Historical Research for K–12 Students: A Roundtable Discussion with Archivists and Educators

AHA Session 72
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Clinton Room (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Stephen N. Sanfilippo, Maine Maritime Academy
Dana Dorman, Historical Society of Haddonfield
Kimberly McCleary, Historical Society of Pennsylvania
David Reader III, Haddonfield Memorial High School
Brenda Santos, Achievement First

Session Abstract

The roundtable discussion will focus on the relationship between K-12 educators, students, and archivists in the development of research projects based on primary source collections. Archivists and educators will share their experiences working together to develop engaging opportunities for K-12 student research, and the challenges of working within the constraints of curriculum requirements, school policies, and overloaded staff. Panelists will also discuss obstacles that K-12 students experience while working with unpublished materials, census data, cursive handwriting, copyright questions, and the other responsibilities associated with archival research.

Teaching with primary sources has long been recognized as a vital piece of history education, but too often curriculum designers and teachers treat primary source documents as illustrations for the historical timeline rather than objects that facilitate inquiry, challenge historical narratives, and help students contextualize disparate points of view on historical events. Presented as de-contextualized authorities, historical documents can cloud students’ understanding of historical knowledge production and uphold incorrect historical narratives. Even the most robust uses of primary source documents in Advanced Placement curriculum can serve to prevent rather than inspire historical thinking, requiring students to use snippets of pre-selected documents to prooftext essay responses built on proscribed structures. Engaging with primary sources in their archival context allows teachers to invite students into the world of historical inquiry. An archival approach to using primary sources in the classroom offers students the opportunity to embrace complexity, consider contingency, and explore historiography.

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