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Tip of the Week: DPLA primary source sets


Several years ago, I ran across the Digital Public Library of America, a very cool online archive of primary sources, teaching ideas, and depository of all sorts of history collections. I wrote a quick overview of the DLPA and highlighted some of the useful tools that were available. It continues to be a powerful resource and is one of those non-negotiable sites that all social studies teachers need to bookmark.

Recently, Samantha Gibson from the DPLA contacted me with an update on their latest project. The project, simply titled Primary Source Sets, focuses on the effective use of primary source evidence to support historical thinking skills. Along with making your kids smarter and your life easier, the sets reinforce the importance of making sure that the DPLA is added to your list of top ten tools.

Over the last 12 months, the DPLA has created and published 100 Primary Source Sets on topics in history, literature, and culture designed to help students develop critical thinking skills through primary source analysis and inquiry-based instruction. The sets were created and reviewed by teachers on the DPLA Education Advisory Committee and are ready-to-use for both middle and high school students and teachers.dpla sets 1Each set includes a topic overview, ten to fifteen primary sources, links to related resources, and a teaching guide with discussion questions and ideas for classroom activities. Drawing online materials from libraries, archives, and museums across the United States, the sets use letters, photographs, posters, oral histories, video clips, sheet music, and more. Initial teacher and student feedback on the project has illustrated a variety of ways in which the sets can be used, from independent resource projects to classroom debates and close reading of individual sources.

dpla sets 2

Patronage and Populism: The Politics of the Gilded Age

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald teaching guide

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald teaching guide

The sets are entirely free to use and provide one-stop access to a large and expanding collection of digitized cultural heritage materials, bringing together the riches of national institutions like the Smithsonian and local collections.  The featured primary sources in the sets, in particular, were carefully selected to provide educators and students with the flexibility to engage with the resources in a variety of ways, inspiring deep and meaningful engagement with history, literature, and culture, from the historical context for The Great Gatsby to the feminist debates of the 1970s over the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

As we shift our classroom instruction toward inquiry-based learning and away from textbooks in favor of open education resources, the Primary Source Sets are valuable tools that save you time and improve learning.

An added bonus?

There are tons of other goodies at the DPLA.

  • The DPLA uses an easy-to-use portal where anyone can access America’s collections and search through them using novel and powerful techniques, including by place and time.
  • The site uses a sophisticated platform that will make those millions of items available in ways such as smartphone apps.

You can browse and search the DPLA’s collections by timeline, map, format, and topic; save items to customized lists; and share their lists with others. The site also also explore digital exhibitions curated by the DPLA’s content partners and staff. Once you find what you’re looking for, you get a link back to the original item.

The cool thing is that, like any library, you end up stumbling across some awesome document that you weren’t even looking for. And with over two million items, you can stumble around for hours.

An extra added bonus?The DPLA is modeled after the original European version, Europeana. So when you’re done stumbling around in the American history DPLA, be sure to head over there for world and European resources.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. I am neither a teacher nor a student but I certainly appreciate this info re: the digital library. It is a wonderful source and a wealth of information. Thank you sincerely.

    June 6, 2016

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