Truman Presidential Inquiries

Today’s post comes from Mark Adams, education specialist at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, MO.

Historians practice their craft by asking questions about the past, then searching for evidence to construct the best answer possible. Similarly we learn history best by asking questions about the past, going to the original sources of history and evaluating what they tell us.

The lessons created in the “Truman Presidential Inquiries” project do just that. They pose a question connected to Truman’s time as president, then direct the learner to carefully consider what the evidence reveals.

Truman DBQ Website

The instructional sequence is intended to be flexible; instead of attempting to lay out what to do during single class periods, these lessons are designed to encourage the steps basic to every inquiry:

  1. Frame the inquiry – Decide what is worthy of investigation and how it will be accomplished.
  2. Go to the sources – Look for reliable sources on the topic, taking note of the diverse perspectives they reveal.
  3. Review the evidence – Evaluate the evidence to determine what answer or interpretation is best supported by this information.
  4. Communicate an answer – Share the best answer or interpretation to the original question in an interesting format.

We invite you to try out these lessons and even try creating your own. You can mix up these lessons to fit the needs of your students or the time constraints of your classroom. If the documents you find don’t satisfy your students’ curiosity, you will find that many of the valuable documents held by the Truman Library are digitized. Many of these are found in research files, organized by subject, or you can dig deeper with other archival finding aids.

During the summers of 2015 and 2016, Independence School District teachers created ten different inquiries examining a variety of issues during Truman’s presidency. These range from the use of the atomic bomb, to civil rights, to the establishment of the CIA and more. Each inquiry contains background information, an essential question for students to wrestle with, directions, and then primary source material from the Truman Library archives.

All the handouts and resources are downloadable and available for anyone to use from the Truman Library website at:

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