Calendar Features

March 2005: Teaching With Documents -Education Programs at the National Archives

In the late 1970s, the National Archives pioneered a new initiative to make Federal records accessible to classrooms and to encourage teachers to use primary sources as learning tools. Teaching With Documents, which began as a small publication project to provide reproductions of interesting and significant documents to secondary school history teachers, has evolved into a complex publication and professional development program for teachers and students at all educational levels and across the curriculum.

Primarily Teaching institute
At the National Archives' annual Primarily Teaching institute, a professional development program for teachers, Lee Ann Potter demonstrates how to use primary sources in the classroom. (Photo by Darryl Herring)

This initiative, along with dozens of parallel initiatives across the departments of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), provides the inspiration for a special exhibit titled "Teaching With Documents: Education Programs at the National Archives." The exhibit will be on display in the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery from March 18 to May 1. It will be a window on NARA's education opportunities for the thousands of teachers and their students who visit us on traditional spring field trips, as well as a harbinger of the new Learning Center scheduled to begin operations next fall.

The exhibit will feature original documents that have been used as teaching tools in various publications, including Social Education; Cobblestone; The Digital Classroom; the National History Day Teachers' Guide; Our Documents; The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson, 1801-1809; and the NARA/ABC-CLIO curriculum packages.

Social Education
Several members of the National Archives staff, as well of graduates of the Primarily Teaching institute, contributed to a special issue of Social Education that was devoted entirely to teaching U.S. history with primary sources. Social Education is the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies.

Included are President Thomas Jefferson's message to Congress concerning Louisiana dated January 16, 1804; the U.S. Treasury warrant in the amount of $7.2 million for the purchase of Alaska; Thomas Edison's patent drawing for an improvement in electric lamps; letters to the Federal Communications Commission related to the "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast; a letter about the transfer of the Charters of Freedom to Fort Knox during World War II; a letter to President Harry S. Truman about the Manhattan Project; and photographs filed in Dorothy E. Davis, et al. v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia, a school desegregation case.

Treasury draft 9759
Treasury draft 9759 documents the 1868 purchase of Alaska. (RG 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury)

Elements in the documents that provide particularly engaging learning opportunities will be highlighted in eye-catching wall panels. These elements include names, dates, unique markings, and mysterious references.

The exhibit will also feature a small theater space in which a loop of short film segments about the Presidential libraries and their education programs will play.

Finally, a take-away booklet will be available to teachers who visit the exhibit. It will include facsimiles of the documents featured in the exhibit, an essay on the benefits of teaching with documents, suggestions for incorporating documents into classroom instruction, and information about educational programs across NARA, including contact information.

Come to the exhibit and be surprised, intrigued, enlightened, impressed, engaged, inspired, motivated, and encouraged to teach with documents!

Lee Ann Potter
Education Team Leader
National Archives and Records Administration

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