Historical Thinking = Sagacious* Use of Primary Sources (and the Internet)

This blog has been challenging for me to write this month. Usually an idea crops up from my day to day work with teachers that begs to be blogged about, but I have been spinning my wheels for a while here. Maybe it’s the latest blast of winter weather that has me struggling to find a juicy thesis about a timely historical thinking topic. Whatever the issue, I’m going to keep writing until something happens! Fasten your seat belts; this could be a bumpy ride!

Over the past couple of days I have been thinking about: writing this blog, the class I’m teaching on Writing in Social Studies, the TAH Teaching Fellows group that will meet next week, the teacher field trips and the History Book Group that I need to pull together, the Participation in Government FOCUS Interest Group that we hope to continue, a Teacher Leadership Retreat we need to plan and my upcoming trip to the National Council for History Education Conference. All of that thinking (and some reading along the way) led me to ponder the use of primary sources and how we use them in our teaching, which, in turn, suggested these questions:

  • How do we develop historical questions or problems that are worth thinking, teaching, and learning about?
  • How do we choose primary sources that illustrate a historical problem?
  • How do we use these primary sources in the classroom to help students develop historical thinking skills?

Here’s an idea! I’ll write about choosing and using primary sources. Let’s see what’s out there that I can use! Internet…Google…I start by finding articles online. Nothing new there. I am always finding articles online. In fact, I find a LOT of articles and resources online that are relevant (mostly) to whatever it is that I am working on. The problem is that one article leads to another link, which leads me to something else, and I find that two hours later I have saved and/or printed a stack of different articles and resources! Now I have to peruse, evaluate, prioritize and sort the articles into piles. There are the articles that I can use for this project, articles that I can use for something else, and articles that aren’t really relevant to anything I’m working on right now but are too interesting not to keep.

Here is a list of just some of my haul over the last couple of days:

book(You may notice several connections to Sam Wineburg and Stanford University. Wineburg is one of the founders of the Stanford History Education Group and his book, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, is a seminal work on the idea of historical thinking and is widely referenced in much of the literature on the teaching and learning of history. If you haven’t spent any time on the SHEG site, go there NOW!! It has a wealth of resources that you should see and think about using.)

I have learned that the Internet has made research both easier and much more difficult! I find so many things that are useful (even after sorting through lots of chaff) that sometimes I am overwhelmed by the possibilities. I wonder if this is what historians go through as they search for sources that help them build an argument about the past. How do historians begin to filter through the mountain of evidence to find the source that is exactly right? Do they think that if they just at looked at one more resource, they might find what they were looking for all along? Maybe this process of finding sources is never really finished. Perhaps we always need to be on the lookout for great sources and resources to use in our work, even if we find them while we are looking for something else!

Back to the blog problem…after all of this searching and sorting what do I have? I definitely have things to use in my class. I have material that I will use when we take our teacher field trips. I rediscovered an online training at the Library of Congress on using primary sources that I will use for my own professional development and maybe for a workshop sometime in the future. But, alas, I didn’t find the inspiration that I was looking for and I am still thinking about what to write for this blog.

Maybe I’ll have an idea next month…

Fanelli_Jen_WEBCheers,
Jenny
jfanelli@ocmboces.org

*having or showing keen mental discernment and good judgment; shrewd

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