The use of primary sources in junior high and high school history classes has been widely overlooked in the recent past. The 2001 National Assessment of Educational Progress in United States History found that eighty seven percent of students in the fourth grade, seventy percent of students in the eighth grade, and seventy seven percent of students in the twelfth grade used primary source documents just once a month or less (Lee, 2003).
These numbers indicate that a majority of history teachers are not exposing their students to these first hand historical narratives. There are a number of possible reasons why this might be the case. I believe the primary reason to be a lack of education in the history teaching community about the availability of these documents.
Before the invention of computers and the Internet, historians were faced with the challenge of searching through massive, dusty archives to find many of these primary source documents. To make matters worse, these documents were scattered in archives all over the country, making it an inconvenience for teachers to go in search of material with their cramped and busy schedules.
The Internet has revolutionized the archival system. There are an abundance of rich primary sources that have been recently made easy to locate. This new resource needs to be recognized and implemented by history teachers. These newly available documents allow for learner-centered experiences in the history classroom (Lee, 2003). Using primary sources turns the teacher into a facilitator, allowing students the chance to explore history and form their own knowledge of an event being studied.
History is often taught through textbooks as if the subject were a seamless course of events, with no gaps, no unanswered questions, and no conflicting viewpoints to be addressed (Yeager & Morris, 1995). The power and intrigue of studying history is that there is never one right answer to anything. Studying past events to gain a context to what is currently taking place is what motivates most people in this field. Students, however, are often shown history in a form of regurgitating factoids for next week’s exam. Once the exam is finished, students forget what has been learned to make room for a new set of facts to be memorized for the next test. Why do history teachers allow themselves to fall into this trap of relying on the textbook for their curriculum?
The rationale for this section of the project is twofold. One, I believe students should be exposed to multiple perspectives on historical issues of the past and present. Two, I believe students should be exposed to primary sources so that they can develop their own knowledge, skills, and predispositions. Students should not believe that the development of knowledge is only found in textbooks. A failure to push students beyond a reliance of the textbook defeats the purpose of studying history.
By dealing with primary sources directly, students are more likely to engage in asking questions, thinking critically, making reasoned inferences, and developing reasoned explanations and interpretations of historical events and issues (Singleton & Giese, 1999). These are the higher order cognitive processes we as teachers strive for our students to reach.
For this reason, I have compiled a list of the best resources available on the Internet for studying the Civil War through primary source documents. Teachers will find these resources to be easily accessible, holding a wealth of information, and lending themselves well to classroom use. I have concentrated on noting only the best websites; many more are out there. Typing, “The Civil Car,” on a Google search turns up over three million hits. Needless to say, I did not look all of them up. The sites found within this packet are mostly provided by leading American universities, specialized projects and archives, or individual historians I deemed to be trustworthy. As always, when using the Internet in the classroom, teachers will need to preview the material before its use with students.
Primary Sources List
Description: This website was put together by the New Jersey State Museum Planetarium and the Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium. It gives a guide to educators on how to use the song, “Follow the Drinking Gourd” in their classroom lessons. This song can be found in the music section of this packet. One of the nice things about this site is that it breaks down the song verse by verse, giving the meanings of the words used. It also has pictures of drinking gourds and diagrams of the stars in the sky, showing students how the slaves associated one with the other. There are valuable links to a NASA website which complements the information on the background of the song, and a link to an astronomy background lesson which is associated with the song. Using the song with the information provided on this website is an easy way to incorporate astronomy into the `history curriculum.
Description: Developed by the University of Kansas, this is a well-known site among history enthusiasts. It includes primary source documents in the study of American history from the fifteenth century through President Bush’s speech to Congress following September 11 `h. There is a complete section on the Civil Car, which includes correspondence between generals and political leaders, the Gettysburg Address, and Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Speech. This site is not only useful for the study of the Civil Car, but for any United States history course.
Description: This is the homepage for the Library of Congress’s American Memory project. They have developed a complete collection of historical materials and made them available in a digital format over the Internet for a wide variety of historical subjects. The area devoted to the Civil War I note here for the photographs located within. Many are from the famous Civil Car photographer Mathew Brady. The photograph section includes over 1,100 different pictures taken during the war that are easily accessible over the Internet. There is also a Civil War map area, where you can find a wonderful battlefield map of Gettysburg showing troop locations in the field. This website is a good resource for teachers looking for material to supplement their lessons or power point presentations.
Description: This website has been provided by the Special Collections Library at DukeUniversity. It is devoted to the study of women’s history, and has a special section entirely devoted to Civil War women. This is a rich site of primary sources belonging to women on both sides of the conflict. The three collections featured on the site include the Rose O’Neal Greenhow Papers, a Cashington Society member and secessionist. She is known best as a spy for the Confederate States of America during the war and correspondence between her and members of the Confederacy can be accessed on this website. There is also a section on Sarah E. Thompson, a Union sympathizer inGreeneville, Tennessee, which includes correspondence between her and members of the Union during the war. Also noted is the diary of a young girl in Gallatin, Tennessee, during the Union occupation of her town. Along with these three-featured women is a link to other Civil Car primary sources of women that is available on the Internet from the Duke University Collection.
Description: This is a site devoted to first person narratives on the American South, put together by the University of North Carolina Library. The description given on the website says that the site, “focuses on the diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, travel accounts, and ex-slave narratives of relatively inaccessible populations: women, African Americans, enlisted men, laborers, and Native Americans.” Any teacher of history looking for a collection of narratives on life in the South during the war need look no further than this website. It has an exhaustive alphabetical list of their electronic texts, which are composed of journals, diaries, and letters. The site is very easy to navigate, and a helpful source of information on life in the southern states.
Description: The website provides a collection of primary sources on just about every area of world history. By clicking on the Civil Car link, you are taken into a page that contains several primary source accounts of what happened at different battles and events surrounding the war. Following each account, the author has given the references from which the information has been obtained. This site is not as valuable to the Civil Car as some of the others I have reviewed, but still worth looking into for its primary source materials.
Description: Put together by GeorgeMasonUniversity with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, this website has been created to help high school and college teachers of U.S. History find resources to use in their classrooms. One section deals with primary sources, another links past events with current issues today. There are links to guides for analyzing primary source documents in the classroom and a link to assignments other teachers have created using web resources. If one of these links and others does not point you to what you are looking for, there is a quick search box to aid you in your hunt for information. By typing “Civil Car” into the quick search box, it finds helpful websites with primary source information helpful on the topic, many of which are compiled in this packet. This website is not only a helpful resource on researching information on the Civil Car, but any topic enclosed within U.S. History.
Description: This intriguing website is the home to a collection of letters and other correspondence between a 21 year old Iowa soldier during the Civil Car and a woman back home. The letters describe the conditions inside Union camps, soldier’s frustrations during the war, and of the diseases that inflicted heavy casualties on the men surrounding this young soldier. The website also provides links to lesson plans other teachers have created for their classrooms when using the letters provided by the website. The letters are listed in a helpful chronological table of contents page with brief descriptions of what each letter is about.
Description: The website provides a compilation of primary source materials written during the Civil War that appeared in the Massachusetts newspapers. By clicking on the provided links, you are brought to pages that include the diaries of soldiers, letters written to home, memoirs of war experiences written after the wars conclusion, and other fascinating stories involving experiences in the Civil Car. The website is very easy to navigate, and provides a wealth of information. Some of the diaries take a while to load on slower computers because of the file sizes involved. Keep in mind when searching this site, that you will only find information on groups originating from Massachusetts.
Description: This website is home to the United States Civil War Center created by LouisianaStateUniversity. It provides an index of information related to the Civil Car that can be found on the Internet. One fascinating area of the site is entitled “Beyond Face Value,” and includes a collection of images and narrative detailing the images of slavery found on assorted currency used by the Confederacy during the war years. You can find the link to this area at the bottom left of the website under the heading “Virtual Exhibits.” The other option under Virtual Exhibits is a collection of children’s books published by the North and South during the war. This is titled Blue and Gray for Boys and Girls and offers a museum like tour of some of the books, including pictures of the books in special cases at the university with a short description of what the book is about and the history behind it. The index of Civil Car websites is categorized into many different subtopics such as flags, food, medicine, battles, etc. Each category has several different websites listed to help you find what your looking for, and over 7,000 total are included in the index. This website is an excellent source to start an information hunt on any topic dealing with the war.
Description: This website is maintained by a Dr. George Hoemann, Assistant Dean of for Distance Education and Independent Study at the University of Tennessee. The website started as a class project in 1995 and has grown exponentially since its launch. Much like the LSU website, it offers links to information found on the web about the Civil Car and a mind-boggling list of topics. I highly recommend both this site and the LSU site as a place to point students and teachers who wish to search for information about any topic surrounding the war.
Description: This website titled, The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War, traces two communities, one Northern and one Southern, through the Civil War experience. The two communities involved are Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and AugustaCounty, Virginia. The sources that can be found within the site include newspapers, letters, diaries, photographs, maps, church records, population census, agricultural census, and military records. Part one of the website includes information concerning the coming of the war in the two communities, whereas part two provides information on the war years. What teachers will find helpful is links to teacher resources when using the website. These include lesson plans for grades 7-12, and research paper topics for high school and college students. The website has won numerous awards for the depth of information it provides to students and instructors of the Civil Car. A word of caution, the site is massive and can eat up large parts of your day if you are not careful. There is so much content to be found within this site that I strongly recommend teachers to thoroughly overview what can be found within the site before attempting to use it with their students. Each section of the website divides the information into a floor plan, much like museum exhibits which can be visited. By clicking on areas of the floor plan, you are taken to pages where you can find the information you are looking for.
Description: This website offers a wide variety of documents and resources detailing events of the Civil Car. Particularly useful are the primary sources found on this site such as battle reports from the field describing confrontations between the two armies. There are also many letters and diaries to be found, including the Sullivan Ballou letter recited on the Ken Bums documentary. The site makes finding information clear, and is presented in a layout that does not leave the eyes feeling tired trying to search for information as others sometimes do. Another strength of this website is a fairly complete list of major speeches given by Abraham Lincoln during the war years that are hard to find in other places.
Description: This is a well organized website providing information on the Civil Car. One thing I like about this website is the music section, which provides information on each song along with links to the lyrics. The list of songs is not as complete as the website provided by Kathie Watson, but still may be helpful if you are looking for information not found there. The website also provides a list of battles, and these are arranged in two ways, chronologically and by state. There is also a short list of diaries and letters that may interest some looking for more primary sources not found at other sites.
Description: This site is home to the Smithsonian’s collection of Civil War materials. The power of this site is that for each detailed description of an item, there is a full color photo of the item as well, lending itself well to the development of power point presentations. The collections found on this website are very interesting to look at, making it possible for students to take a tour of the museum without traveling all the way to WashingtonD.C. The pictures are very high quality, but I would expect nothing less from the Smithsonian Institution. Educators will also find the timeline and resources sections helpful. The timeline page gives a year-by-year count of events with brief descriptions. The references section offers a list of books recommended by the people at Smithsonian, as well as links to helpful websites.
Description: The best way to describe this website would be to tell you that it is a collection of assorted works on the Civil Car assembled into one place by a guy who calls himself “Shotgun.” Needless to say, if you wanted to use this as a resource for your students, prescreening would be a must. Chen I investigated the site, I looked at several of the links, including the opinions about the war from Shotgun himself. I didn’t see any improper language that would keep it out of the classroom, but I was also only skimming different parts of that link. Shotgun is a Southerner and has committed his life to studying the Civil Car. With all that said, most of the information on the site looks to be legit and trustworthy. There is a wide variety of material on different players in the war and descriptions of many events surrounding the war. Shotgun has divided the website into easy to use categories with links to the information you are searching for. Clicking on someone’s name or an event links you to the information you have chosen, with a reference at the bottom of the page as to where the information has been taken from.