An Updated DocsTeach is Coming Your Way

National Archives Building Being Constructed

Photograph of Construction on the National Archives Building, available on DocsTeach (National Archives Identifier 7368457)

We’re excited to announce that we’ve begun an overhaul of, our popular online tool for teaching with documents.

Look for our updated site in the new year!

We launched DocsTeach five years ago. Since then, during more than 10 million visits to our pages from around the world, students have learned about the past through primary sources; and educators have discovered documents, explored online activities, and created learning activities.

And after delivering thousands of presentations about the DocsTeach website — for thousands of educators at conferences, in professional development workshops, and online — there is a short list of questions with which we’ve become familiar. It only made sense to use these as a guide to inform the major updates we plan to make (along with some other improvements too!).

Does DocsTeach work on my iPad, tablet, or other mobile device?

We’re building the new DocsTeach so that the site works on any mobile device, as well as on the computer. Our DocsTeach App for iPad, launched in 2012, enables teachers to share learning activities from with students to access on their iPads; but this change will enable you to find primary sources and create activities from your iPad too.

Can I find teaching activities by grade level?

In addition to finding activities by era, historical thinking skill, and activity type, we’re planning to add a filter for grade level. So you’ll be able to find a great activity for middle school students who are studying the legislative process, for example, more easily.

Can I organize my favorite primary sources into folders? What about my favorite activities?

In the new version, we want members (those who have registered for a— still free! — DocsTeach account) to be able to select primary sources as favorites and organize them within their accounts. The ability to organize and share goes for online activities too.

Do you transcribe the primary source documents on DocsTeach?

We’ll include transcriptions for primary sources on the updated site, adding them on an ongoing basis.

Partial Transcript of Kansas-Nebraska Act

Partial Transcript of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 that repealed the Missouri Compromise and reopened the national struggle over slavery in the western territories. See the act on DocsTeach at

Do audio and video files play right in the activity?

We’re planning to embed videos and audio files on the site so you and your students don’t have to go to any other website or download any media files. This will be especially useful if you’re using DocsTeach on a mobile device.

Is there an easy way to save and print primary sources?

We’re working to make this even easier, with one-click downloading.

Can I include primary sources from places other than the National Archives in an activity I’m making?

We’re going to build flexibility into the new site so that you’re not restricted to National Archives-only content. Your local historical society, or even your grandmother’s scrapbook, probably has some great material!

Can I add primary sources that I find while browsing the site to activities to work on later?

We’re planning to add this feature so that you can continue seamlessly browsing through primary source documents while adding them to one or more activities.

How do I know the copyright status of the primary sources on DocsTeach? And how do I — and my students — cite documents?

Our updated site will include a rights statement and citation for every primary source document.

We’re hard at work updating the site and look forward to sharing more of it with you in the coming months!

This resource is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the support of Texas Instruments, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, and Capital One.

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“New Online Education Materials: The Bill of Rights” Webinar


Join us next Saturday, October 3rd, 2015, from 11:00 a.m. to noon, Eastern Time. Class size is limited. Register here or go to our Professional Development Webinar Page to see other upcoming webinars.

Photograph of a Check List for Preservation of the Bill of Rights

Photograph of a Check List for Preservation of the Bill of Rights, December 3, 1952. (National Archives Identifier 12167942)

Take a look at our vast collection of online education materials, lessons, activities, and documents about the Bill of Rights. And learn a little about what is coming for the 225th anniversary in 2016.

A National Archives certificate of Professional Development (1 clock hour) is available.

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Educators’ Open House in DC on 9/24

For those of you in the DC area, please join us at our open house this Thursday, September 24, from 5:30–7:30 pm at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C.

Come spend the evening and find out more about what we offer for you and your classroom!

Registration is suggested. Please bring your colleagues along!

Open House Flyer

Download the 2015 Open House Invitation

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Constitutional Scavenger Hunt with Political Cartoons Lesson Engages Students

Today’s post comes from Emily Worland, an intern with the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC, and an AP U.S. Government & Politics teacher at Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Texas to celebrate Constitution Day on September 17.


Anyone Home? by Clifford K. Berryman, February 24, 1920; U.S. Senate Collection; NAID 60115

A critical understanding of the provisions of the U.S. Constitution is vital to the success of U.S. Government, Civics, and U.S. History students both in the classroom and as maturing citizens, but how can we, as teachers, engage students with the document? In my classroom, I’ve tried telling anecdotal stories to accompany the major provisions, highlighting Supreme Court case interpretations, and have even tried asking students to ‘translate’ the document. But no methods seem engaging enough.

The Center for Legislative Archive’s new lesson, Constitution Scavenger Hunt with Political Cartoons, puts an end to this struggle. Drawing on the tremendous collection of nearly 2,400 pen-and-ink drawings by cartoonists Clifford and Jim Berryman, this lesson guides students to an understanding of how the provisions of the U.S. Constitution are visually represented in popular media.


The Next Time It May be Final by Clifford K. Berryman, July 14, 1946; U.S. Senate Collection; NAID 60123

In the lesson, students will analyze 16 political cartoons drawn during the early-to mid-20th century and assign each to a provision in the U.S. Constitution. Students will search through the Constitution and associate each cartoon with a specific clause. Through networking, students will analyze all 16 cartoons and read the entire Constitution as they learn about its outline, structure, and content.

While the cartoons depict the events of the late 19th and early 20th century, the provisions of the Constitution provide students with an anchor in which to assign each cartoon regardless of historical context, making the cartoon universal. Beginning a U.S. Government course with this activity will not only enhance student knowledge of the Constitution, but allow them to build confidence in cartoon analysis which enhances social studies skills based on understanding, applying, analyzing, and evaluating.

I really look forward to using this lesson with my AP U.S. Government and on-level students in the first unit of the course to establish a concrete understanding of the Constitution and begin a practice of using current political cartoons to analyze the workings of American politics.

To read the full instructions for the lesson and download the material for your classroom, visit Lesson Plan: Constitutional Scavenger Hunt with Political Cartoons.

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A Game Board Patent

Today’s spotlight document comes in the form of a printed patent drawing.  This illustration was part of a 1904 application for an improved game board.

Gameboard Patent

Drawing for a Game Board, 1/5/1904. From the Records of the Patent and Trademark Office. National Archives Identifier: 595519

Lizzie J. Magie, a citizen of Brentwood, Maryland, submitted this familiar-looking game design as a way to demonstrate economist Henry George’s concept of a single-tax, which was a popular idea being proposed for use in the United States.  Dubbed the Landlord’s Game, the ultimate object of the game is to become the wealthiest player while accumulating as much money as possible.

And why is this so familiar?

In 1935 a game based off of Magie’s board design was patented: Monopoly.

We use it to teach about the Constitution at Work, since Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states that “The Congress shall have Power…To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

This document is just one of many records from the Patent and Trademark Office we hold at the National Archives available for use on DocsTeach.

Today’s post came from former social media intern Holly Chisholm.

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Funding for Exploration

The famous Lewis and Clark expedition is a story of American pioneering.  This first major journey of exploration led the way for vast wilderness to eventually become the “settled” West.  Today’s spotlight document focuses on the very start of this expedition, when in 1803 President Thomas Jefferson sent this confidential letter to Congress.

For “the purpose of extending the external commerce of the United States,” and “that [Congress] should incidentally advance the geographic knowledge of our own continent…” First page of the President Thomas Jefferson Confidential Message to Congress Concerning Relations with the Indians, 1/18/1803. From the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives. National Archives Identifier: 306698

First page of the President Thomas Jefferson Confidential Message to Congress Concerning Relations with the Indians, 1/18/1803. From the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives.
National Archives Identifier: 306698

Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, President Jefferson secretly wrote to Congress requesting $2,500 to send “an intelligent officer, with ten or twelve chosen men” on a mission westward.  The primary goal for what would become the 8,000 mile Lewis and Clark expedition was to seek out trade routes—all the way to the Pacific Ocean—and begin relations with the tribes of Native Americans in the West.

Secondly, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were to report back on the scientific and economic resources beyond the Mississippi River; geography, zoology, botany, and climate are just some of the subjects covered in the expedition journals and sketches.

Financial backing was the first step to taking such an extensive journey, and so President Jefferson wrapped his grand vision of western discovery in the modest aim of promoting commerce.  Congress agreed to provide the expedition’s funding, and in the end, Lewis and Clark were well prepared.  While luxuries of tobacco and whiskey did not last the entire journey, rifles were never empty of powder, and all of the expedition’s findings were able to be recorded with ink and paper.

This letter and other documents about the exploration are available online on DocsTeach.

Today’s post came from former social media intern Holly Chisholm.

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You’re Invited to Our Educators’ Open House

Open House Flyer Download the 2015 Open House Invitation

Announcing our second annual open houseCome — and bring your colleagues — for an evening filled with resources and ideas for you and your students.

Thursday, September 24, 2015
5:30-7:30 pm
National Archives Museum, Washington, D.C.
Registration suggested.

Our education specialists will be on hand all evening to answer questions, chat, and share information about National Archives teaching resources. In addition, we will conduct several short demonstrations of our online and distance learning opportunities, — our online tool for teaching with documents, professional development opportunities, and more.

Following are some of the subjects and resources we will share.

Educators are welcome to visit our exhibits, including Records of Rights, Spirited Republic, The Public Vaults and the Rotunda, which holds the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

Light refreshments will be served.

Please share this invitation with your colleagues!

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Settling the West

Passed in 1862, the Homestead Act was an opportunity for the adult head of a family to gain a federal land grant.  While eligible citizens were only those who had never taken up arms against the United States government, the act still helped give many post-Civil War Americans a new life, and assisted with the country’s expansion westward.

Today, we shine a spotlight on the first claim to be filed under the Homestead Act.

Homesteading Certificate of Eligibility for Daniel Freeman, 1/1/1863. From the Records of the Bureau of Land Management. National Archives Identifier: 1656508

Daniel Freeman submitted his 160-acre claim on January 1, 1863.  In accordance with the rules of the Homestead Act, Freeman was first required to settle his plot for five years, and follow a series of steps for improving the property before he could gain full ownership of the land.  The basic requirements for the homesteaders to fulfill were to build acceptable accommodations and cultivate the land.  Daniel Freeman finished his five years and completed the necessary steps.  On January 20, 1868, he was rewarded with ownership of his claimed land.

You can find this document and other primary sources and teaching activities that deal with the Homestead Act on DocsTeach, our online tool for teaching with documents.

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The Purchase of Alaska

For today’s spotlight document we take a look at the treasury warrant used for the purchase of the 49th state.  On August 1, 1868, this check was issued at the Sub-Treasury Building on New York’s Wall Street.  It noted the transfer of $7,200,000.00 to the Russian Minister to the United States, Edouard de Stoeckl, who had negotiated the Alaska Purchase for the Russians.

Treasury Warrant in the Amount of $7.2 Million for the Purchase of Alaska, 8/1/1868. From the Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury. National Archives Identifier: 301667

The Russian government had contacted the United States in 1866 to offer the Alaskan territories for sale.  A year later, Secretary of State William H. Seward eagerly negotiated and purchased the land for American expansion.  The agreed upon deal was that the United States would pay $7.2 million for Alaska—which for nearly 600,000 square miles, added up to only two cents an acre.  Nevertheless, many thought the Alaska Purchase was a waste of American money, and nicknamed the event “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Icebox.”

The purchase was found to be far from foolish just thirty years later though, when in 1896, gold was discovered in the American “icebox.”  The great Klondike Gold Strike proved the territory’s worth to even the harshest of the Alaska Purchase opponents.

Find this treasury warrant and use it to create a teaching activity on DocsTeach, our online tool for teaching with documents.

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Calling on the Vice President

John Wilkes Booth, the infamous assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, was a busy man on the day of April 14, 1865.  Just hours before the tragedy at Ford’s Theatre, Booth made a visit to the Washington, D.C., hotel where Vice President Andrew Johnson was staying.  It is there that he left today’s spotlight document: a calling card.  Historians are still debating over Booth’s rationale for leaving this card for the vice president.

Calling Card of John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth’s Calling Card, 4/14/1865. From the Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (Army). National Archives Identifier: 7873510

The handwritten card is signed J. Wilkes Booth, and contains the short message, “Don’t wish to disturb you.  Are you at home?”  In the original plans for April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was to be kidnapped and taken to Richmond as a means to demand resuming the prisoner exchanges between the Union and the Confederacy.  But shortly after Lincoln’s second inaugural speech, in which he hinted at granting voting rights to African-American men, Booth changed his hostage strategy to include darker and more permanent measures.

As according to this final plan, Lincoln was shot and killed by John Wilkes Booth. However, Booth’s accomplice George Atzerodt lost his nerve and was unable to go through with the assassination of the vice president, leaving Andrew Johnson to become the 17th President of the United States.

You can find more documents on the Civil War and Reconstruction online at

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