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 Learning Our Community's American Lore

Doing History: What Historians Do

Historians, Students and Teachers Doing History--Version: January, 2005

Choose | Locate | Examine | Interpret | Understand context | Draw conclusions | Present

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Examine primary sources  
What historians do when they "do history" What students do when they "do history" What teachers do to help their students "do history"
  • Interrogate these sources with their research question in mind.
  • Look for examples of conflict and change over time
  • Look for stories that might contribute to new understandings of a historical period
  • Look for silences in the documents, and wonder about what is not there and why
  • Examine different types of sources, including: newspapers, magazines, legal documents, census papers, maps, photographs, drawings, cartoons, paintings, murals, memorials, advertisements, films
  • Travel to locations to do fieldwork, looking closely at manmade spaces (buildings, streets, bridges) and natural spaces (rivers, beaches, marshes, mountains, etc).
  • Interrogate these sources with their research question in mind.
  • Observe, wonder and infer
  • Examine different types of sources, including: newspapers, magazines, legal documents, census papers, maps, photographs, drawings, cartoons, paintings, murals, statues, advertisements, films.
  • Travel to locations to do fieldwork, looking closely at manmade spaces (buildings, streets, bridges) and natural spaces (rivers, beaches, marshes, mountains, etc).
  • Teach students skills to be applied in examining sources: reading skills and comprehension strategies, for example
  • Lead discussions with students on how to examine different types of primary sources.
  • Help students distinguish between fact and inference, observation vs. judgment.
  • Facilitate students doing independent examinations of different types of sources print, three-dimensional, still image, moving image, sound.
  • Arrange and facilitate fieldwork (buses, scheduling, etc.) to enable firsthand experiences.
  • Prepare class for fieldwork: identify learning goals; prepare assignments to observe, collect data
  • Facilitate fieldwork on location
  • Debrief fieldwork upon return to the classroom.


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