Primary documents

Since creating this blog and having some discussion with teachers here and elsewhere about the challenges of using primary documents in the classroom, I’ve begun a preliminary search for techniques or tools that might ease the discomfort that students have in approaching the primary source. The reaction to the sources in La pensée des lumières from a 3rd year philosophy course was “cool,” followed by “and what now?” I get that – it’s not obvious.

To this end, I found some worksheets (from the US National Archives) for documenting the attributes of various types of primary sources. I can see a worksheet being useful in having students think broadly about the source and documenting all of the components of it; not only those which have an obvious interest. Examples of other features might be typeface, personal notes written on the source, conflicting information in the source itself, misspellings, personal names who may or may not be researchable, etc…. the worksheets could also be used as a first step in a transcription project which uses a defined protocol such as the TEI.

All of the worksheets can be found here.


I am also really interested in the thematic organization of primary documents which can provide a structure for students. A good example on the history of electricity in the 18th and 19th centuries here.


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