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24 great places to find primary sources

It’s always a difficult task. If we’re going to have kids think historically and to solve problems, you’re gonna need two things. Engaging and authentic problems to solve. And . . . evidence they can use to solve the problem.

For teachers, of course, both of those things present a challenge. Creating great questions is not easy. NCLB and older standards encouraged us to feed kids low level questions that anyone with a cell phone could Google in a minute. Writing un-Googleable questions is hard.

But even when we can make that happen, teachers often run into another issue. Where to find useful evidence? What primary and secondary sources can I make available to students?

it’s not easy but the process is getting so much easier than it used to be. Pre-Interwebs, it was nearly impossible unless you had tons of money to purchase Jackdaw kits and document facsimiles. (78% of you reading this have probably never even heard of Jackdaw kits. Bless your heart. A Jackdaw kit contained a collection of reproduced primary source “documents” – so if you were studying Western Movement, the kit might contain a letter written by a woman on the Oregon Trail or a government document outlining how troops should interact with Native Americans. All created to look realistic and old-timey.)

Anyway . . . the process is a bit simpler now. Tons of documents are now online and free to use. Of course, the Jackdaw kit, as expensive as it was, contained everything you needed. No searching. No late nights browsing for useful and engaging documents.

Joe Sangillo from the Maryland Montgomery County Public Schools Social Studies Department has got your back. He’s created a Google Doc, highlighting 24 of the best primary source web sites where you can find US, World, and government primary sources. Some you may already know but I’m guessing you’re going to find some new ones as well. All are designed by educators for educators and so many have searchable databases with standards alignment tools built in.

Not enough?

Head to my rarely updated primary sources page at Social Studies Central for a longer list. Between Joe’s document and my page, you’ll find plenty to keep you and your kids plenty busy.


6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bill Farley #

    Library of Congress is on the top of his list. I agree! The digitization of newspapers is one of the greatest contributions to researchers using the internet. The Library of Congress is just one of many sites that features these searchable resources. What a gift to be able to search and find a specific topic, and then be able to read about other events of the same time period.

    August 28, 2014
    • glennw #

      Agreed – the LOC is a no-brainer for every social studies teacher! Love the aligned standards tool and the ability browse primarysource collection.

      Thanks for the comment!


      August 28, 2014
  2. Thanks Glenn!

    August 28, 2014
    • glennw #

      No problem! It’s a great list. Thanks for putting it together.


      August 28, 2014
  3. I have to say that perhaps we should be encouraging the use of Jackdaws still.

    Or perhaps everyone else has better printers.

    But comparing 8.5 x 11 paper to what is in a Jackdaw is like comparing apples to an 8.5 x 11 printout of an apple.

    What surprises me though is that Jackdaws are still so expensive. Because in my opinion you need 4-5 of the same set per class to have the rich group experience of poring through a set (and not dividing a single set for a whole class).

    August 29, 2014

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