National Archives

Fourth of July banneres hang from the Constitution Avenue side of the National Archives building in Washington, DC, on June 28, 2017, in preparation of the upcoming Fourth of July holiday. NARA photo by Brogan Jackson

The U.S. National Archives

The United States National Archives has incredible resources for use in the history classroom. With free access digital files from across U.S. History, this is an excellent starting point for primary sources and historical evidence.

While there are guided lessons here, the digital archives are much more expansive. Try conducting a search within the archives relating to any lesson that you might teach in U.S. History. You can often find valuable resources that are not used in any lesson plans anywhere.

While many education companies and publishers have bundled these resources for sale, these are all free images. Aside from fair use expectations that we have as educators, most of the images and documents within the Archives also have no restrictions. These companies are offering a product that bundles free stuff. As teachers, we can make these lessons ourselves. As the Archives suggests, these are “our documents.”

The National Archives themselves offer extensive recommendations for how to use the resources on their website. The educator resources section of the Archives offers strong recommendations and templates for analysis of different source types.

For those looking for more of a multimedia-rich option, the Archives have made some cohesive modules to explore. Their DocsTeach program and tool can be useful for exploring the image files. Students can use these guided lesson tools directly if your classroom has devices and consistent internet.

My favorite use of the archives is usually diving into their search function. There are so many rich resources available that we can use to teach history that the Archives has made available digitally. Depending on the lesson goals, the National Archives can provide sources to support the study of every social studies discipline. With some practice, the Archives filtering system can be used to get excellent historical evidence from the source.

It is important to recognize that most of the primary source documents that instructors purchase are for ease of collection and gathering of resources. As educators, we can go to the archives ourselves to better match historical evidence with our lesson goals.