Memorable Primary Sources: Teacher-Digitized Documents

Today’s post comes from Kevin Goffard, former intern in our Education and Public Programs division.

Earlier this year, we added hundreds of new documents to DocsTeach, thanks to teachers in our Primarily Teaching workshops across the country. While all the documents they found were interesting and had ample connections to the classroom, a couple of them, for me, were especially memorable. These are my top picks from this summer’s additions.

Spider compartment drawing from a Skylab student project
Spider compartment drawing from a Skylab student project, 1973. From the Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. National Archives Identifier: 20150116.

First up, from our workshop in Atlanta, is I-V-23 Skylab Student Project: Web Formation in Zero Gravity. This document addresses a student’s proposal for the Skylab missions that NASA undertook in 1973, to compare a spider’s web-making skills in space versus on earth. The mission was successful in that the spiders adjusted to their environment and spun their webs; however, some of the spiders, sadly, did not make it.

Besides being an intriguing document, it also relates to many topics in a social studies classroom—particularly U.S. Government. Let’s take teaching about civic responsibility in the Constitution as an example. This student’s participation can help show your students an example of what they can do to be a responsible citizen in our country.

Concerning our Restricted Output
“Concerning our Restricted Output” from the Coca-Cola Company, 1918. From the Records of the U.S. Food Administration. National Archives Identifier: 20762218

Next, we go to Chicago, with the poster Concerning our Restricted Output from the Coca-Cola Company. There were many domestic policy changes on the homefront during World War I— including food rationing. Perhaps my favorite evidence of these policies is the many posters and propaganda that were created.

You can lead your students in analyzing the poster to determine the type of information being conveyed, how it was conveyed, why it was conveyed, and how that information might have influenced Americans during the war. This poster fits right into in a typical World War I unit.

San Francisco Newspaper Article
Translation of a San Francisco Newspaper Article Enclosed with a Letter from F. E. Batturs, of Morgan’s Louisiana and Texas Railroad and Steamship Company, 9/7/1905. From the Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. National Archives Identifier: 23835446.

Let’s cross over to the east coast to Washington, D.C., where teachers digitized nearly 100 documents focused on Chinese immigration. An example is the letter from F. E. Batturs, of Morgan’s Louisiana and Texas Railroad and Steamship Company, to P. H. Stretton, Inspector in Charge in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Batturs wrote to the Inspector in Charge and attached a news article about conditions that Chinese immigrants endured in transit. This document could be used while teaching about the Chinese Exclusion Act or in making a connection to current events. A great way to do this (and to allow your students to critically think across time) is to go to DocsTeach, grab some of our abundant immigration-related documents from all across America’s history, and create a Making Connections activity.

Map Showing Locations of Priest Rapids Fishery on the Columbia River
Township Map No. 9 Showing Locations of Priest Rapids Fishery on the Columbia River, 1/19/1889. From the Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. National Archives Identifier: 22440067.

Finally, we move to Seattle. Though from an 1889 report on “Fishing Privileges Guaranteed by Treaties to Indians in the Northwest,” Township Map No. 9 Showing Locations of Priest Rapids Fishery relates to issues surrounding Native tribal fisheries on the Pacific Coast in the 1970s.

This map, as one might guess, helps define the location and helps show, in relationship to other sites, where the fishery was located and its boundary. Students can compare it to a map from today or analyze it in a Mapping History activity on DocsTeach to practice analytical map reading.

This is just a sample of the amazing documents now in DocsTeach, thanks to the combined efforts of teachers across the country and National Archives staff and interns. Combine these new documents with the thousands of other primary sources available on DocsTeach, and you may find yourself using them more often than a secondary source textbook.

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