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Diary of an Archivist: Let’s talk about teacher resources

Posted by Emily Chicorli
20 November 2014 - 9:38pm

Searching for archival material/primary sources can be a daunting task if you’re not familiar with archival terms, resources and systems of organization.

In most resources for teachers, primary resources are selected and compiled for you, in addition to lesson plans and activity ideas. The Library of Congress’ online webpage for teachers, for example, has a link to classroom materials, which already gathers the primary source sets based on themes, topics, people and events. There are also many books, such as Easy Simulations, that instructs teachers on how to help students build reading and writing skills in history through the analysis of primary sources. Whether the resource is online or not, many teachers opt for pre-made and pre-selected primary resource materials. I don’t blame them.

While these resources are fantastic time-savers, there may be some situations where you will have to search for records on your own. This is even more true in a Canadian context. Unlike the United States and Europe, we do not have an abundant collection of pre-packaged primary source materials that complies with provincial curriculum learning objectives and a focus on Canadian regional history (if we do please let me know!).

Unlike books in a library, records in an archive are not unanimously available to borrow or access. This is because the materials you find in archive, such as letters, photographs, maps, audiovisual material, and manuscripts, are unique original materials that if damaged or lost would mean obtaining another copy is impossible and the information from that record would be lost forever.

So, in the next few blog posts, I will be explaining some of the core archival concepts that explain how records are arranged and organized within an archive. I will also provide some archival hacks (like life hacks but cooler) so you can try to find records related to your school, community, or province. The goal is to provide some context so that if you are searching online or you make it into an archive, you will have some idea of what’s going on. You can also post questions in the comments below and I will answer them as the posts proceed.

While prepackaged materials are awesome resources for teachers, finding records that are relevant to your students because they come from your local community, municipality or province, will allow for students to make more meaningful connections to the material and curriculum.

What are your questions about accessing primary sources through the archives?


Photo credit: Emily Chicorli