwealth World War I Posters
World War I was a global war even though a majority of the fighting occurred on the European continent. Because of the relationship between Great Britain and the commonwealth nations of Australia and Canada, these nations were compelled to join in the Allied campaign to defeat the nations of the Central Powers. Propaganda was an extremely useful tool by all nations participating in World War I. How did the Commonwealth nations of Australia and Canada use propaganda in WWI? How did each persuade their populous to get involved?

Diversity and Cultural Traditions in Latin America
Much like the United States, the countries of Latin America reflect a mixture of various peoples and cultures. Latin America is not a single, monolithic culture; each country in the region has its own history and cultural roots. Indigenous, European, and African influences-among others-have blended to form unique nations that maintain some traditions among small groups and incorporate other traditions into their national identity. Music, dance, and festivals offer an entrypoint into each country's history and diversity. How do various traditions and celebrations in Latin America reflect its history and diversity?

The Early History of Chile: Comparing Geography and Culture to the U.S.
In elementary school social studies, students begin to learn about communities, time periods, and primary sources. Primary source images from Chile that focus on exploration, indigenous groups and their customs, hunting, farming, and emerging towns depict a striking resemblance to images from our own history. Students can identify common characteristics of our histories and communities, as well as compare and contrast the two countries. This exercise will help students learn about a different region of the world by placing it in the context of a culture with which they are familiar. What historical characteristics does the U.S. share with Chile?

Ethnographic Landscape of Siberia
As Russian explorers and settlers expanded east across the Ural mountains and into Siberia, they encountered many ethnic nationalities with their own languages, cultures and traditions.  For most of these nationalities, their lives would change drastically after the arrival of Russian settlers and during the Soviet period of expanding cities and industrialization.  A few were able to maintain some of their cultural heritage and way of life.  In this unit, students will explore photographs of several native cultures and discuss similarities and differences, compare the impact of non-native expansion for native Siberian and native American cultures, and discuss how native cultures have maintained or lost their traditions as they came into contact with outside western cultures and populations. How can a variety of ethnic cultures influence the cultural landscape of a nation? How are native cultures influenced by outside forces and historical change?

European Political Cartoons
Political cartoons, also known as editorial cartoons, have been used for centuries as a means of expressing points of view on various political, economic, or social issues. These cartoons are so effective because even those with limited reading skills are often able to understand the idea that is being communicated through the use of symbols, caricatures, and exaggeration. Understanding how to analyze political cartoons offers new insight into the thoughts and ideas surrounding a particular event or time period. How do we analyze political cartoons so that we can decipher what the artist is trying to tell us about an event or point in history?

Images of Women throughout the Russian Empire before and after Soviet Rule
As the Russian Empire expanded from Europe into Siberia and Central Asia, women throughout the empire continued their everyday tasks—whether maintaining the household, exploring, working alongside the men, and/or preserving and passing on their native culture to future generations. These roles both persevered and changed after the fall of Soviet communism throughout the landscape once known as the Russian Empire, now made up of new federations and independent nations. What are perceptions of women and their roles before the revolution and after the fall of Soviet communism? How, if at all, has the changing landscape of time influenced the perception of women throughout the area of the Russian Empire/Former Soviet Union?

Impact of Columbian Exchange on the Americas
The Europeans brought technologies, ideas, plants, and animals that were new to America and would transform peoples' lives: guns, iron tools, and weapons; Christianity and Roman law; sugarcane and wheat; horses and cattle. They also carried diseases against which the Indian peoples had no defenses. How did the Columbian Exchange affect the Americas?

Listening to the Voices of Afghanistan
Taking a careful look at letters and poems written by Afghanis will provide students with a multifaceted view of Afghan culture, compared to what they are likely to receive from general media. Students work with 1–2 documents in a small group setting to analyze the meaning of the written word, as well as any illustration on the page. Students compare the messages of the hopes and fears expressed in these documents to the images they have seen in other media images. Each small group shares their findings with the whole class, and discusses the implications. Finally, students write a letter in response to one of the documents they analyzed. What are the defining characteristics of Afghani culture? How does Afghani culture compare/contrast with American culture? What insights does this cultural comparison offer regarding the conflict between Afghanistan and the United States?

Location, Management, and Distribution of Resources in Iraq
Since the discovery of oil in the Middle East in 1908, Western powers have sought dominance over the region's resources. Iraq has the largest reserves of oil in the world, but as a result of military occupation and civil unrest, much of Iraqi oil wells are run down and unkempt. Repairs to the wells and oil facilities should make far more oil available economically from the same deposits. After more than a decade of sanctions and two Gulf Wars, Iraq’s oil infrastructure needs modernization and investment. Another challenge to Iraq's development of the oil sector is that resources are not evenly divided across sectarian lines. Most known resources are in the Shiite areas of the south and the Kurdish north, with few resources in control of the Sunni population in the center. How has the location, distribution, and management of oil and natural gas affected the movement of products and people in Iraq?

South Asian Cities
The past decade saw the passing of a major milestone in human history, when for the first time it was estimated that there were more people living in cities than the countryside. South Asian cities like Mumbai, Karachi, and Dhaka are at the center of this great transformation as they experience massive population growth and expansion. This resource set is designed to give a historical understanding of city life in South Asia.South Asia is home to some of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. However, some of the largest commercial cities in the region were established in the 19th century under British colonial rule. We will examine the different meanings that have been attached to cities in the region across time and space. In pre-colonial times the city served as the center of imperial monuments, sacred spaces, and trade. In colonial times the city became associated with European rule, bureaucratic forms of government, and new technologies like trains and factory production. The pre-colonial city represented a moral order with large shrines, monuments, temples, and mosques. Whereas the colonial city was planned in a segregated fashion with separate areas for Europeans and other parts of the city that were known as native quarters or old city. These historical patterns, monuments and spatial arrangements continue to shape contemporary city life in South Asia.

The Spanish-American War
On April 25, 1898 the United States declared war on Spain following the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. As a result Spain lost its control over the remains of its overseas empire: Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines Islands, Guam, and other islands. But, was the sinking of the USS Maine the only cause, or was that event just the straw that broke the camel’s back? What were the underlying causes of the Spanish-American War?

Ways of Being Buddhist in South Asia: Past and Present
Buddhism has around 376 million followers in the world today, making it one of the world’s major religions. Buddhism started in India around 2,500 years ago, and is now practiced by people all over the world. Teaching on Buddhism in the West is often limited to an overview of Buddhism as a system of religious beliefs and practices. Students are introduced to the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha); they learn about his disdain for worldly goods and attachments, his enlightenment, his teachings, and the initiation of his first disciples. They may also be introduced to the different schools of thought, which have different rituals, practices, and geographies. In what ways has Buddhist culture left its mark on local political systems, landscapes, and customs over the course of its development and spread? How do Buddhist beliefs and forms of expression, such as art, dance, architecture, vary within South Asia? What can Buddhist material culture tell us about the lives and cultures of those involved in its construction?

Women in India: The Colonial Period to the Present
This resource set examines women’s roles in India from the colonial period to the present.  It examines perceptions about women from a western perspective and encourages students to try to examine the accuracy of these perceptions in order to get to how Indian women themselves experienced their roles within the context of colonialism and other forms of social struggles. What were women’s roles in India during the colonial period? What kind of restrictions/challenges did women face in India during this time? How did Indian women differ from their Western counterparts? How have women’s roles in India (and Western perceptions of them) changed over time? How did/do Indian women respond to the challenges they face?

Writing and Knowledge in the Medieval Middle East and North Africa
During the period after the rise of Islam until around 1600, the Islamic world developed a literate, scientifically curious, and artistic culture. Much of this culture was built around the Islamic (and Jewish) notion that exploring the intricacies of the world is to better appreciate God’s work in creating it. Many works from ancient Near Eastern cultures were incorporated into the Islamic corpus of knowledge, as were the classics of Roman and Greek literature. This work was translated into Arabic, commented upon, and often referenced in new philosophical and scientific works as scholars tried to prove or disprove various theories. This production was not limited to Muslims; the period between the 10th and 12th centuries in Muslim-ruled Spain is also regarded as one of the two Golden Ages of Jewish thought and cultural production. How was scientific and cultural knowledge produced and distributed among the peoples and cultures of Southwest Asia, North Africa, and Islamic Sub-Saharan Africa?