November 11, 2011

Information Literacy, Primary Sources and American History

The Library of Congress has a wealth of materials for promoting the effective instructional use of primary sources. Primary sources are the raw materials of history and culture and can be great tools for teaching.
Draft of the United States Constitution:
Report of the Committee of Detail,

ca. August 6, 1787

A number of our writing intensive courses have students analyzing primary documents, images, recordings, or maps from an earlier era.

It's a natural way to get students engaged with content. It certainly lends itself to building critical thinking skills. Obviously, it is an interesting way to use information literacy in class.

Primary sources related to U.S. legislation help students explore the writings and ideas at the core of the American experience—the documents that have made the United States the nation that it is, and that continue to shape its evolution today.

Some lessons that can be easily undertaken using the Library's resources:
  • Look at the drafts of the founding documents and compare them to the final copies. Identify significant changes between the documents, and speculate as to how the nation might have been different if those changes hadn’t been made.
  • As you study issues in U.S. history, use THOMAS to find and examine recent legislative documents on the same topic—immigration, poverty, the role of religion in politics, for example. Identify whether the recent documents use similar language or persuasive techniques as the historical documents, or if approaches to the topic have changed in the intervening years.
The Library of Congress Teacher Guides and Analysis Tool can guide students through analysis of these primary sources.

The gateway to investigating these landmark documents is the Legislative Resources for Teachers page from the Library of Congress, which provides free online access to primary sources that trace the legislative history of the U.S., along with teaching tools that allow educators to quickly and easily integrate these documents into the curriculum.

Creating the United States lets students examine rough drafts of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, as well as providing insights into the intellectual environment and collaborative process that saw these charters come into being.

Once students are immersed in the world of Adams, Madison, and Jefferson, Library of Congress lesson plans on the Constitution and Bill of Rights let them ask critical questions of the documents and their authors, as they consider how the smallest changes might have made the United States a very different nation today.

SOURCE:  Teaching with the Raw Materials of the Law: Primary Sources and the Legislative Process

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