+ Teachers: Primary Resources at the Library of Congress

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Teachers can subscribe to a free quarterly newsletter, “Teaching with Primary Resources (TPS) Quarterly,”  offered by the Library of Congress.  Visit http://www.loc.gov/teachers/tps/quarterly/

In the most recent online issue, Danna Bell-Russel writes “Beyond Typescript and Photographs: Using Primary Resources in Different Formats.”

Bell-Russel is a reference librarian and archivist working in the Educational Outreach Division of the Library of Congress.  She answers questions from teachers who want to help their students engage in real inquiry, construct knowledge  and develop critical thinking skills.

She hopes to encourage teachers to use a wider range of formats than the standard photographs and photocopied documents so widely available.

Among the Library of Congress’s digitized collections are materials that students can use to explore multiple points of view and the varying documentary methods people have implemented throughout history.

Handwritten Manuscripts 

Before email and tweeting existed — people relied on pen and paper to document their experiences. 

Handwritten manuscripts offer unique and intimate perspective on historical events.  While some of the Library’s manuscripts have been transcribed, there is excitement and insight available when viewing a person’s original writing.

Bell-Russel suggests that students might value letters from Civil War participants and their families.  One of the collections is called “A Civil War Soldier in the Wild Cat Regiment.”  This collection includes letters to and from Tilton C. Reynolds, who was a member of the 105th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers.  His correspondence documents the difficulties faced by the soldiers, and even covers his prisoner-of-war experiences among his Confederate captors.

Also available  is Orlando Gray’s letter describing the Battle of Williamsburg.  

“A Teacher’s Guide to Analyzing Manuscripts” is also available.  And students can complete the “Primary Source Analysis Tool,” in order to document and organize their thinking.   Bell-Russel suggests that the question, “How did Confederates view the Battle of Williamsburg,” could lead to analyzing manuscripts written by soldiers on the opposing side.

Posters, Prints and Drawings

Search the Library’s “Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.” This collection includes architectural drawings, baseball cards and cartoon drawings.

The WPA Poster Collection collects the posters commissioned to tell communities about upcoming events, healthcare messages and other information during the Depression.    Of course, teachers can use the Teacher’s Guide to Analyzing Photographs and Prints.  Students might create their own posters to highlight current issues.

History and the Movies

Before YouTube and Hulu, films were black and white, and some were silent.  Films provide a visual moving reminder of the ways people lived and thought at that time.

Check out The Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures, or Raising Old Glory Over Morro Castle.  Of course, there is a Teacher’s Guide.

Oral Histories

The Library of Congress has a number of oral history collections such as American Life Histories, Born in Slavery, and Voices From the Days of Slavery which provide stories of life during the Civil War, Reconstruction and the early 20th century.

The Veteran’s History Project collects stories of American war veterans — from World War I to current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Students can read transcripts when available as they listen to interviews.

Historic Sheet Music and Sound Recordings

Check out the selections from the Historic Sheet Music Collection, 1800-1922.  Collections also include musical and spoken word sound recordings.  The Library also has several “folklife” collections that feature sound recordings of people’s songs, stories and history.  One example is Voices from the Dust Bowl.


 Maps are portable and provide images that document places at certain times in history.  They give visual documentation of terrain and claimed territory, environmental characteristics and more.  They can offer clues to a particular mapmaker’s point of view. 

Student might choose “A mapp of Virginia discovered to ye hills.”    There are Railroad maps, “Broadside and Printed Ephemera.”

“Endless Instructional Possibilities”

Bell-Russel suggests that teachers will find millions of digitized items to be used by students across all grade levels and subjects.

For assistance, she suggests that teachers check out the self-guided professional development modules, Themed Resources for Teachers, web guides developed by the Library’s Digital Reference Section, or Ask a Librarian.

sole source: Danna Bell-Russel’s article in the current TPS Quarterly from the Library of Congress.  Bell-Russel is an Educational Resources Specialist at the Library of Congress. 

She previously served as a member of the Library’s Digital Reference Section, the first reference division created to specifically answer questions about the online resources found on www.loc.gov.

tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021  or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com



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