Kimberly McCleary, Historical Society of Pennsylvania
David Reader III, Haddonfield Memorial High School
Brenda Santos, Achievement First
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 Presented as de-contextualized authorities, historical documents can cloud students’ understanding of historical knowledge production and uphold incorrect historical narratives.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.