A "Genuine Relationship with the Actual": New Perspectives on Primary Sources, History and the Internet in the Classroom


Download 107 Kb.
Size107 Kb.

A "Genuine Relationship with the Actual": New Perspectives on Primary Sources, History and the Internet in the Classroom

Michael Eamon

Library and Archives Canada

The historian's passion for manuscripts and sources is not the desire to confirm facts and dates...but the desire to bring himself into a genuine relationship with the actual...the last word of a historian is not some fine firm general statement; it is a piece of detailed research.1

—Herbert Butterfield (1901–1979)

THE PEDAGOGIC VALUE of using archival holdings2 for the teaching of history has long been appreciated. Using primary sources in the teaching of history transcends the rote learning of facts and figures. It encourages critical thinking skills, introducing students to issues of context, selection and bias, to the nature of collective memory and to other like aspects in the construction of history. As Professor Peter Seixas, Canada Research Chair in the Study of Historical Consciousness, has observed, "historians do have something very important to offer students, which is neither the one big story, nor the recall of a common set of facts, but rather a way of using the traces of the past to construct meaningful stories in the present."3 Many constraints ranging from the fragility and rarity of documents to the physical and intellectual inaccessibility of the record have, however, hindered the use of primary sources in the classroom. Furthermore, when primary sources are used for teaching, there is a tendency—even amongst those with training in history—to consider them solely as illustrations to lesson plans and classroom activities, not to fully explore their greater contextual and historical value.


      The popularisation of the Internet4 has created an audience hungry for authoritative content.5 Users employing the Internet for research are engaging in an heuristic activity, in wanting to learn-by-exploring the richness of whatever content can be made available with the least amount of visible mediation. However, contrary to a popular historical mantra, the facts do not speak for themselves. The mere digitising of images, without context, or indeed without any interpretation just adds to the background noise of the World Wide Web, especially in an educational setting. The popularity of metacrawlers, such as Google6, that search key words from millions of Web pages, as well as the results of other search engines, further exacerbates the situation. Researchers, especially students, enjoy the instant gratification of quick search results for selected key words and phrases. As powerful a technology as Google exhibits, the searching of key words in this manner can separate content from context. Furthermore, Google along with similar search engines cannot penetrate the majority of institutional databases available on the World Wide Web. Inside such databases are millions of artifacts, documents and digital objects linked to their descriptions, yet virtually inaccessible to most Internet researchers.7


      A balance needs to be—and can be—struck between the user's desire for unassisted research in digital collections and the practical necessity of mediated access to archival holdings that ensure authenticity and security of the record. Not only can the basic sources for historical education be provided through the Internet and Web-based educational products, but now a greater context surrounding those sources, one which encourages further research, can also be made readily accessible. This not only assists trained historians, but can also brings the pedagogical elements of primary sources to students and to the general public traditionally removed from archival research.




Narratives, Texts and Primary Sources: The Traditional Challenge of Teaching History in the Classroom


      The debate over the proper instruction of history and the utilization of primary sources is not a recent preoccupation for educators and historians. Along with the general exaltation by educators of the value of teaching history, has been a constant lament of the shortcomings of traditional history instruction in the classroom. While educators have agreed that history could be taught better, the solutions to this dilemma have been varied and have followed a pattern of being suggested, modified, and forgotten, only to be rediscovered again. The traditional canon of history instruction has been the textbook. Texts traditionally offered distilled narratives, often highlighting individual achievements in exploration, war, or politics. While history texts could convey much information in a concise and organized format, its shortcomings were also realized quite early on. For example, Egerton Ryerson (1803–1882), superintendent of education for Canada West (now Ontario, Canada), writing in 1844 about the dangers of textbook history, observed: "The principal object [of history teaching] should be to show how it ought to be studied, and to excite a taste and interest for the study of it." Textbooks and other publications that formally questioned the student on facts and figures were poorly adapted to the teaching of history. "They are," he continued:

little more than dry digests of general events, which do not interest the pupil, and which he cannot appreciate; and learning the answers to the questions is a mere work of memory, without any exercise of discrimination, judgment, taste or language,—forgotten as soon as learned.8


      He believed that one solution to the traditional text was the showcasing of antiquity in a laboratory, or museum setting. He thought this not only to be dynamic and engaging, but an essential way of teaching not only art and design but history as well. By the mid-nineteenth century, this idea was gaining popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. British lecturer C.H. Wilson in a speech, delivered in Glasgow in 1855, on the formation of provincial museums found that:

Students occupied with history, might see in the Glyptothek [sic] of their College, each page illustrated by the ancients themselves—Grecian history by the Greeks, Roman history by the Romans. The arms, dresses, instruments, utensils, in fine, nearly everything which it is thought so important to read about in our seminaries of learning might be rendered as familiar to the eyes of the students as the description of the them is to their thoughts.9


      Egerton Ryerson was one of the pioneers of incorporating this concept in North American teacher training, establishing a museum to aid in the development of teachers at Toronto's Normal School. The museum concept encouraged the teaching of art, design and history through the use of artifacts and art. Students functioned in an historical laboratory, learning through a communion with primary materials, or their representations. By the end of the nineteenth century, this approach had been popularly expanded from artifacts and art to encompass documents as well. Often called the laboratory, or source study, method of history, it was also very popular in the German-influenced regions of the north-western United States. "This can be the only method of studying history;" one American teacher is quoted as stating in a turn-of-the-twentieth-century teaching text:

It is not the passive reading of a narrative of history, but is the downright study of the problems presented in the evolution of a nation. In this method the pupil is not called upon to fill his mind with a number of facts, but he is called upon to work out the problems that any historian must solve. He is put into the workshop or laboratory of the historian. Then narrative method can do little more than train the memory.... The source method does as much in training the memory as the old method, but, more than this, the other faculties are brought into use.10

Many of the thoughts expressed at the turn-of-the-twentieth century would resonate favorably with modern educators, teachers and historians alike. It is especially interesting to note that the realization of the problem-solving nature of primary source research and its departure from rote learning was understood this long ago.


      Early primary sources used for teaching were extracted and edited by historians into compilations for classroom use. In some cases, the sources were abridged and presented along with the lessons in the history texts, or within a special appendix at the back of the text. More often, however, separate source books were created to use alongside of textbook lessons. The editors of one such source book extolled the use of source books in conjunction with regular school texts: "Experience has conclusively shown that such apparatus is valuable—nay, an indispensable—adjunct to the history lesson. It is capable of two main uses: either by way of lively illustration at the close of a lesson, or by way of inference-drawing, before the textbook is read, at the beginning of the lesson."11 Better accessibility to the primary sources was most often the reason for the production of a source book.


      This ready-access to pre-selected primary sources was, however, viewed by some teachers as historians encroaching too closely upon education. The editors' note in the source book, Canada: 1535–1913, took special care to emphasize the complimentary nature of the source book and the importance and discretion of the teacher in its use. "We have no wish to prescribe for the teacher the manner in which he shall exercise his craft," the editors explained, "but simply to provide him and his pupils with materials hitherto not readily accessible for school purposes. The very moderate price of the books in this series should bring them within the reach of every secondary school. Source books enable the pupil to take a more active part than hitherto in the history lesson. Here is the apparatus, the raw material: its use we leave to the teacher and taught."12 It interesting to note the measures taken by the editors to assuage any fears teachers of might have of undue interference. Such tensions over the selection and use of primary sources for education are still present and widely debated.13


      At the time some even thought the source study method of teaching history more than just suspect. It was declared incongruous with early-twentieth-century student habits of learning. As archivist Hugh Taylor argued in his article, Clio in the Raw: Archival Materials and the Teaching of History, that students subjected to this method, accustomed to using textbooks, had difficulties in understanding a less-structured and undigested collections of sources. "They had become the victims," Taylor observed, "of an industrialised and segmented society, consuming so-called knowledge in the form of so-called facts." Customary textbook lessons had trained their entire "visual sense" towards the typed print of the primer's pages. Source materials, then, "reached the mind as an additional load of print, confusing because it could not be learned like a text book."14


      The New History movement of the 1960s and 1970s has been seen by many as a time of renewal in the teaching of history. Ken Osborne, in his article Archives in the Classroom, described the New History movement as a general school of thought characterized by myriad remedial approaches to a mutually-agreed upon problem: the inadequacy of traditional history instruction. He outlined commonly held points of contention about it. In brief, it was too dull, too whiggish, and too fact-oriented. Traditional history instruction failed to demand analysis, reiterated old interpretations and was irrelevant to students, or to the world in which they lived.15 As a result of the New History movement, a renewed effort was made at teaching not the facts of history, but the skills of the historian. Osborne observed: "This emphasis on skills and reach, on trying to work like an historian, on investigating and analyzing issues, understandably led to a view of the history curriculum as a series of problems to be investigated, and various problem-solving procedures and methods of inquiry were proposed."16 Considering the groundwork laid by the New History movement, Osborne was convinced that the time was right for archivists to come to the fore as promoters and teachers of the primary sources.




Archivists, Primary Sources and the Teaching of History


      Because it is they who acquire, describe and preserve the historical traces for future access, the increased use of documents in history teaching has naturally been of great interest to archivists. The desire for archivists to be active supporters of the diffusion and interpretation of documentary knowledge is long standing. From the creation of lantern slides and the publishing of document transcriptions to the reproduction of documents on microfilm and the development of traveling exhibitions, archivists have searched for popular and robust ways to show the public primary sources. There is some evidence of recent trends for them to move from merely facilitating the use of primary sources to teach general historical and analytical skills to the mapping and integration of primary sources into history lessons, which support various curricula.17 A recent national survey in Canada reaffirmed the utility of specific curriculum-based materials they archivists can create. "Relevance to the curriculum is by far the most important consideration for teachers in choosing resources for the classroom," an internal Library and Archives Canada report observed. This report continued that, "accessibility, ease of use, integration of evaluation and assessment mechanisms [were] other considerations" held by educators.18


      Despite some evidence that the need for archives to go beyond merely diffusing primary sources and showing the importance of linking them to educational curricula is recognized, however, the archival community as a whole continues to see their role as educators to be training new archivists and diffusing pedagogical resources in the archival profession itself.19 Although recent developments have shown that this attitude is slowly changing, archivists also need encouragement from the educational sector in the expanded role that can be played in the teaching of history and the use of primary sources.




The Trouble With Primary Sources: Some Traditional Problems in Access and Use


      Much of the impact of using documents and artifacts for teaching history has been seen to lie in having students see and handle the actual items themselves, not mere copies. However these originals were often too valuable or fragile to be taken from archives for classroom use. If students were to see them, they would have had to visit the archives (provided that there was even one in the area); but then, because archives are traditionally set up for individual researchers, these visits may have been limited because archivists may not have had the time to assist or supervise entire classes. The alternative then came down to using copies of the originals in the classroom. This has, in some instances, created an unfamiliar and problematic territory for new teachers prompting Peter Sexias to caution that "teacher educators must think far more about what it will take to prepare new teachers for the task."20


      Replicas were thus made of artifacts and documents were made available in textbooks, sometimes in full facsimile, often abridged. While these generally were presented with some context or tied to a narrative, they needed to be carefully considered and discussed with students lest they give an exaggerated or false impression of the past. The same can be said for jackdaws and study kits sometimes offered to students as "your own personal archive of hands-on primary source materials."21 Like the actions of the bird that jackdaws are named after, these types of materials are highly selective. While providing a relevant cross-section of historical documents for a given topic, jackdaws—and the facsimiles which archives have produced—failed to provided a sense of the larger documentary record that may exist. There was no way students could resort to the larger collection of sources for further exploration. In one sense, jackdaws provided historical documents in the same pre-packaged and ready-made fashion as textbooks. Without the greater documentary context, it was too easy for teachers and students to view primary sources as only two-dimensional illustrations of the past. Moreover, if documents were left unabridged, or unmediated, an advanced historical knowledge was required a priori for them to achieve their purpose of instilling a more advanced historical knowledge. Many teachers, especially those with little, or no formal historical training, felt uncomfortable using primary sources, especially without much interpretation or direction. Students using unmediated collections of sources risked getting lost on a sea of information, in danger of missing the most telling historical documents because it might be the most straightforward.


      The most significant problem with the use of pre-packaged selections of documents for the effective teaching of history, however, is that they fail to create the heuristic experience of archival research. It must be remembered that, in their efforts to assure authenticity and maintain the links of primary sources with their origins, archivists make painstaking efforts to ensure that documents are kept in their original order, and that they are described in a way that maintains an intellectual connection to their historical context, or provenance.22 An individual document—be it a diary page, a photograph, or a work of art—can clearly shed some light on prevailing historical beliefs, or ideas of an era. However, researchers probably learn the most valuable lessons about any documents by the act of research; by looking at them among great quantities of documents arranged in their original (or reconstructed original) order.


      The pedagogical and historical value of this type of research has been long understood and discussed. Historian and philosopher R.G. Collingwood (1889–1943) argued that the lack of understanding for the artifactual and critical contextual elements led to what he deemed dangerous "scissors-and-paste" history.23 Our post modern world has broadened the scope of questioning from the criticism of sources themselves to the questioning of the construction of national narratives and histories and the archival repositories that hold the sources that contribute to the collective memory.24 One raison d'etre of archives is to assist in the reconstruction of context and to ensure the authenticity and longevity of the historical sources. Ideas of authenticity, voice, and bias are all vital in the current movement to teach critical and creative thinking skills to students across the United States of America, Great Britain and Canada.




Teaching History Using On-Line Primary Sources: New Possibilities


      It is well known that the Internet has revolutionised the way we can access archival material and for the first time a medium exists that ameliorates many of the traditional challenges experienced. It is interesting to note how this possibility was created for teachers of Canadian history. When the archives of Canada, like those of the United States and Great Britain, first launched their institutional Web sites in the 1990s, these sites fell squarely into the category of "brochureware;" acting like a digital pamphlet, informing the public hours of operation and services offered, but not providing direct access to digital collections, or to collection descriptions. Over the past decade archivists throughout the world have searched for ways to better use the technology of the Web. The first virtual presentations, or exhibitions, of primary sources were strict transpositions of popular "real," or physical exhibitions.25 The novelty, however, of simply introducing primary sources in a digital format wore off quickly. These first virtual exhibitions maintained the linear feel of the physical exhibition and the digital images had little more than an illustrative value.


      The second generation, so-to-speak, of virtual exhibitions started at the turn of the new millennium with the development of "digitally-born" exhibitions. These virtual exhibitions had no physical counterpart and stood alone. They also did not necessarily follow linear patterns, thus better utilizing the interconnected nature of the Internet environment. It was at this time that the National Archives of Canada began linking the images found in virtual exhibitions directly to the descriptions database.26 While this linkage was initially used to authenticate the image with its archival description, it also provided a seamless link for researchers to the database where other related primary sources could be sought. The inherent pedagogical values of this model lay in the fact that it truly utilized the interactive technology of the Web, making digitized images more than just illustrations or pictures at an exhibition.


      These developments have led to a third generation of virtual exhibitions, or virtual research tools. In one stream, entire virtual platforms of historical interpretation, finding aids and digital collections have been developed that provide multiple channels of access for the debutante and the seasoned researcher alike. These platforms hold great promise for students of history. For the first time, large numbers of images depicting actual documents can now be made available linked to their descriptive information, thus maintaining the context of the documents, to the parent institution, and more specifically, to the originating fonds, collection, series and files. Students do not have to view documents as mere illustrations of historical events; they can now gain a richer historical perspective knowing the greater issues to which they relate, the document authors, how they were created, survived and are preserved.


      A good example of this new virtual research platform is Library and Archives Canada's27A Real Companion and Friend: The Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King Web site.28 Prime Minister Mackenzie King's diaries were acquired by the then Public Archives of Canada, amidst considerable controversy, after Mackenzie King's death in 1950.29 The diaries represent an amazing literary achievement; they span 57 years and are a chronicle of the life of Mackenzie King from his time at the University of Toronto as an undergraduate to his career as the longest-serving Prime Minister of Canada. In comparison, Samuel Pepys (1633–1703), perhaps the most famous English-language diarist, wrote his epic work for just about a decade before he had to "break his quill" for fear of advancing his blindness. Mackenzie King's diaries provide an unprecedented and most privileged view of Canada and the world in the tumultuous early decades of the twentieth century. The diaries had been accessible on microfiche at Library and Archives Canada and selected institutions across the country since the early 1980s. However, in this format the diaries were un-indexed and his early writings required juggling between filmed transcripts and the filmed originals which were in his nearly indecipherable handwriting. The recent project to bring the diaries to the Internet digitized the existing fiche and then subjected them to the OCR, or Optical Character Recognition process. This now frequently used process allows the typed transcripts and originals of Mackenzie King's diaries to be machine readable through a search interface.


      Through the use of large digital collections of this kind, students can perform archival research without the constraints of a few documents pre-selected by others. The Internet is especially well suited for this heuristic, learn-by-doing approach of discovery because it taps into the authoritative and useful content that archives can provide. It makes it possible for the papers of any head of government, indeed of any individual, whose papers have been fully digitized and linked to their respective archival source description to be used by students for research. Any particular day, or event, can be made fully understandable and clear when the student can instantly look at the earlier writings on the subject, and then move forward, backwards, or laterally to other papers from the same era that have been digitized. Furthermore, with the Internet, students are not limited anymore to accessing only one collection, or institution, for their research. Instead of relying on only one perspective, or set of documents, students using the Internet now have the potential to visit archives across the county, or indeed internationally, to see various documents on any given subject.


      New perspectives can also be achieved by Internet technologies that can now provide unprecedented views and manipulation of source material. For example, in using the Mackenzie King diaries Web site, researchers can quickly magnify, or reduce, Mackenzie King's crowded script. If the hand becomes too illegible, they can toggle to a transcription instantaneously. The use of OCR technology has also made the previously un-indexed diaries more accessible by permitting keyword searches. The software not only reads through the thousands of characters of transcript and original type almost instantaneously, it targets and then highlights the key words with a bright yellow band. This can make research easier for the beginner and the seasoned academic alike. Photographs, works of art and other related documents are also available to students. Once again, all are linked to the archival descriptions and lead to a wider digital collection of items found through the on-line database. Students can find accurate and authoritative images to augment their textual research. They are also told the value of non-textual types of documentation.


      During the course of writing this article a second stream of digital teaching tools—a digital object repository of primary sources for history teachers and students—has been developed at Library and Archives Canada. This digital object repository (called The EvidenceWeb)30 is a "value-added" Web database, providing more description and interpretation of digitized documents than is traditionally available. In this new search tool, documents are organized in themes that can then be linked to additional, curriculum-based lesson plans. The documents that are used in specific lesson plans can then be transcribed, or translated, to facilitate use in various classrooms. The flexibility of the Internet will allow teachers and students to move seamlessly from original to transcript to translation, if necessary. Documents digitized will also be linked back to other digital collections and descriptions of collections, but not necessarily in The EvidenceWeb repository, to facilitate further research. The danger of such a product is that it can be used as a glorified digital catalogue of historical images. However, it is to be hoped that the links to addition opinion, description and related documents, used with the digital images, will provide another tool for students and educators to discover primary sources.




Teaching History With On-Line Primary Sources: Some Challenges


      The Internet is, of course, not a panacea for education. The medium has its limitations, as earlier media that reproduced documents had their respective shortcomings. To address some of these shortcomings both technical and conceptual problems must be considered. First and foremost of these problems is the fact that not all schools, or student's homes, have the requisite technology to access and view digitized collections. National institutions like the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Library of Congress, The National Archives (UK), and the Library and Archives Canada, for example, support both virtual (for use on multi-work stations) and non-virtual activities (those that can be downloaded or printed using a less capable computer), doing so in anticipation of various technical situations. It is an imperfect solution that limits the true potential of the Internet for searching archival collections, but a necessary one for the current state of the technology.


      It is very costly for archives and other repositories of primary sources to create digital resources. In addition to an infrastructure of scanning equipment, storage (present and future) for the images and a Web site to host digital material, institutions require databases to describe and organize the digital material. Concurrent digital and analog catalog systems are expensive to maintain. The conversion of legacy finding aids, card indices and other analog forms of metadata into a digital format can be even more prohibitive in cost. In addition, institutions must also invest in the creation of products that can mediate (through lesson plans, activities and other interpretive products) their digital holdings for the use of students. Considering the ever-increasing operating expenses for the status quo, the cost of appealing to an educational audience can be daunting.


      Once students and primary source institutions have overcome the technical barriers of access, several conceptual challenges must be addressed. The first of these is that students must learn to distinguish archives and like institutions as valid places for authoritative content from less valid sources, which is not an easy feat. The original Internet cliché was that it was a mile wide and an inch deep in respect to content. Today, what is available on the Internet is equally as daunting in both breadth and depth. Unfortunately, much poor content is masked with the window dressing of engaging interfaces and user interactivity. The creation of rich Web site metadata to be harvested by the ubiquitous search engines is one way to combat this problem. However, the creators of questionable content are also pursuing the same strategy. Thus signposts are required to direct students away from a strict search engine method to on-line research. To do this, Library and Archives Canada, like many institutions, targets its educational Web sites at teachers and then encourages the teachers, in turn, to introduce the material to students. To facilitate this introduction, teachers need to be informed about what is and what is not available in archives. The differences between archives, libraries, and museums needs to be clearly elucidated, so there is no confusion concerning the types of content available.


      When designing a problem or directing students to do a research project it is important to realize that not all original formats of documents are useful for teaching. The most valuable textual documents are often difficult to read and have to be read in their entirety to be understood, something that requires refined historical skills and patience. If their use is essential, the needed skills must first be taught. Sometimes key primary documents exist in only one language without translation. It may suffice when an assignment must include documents which appear to be relevant but are too difficult or impossible to read, or when reference is to a document that can't be found, this should be pointed out to students and should be mentioned and not ignored in reports they write. About some such documents, students should also be taught to ask "why." Why are the documents awkward, or difficult to read? Why was a key historical document written in only one language? Why does an eighteenth-century letter take ten pages to say what a ten-line e-mail can say today? To introduce students to asking questions such as these, educational materials must be created, Translations and transcriptions, of documents students must use may also need to be created..


      It is also important in using any set of documents from the Internet to teach students how to identify bias, how historians go about document authentication (diplomatics), or other necessary historical arts. Failure to do this reduces their utility as a pedagogic tool. In addition, because the facts often do not speak for themselves some mediation and interpretation of digitized sources is necessary. For example, in the case of the Mackenzie King diaries, a separate educational site was created with timelines, games and lesson plans.31 The primary goal of the educational site was to raise the students' awareness of Prime Minister Mackenzie King. While the younger children were encouraged to write their own journals, older students were directed to use and investigate the primary source presented digitally.


      The age level and ability level of a class obviously dictates how Internet documents can be used. When testing the special Mackenzie King Diaries Education Web site, it was found that younger students had difficulty understanding the written diary (as those familiar with the diaries can attest, a problem also encountered by adults). When it came to presenting the diary to the younger grades, a narrator was employed to read sections of the diary. These narrated sections were then made easily accessible in virtual class exercise for primary students. Normally, when archival material is dictated, or presented in a different format, all reference to the original source is lost. This happens time after time on television and sometimes in texts and like materials. To avoid any potential confusion with any real archival recordings of Mackenzie King, a narrator was hired that sounded nothing like the former Prime Minister, clearly marking the difference between second-hand narrations and original recordings. Furthermore, all dictated sections were twinned with transcriptions that were, in turn, linked to the digital images of the original diary pages. Thus, the technology allowed the making of archival material more digestible for students, while still maintaining links to the proper content and context of the primary source.


      Because of practical constraints and obligations (funding, privacy legislation, and copyright to name but a few) not all documents can be digitized, thus putting a very real constraint on the heuristic value of the Internet. While the technology can allow a great breadth of material to be researched, it will never be possible for every primary source in an archive to be accessible for on-line research. Researchers may be able to browse 30 000 pages of Mackenzie King's diary, but they cannot currently research any of the Prime Minister's other papers on-line, or other related diplomatic and political papers found in the archives. So in one sense, the learn-by-doing, heuristic research approach facilitated by the Internet is theoretically limitless, but still remains mediated and selected due to practical and often non-virtual limitations.


      One final challenge concerns the unique and engaging sensory experience that Hugh Taylor observed when consulting original documents in the archives: "All the senses will become involved, and we become momentarily whole men as we let the document enter into a dialogue with us at every level of our awareness."32 While digitization can re-create better than any previous media the look, texture and order of many archival documents, it cannot convey the entire visceral experience of research. It cannot be replete with the smells, sounds and feel of the original documents. Digital collections are representations and not replacements of primary sources. Like photocopies, microfilm, photostats and lantern slides, digitization and diffusion through the Internet is just another in a long list of technologies created to assist students to learn history and historians to practice their craft. Students, when deemed appropriate, still need to be reminded that originals do exist.






      Historians, archivists and history teachers enjoy a privileged position. Students are taught about the past, but rarely get to see the elements that helped construct that vision of the past. While the student is told of the lives of numerous historical figures, historians can do one better by saying that they have actually seen, or even touched, the original documents. As historian Herbert Butterfield observed, this is the excitement for historians, drawing them closer to their subject and the era the documents represent. This communion with the primary source can be even more powerful with archivists who can claim that they have not only read the documents, but have preserved them, made them accessible for future generations and often collected them in the first place. But why should these historical professionals have all the fun? Why should one of the most engaging parts of the study of history—the exploration of the primary source—remain the domain of an elite group of historians, archivists and educators? By being proactive and collaborative in the development of lesson plans and digitized collections, archivists, historians, and educators can ensure that the most valuable documents are used in innovative and engaging ways. For younger ages, documents can be mediated for children's developmental needs, while at the same time presenting the processes behind document creation, selection, storage and rediscovery. For older students, digital collections, though selective by their nature, can offer an heuristic laboratory where pupils can learn through research. Unlike microfilms, slides, photostats and photocopies that were never really popular with students in the first place, the Internet has been embraced by students. There is a captive audience ready to embrace the information that this medium can access.



1. Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History, (London: George Bell and Sons, 1950), p. 73. Butterfield held the Chair of Modern History at Cambridge as well as being the university's vice chancellor and a former Master of the founding college, Peterhouse. He was also instrumental in creating the History and Philosophy of Science department at the university.

2. Archival sources, primary sources and documents are terms that are used synonymously in this article. Documents are primary sources found in archives and are comprised of all media. The definition of these sources reflects the "total archives" tradition in Canada. Photographs, cartography, electronic records, textual records, film, sound recordings, for example, all are archival documents and all are excellent materials for the teaching of history. For further reading on the total archives concept in Canada see: Laura Millar, "Discharging Our Debt: The Evolution of the Total Archives Concept in English Canada," Archivaria 46 (Fall 1998): pp. 103–147; Terry Cook, "What is Past is Prologue: A History of Archival Ideas Since 1898 and the Future Paradigm Shift," Archivaria 43 (Spring 1997): pp. 17–63.

3. Peter Seixas, "Heavy Baggage en route to Winnipeg: A Review Essay," Canadian Historical Review 82,3 (September 2002): p. 414.

4. Recent data indicates that the drastic increases of Internet users seen in the late 1990s has now started to level off. Statistics showing the rise of household use of the Internet over the past five years are, nonetheless, impressive and show substantial use of the medium. In 1998, Statistics Canada reported that 35.9% of Canadian households had at least one regular Internet user. This number had increased in four years to 64.%. In the United States, over the same time period, household use of the Internet rose from 26.2% to 54.6%. Household use in the United Kingdom for the same five-year period saw a rise from 10% to 46%. For further details see:

      Statistics Canada, The Daily, "Household Internet Use Survey," 8 July 2004, <http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/040708/d040708a.htm> (Accessed on 9 February 2005);
      U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2004–2005, "No. 1153 Households With Computers and Internet Access: 1998 and 2003," <http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/04statab/infocomm.pdf> (Accessed on 9 February 2005);
      National Statistics, "Households with Home Access to the Internet by Government Office Region (UK)," <http://www.statistics.gov.uk/statbase/Expodata/Spreadsheets/D6936.xls> (Accessed on 9 February 2005).
5. For the Canadian example, in particular, in 2002, 3.6 million (or 57%) of regular Canadian Internet households used the medium to access "information, or interact with government." Four years earlier, only 36% of Canadian Internet users reported the same interest. (See: Statistics Canada, CANSIM 358–0006 as cited in The Daily, 18 September 2003, <http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/030918/d030918b.htm> (Accessed on 10 February 2005).

6. Google, one of the most popular search engines in the world, "is a play on the word googol, which was coined by Milton Sirotta, nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner, to refer to the number represented by one followed by one hundred zeros. Google's use of the term reflects the company's mission to organize the immense amount of information available on the Web." See: <http://www.google.ca/press/facts.html>, (Accessed on 10 February 2005). The technology searches both the incidences of a word, or phrase, in the hypertext coding of Web pages and also uses an algorithm to determine the rank, or importance of the pages searched. See: <http://www.google.ca/corporate/tech.html> (Accessed on 10 February 2005).

7. Enabling technologies such as XML (Extensible Mark-up Language) can now make institutional Web-based databases accessible through search engines and Web crawlers. This ability for electronic records to be recognized is not automatic and institutions need to invest in the "mark-up," or identification of key bits of data, traditional found in database fields. XML and EAD (Encoded Archival Description—a popular means of tagging electronic archival descriptions) both spring from SGML (Standard Generalized Mark-up Language). Further information on these technologies and the possibilities they hold for future information retrieval please see the Library of Congress's Web site (for EAD): <http://www.loc.gov/ead/> and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web site on XML and SGML: <http://www.w3.org/XML/> (Accessed on 9 June 2005).

8. Egerton Ryerson, Report on A System of Public Elementary Instruction for Upper Canada, (Montreal: Lovell and Gibson, 1847), p. 133.

9. Cited in: Egerton Ryerson, "Annual Report of the Normal, Model, Grammar and Common Schools, in Upper Canada, for the year 1855, with an Appendix; by the Chief Superintendent of Education," in Appendix to the Fifteenth Volume of the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, 20 Victori Anno. 1857, Appendix 58, (Toronto: G. Desbats and T. Cary, 1857), p. 22.

10. Rolla Milton Tryon, The Teaching of History in Junior and Senior High Schools, (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1921), p. 78.

11. James Munro, ed. Canada: 1535–1913, (Edinburgh: George Bell and Sons, 1913), p. 3.

12. Ibid.

13. Please see: Seixas, "Heavy Baggage;" and Peter Seixas, "Student Teachers Thinking Historically," Theory and Research in Social Education 26 (1998); pp. 310–341.

14. Hugh A. Taylor, "Clio in the Raw: Archival Materials and the Teaching of History," American Archivist (1972): p. 318.

15. Ken Osborne, "Archives in the Classroom," Archivaria 23 (Winter 1986–87): pp. 18–19.

16. ibid., p. 22.

17. For some examples of the Canadian, American and British literature on this subject see: E.R. Lloyd, "The Use of Historical Documents in School," Amateur Historian VII 2(1966): pp. 47–52; Hugh. A. Taylor, "Clio in the Raw: Archival Materials and the Teaching of History," The American Archivist (July/August 1972): pp. 317–330; Ken Osborne, "Archives in the Classroom," Archivaria 23 (Winter 1986–87): pp. 16–40; Sharon Anne Cook, "Connecting Archives and the Classroom," Archivaria 44 (1997): pp. 102–117; Anne J. Gilliland-Swetland, "An Exploration of K-12 User Needs for Digital Primary Source Materials," The American Archivist 61 (Spring 1998): pp. 136–157; Anne J. Gilliland-Swetland, Yasmin B. Kafai and William E. Landism "Integrating Primary Sources Into the Elementary School Classroom: A Case Study of Teachers' Perspectives" Archivaria 48 (Fall 1999): pp. 89–116; Alison Turton, "Connecting With Schools: Corporate Archives as Providers of Educational Resources," Business Archives 79 (May 2000):pp. 1–21.

18. Strategic Plan for Eduational Programmes, 3 March 2003, Internal Report, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, p. 4.

19. Citing Elsie Frivogel from her American Archivist article "Wider Use of Historical Records," Osborne writes: "To the museum educator, the term museum education means the education of the public. To the archivist, archival education means the education of other archivists. In fact,...the archivist does not ordinarily perceive the education of the public to be his job." In "Archives in the Classroom," p. 17.

20. Peter Seixas, "Student Teachers Thinking Historically," p. 337.

21. Jackdaw Publications Web Site, <http://www.jackdaw.com/t-jackdaws.aspx>, [accessed on 6 March 2005.] Complete text as follows: "A Jackdaw is your personal archive of hands-on primary source materials. They are an array of fascinating, relevant primary source documents delivered directly to you. Most documents are reproduced in their actual sizes for you to touch and explore over and over. Transcripts and translations of difficult to read documents are provided for better understanding. Jackdaw primary sources encourage critical thinking and analysis, and augment retention of information in a variety of interdisciplinary disciplines."

22. Indeed, the principles of respect des fonds and original order are keystones of modern archival practice in Canada and elsewhere. Respect de fonds, entails the intellectual measures taken to ensure the link between documents and their creators, or provenance. Original order is the principle ensures authenticity through the proper physical arrangement of documents. The order in which records are created reflect the respective mentality of the age in which the records were created. For further explanation of archival concepts of provenance, order and selection, please see: Eric Ketelaar, "Archival Theory and the Dutch Manual," Archivaria, 41 (Spring 1996): pp. 31–40.; Cook, "What is Past is Prologue," pp. 17–63; David A. Bearman, and Richard Lytle, "The Power of the Principle of Provenance," Archivaria 21 (Winter 1985–86): pp. 10–13; Brien Brothman, "Orders of Value: Probing the Theoretical Terms of Archival Practice," Archivaria 32 (Summer 1991): pp. 78–100.

23. R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956), pp. 33, 36, 125–6, 143, 257–66, 269–70, 274–81, 319.

24. A very abbreviated historiography includes: Maurice Halbwachs, La mémoire collective. Paris: PUF, 1950; Kenneth E. Foote, "To Remember and Forget: Archives, Memory and Culture," The American Archivist, 53:3 (Summer 1990): pp. 378–393; Jacques Derrida, Archives Fever: A Freudian Impression, Translated by Eric Prenowitz, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996; D.L. Barthel, Historic Preservation: Collective Memory and Historical Identity. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1996; Jacques Le Goff, History and Memory, New York: Columbia University Press, 1996; Richard Harvey Brown and Beth Davis-Brown, "The Making of Memory: the Politics of Archives, Libraries and Museums in the Construction of National Consciousness," History of the Human Sciences 11 (1998): 17–32; Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook, "Archives, Records and Power: The Making of Modern Memory," Archival Science 2 (2002): 1–19.

25. For an example of one these earlier virtual exhibitions, please see: Victory Bonding: Wartime Messages From Canada's Government, 1939–1945, <http://www.collectionscanada.ca/victory-bonding/index-e.html> (Accessed on 9 June 2005).

26. For an example of a "second generation" Web site produced by the National Archives of Canada, please see: Canada and the First World War, <http://www.collectionscanada.ca/firstworldwar/index-e.html>, (Accessed on 9 June 2005).

27. The creation of Library and Archives Canada was announced in the Speech from the Throne of 30 September 2002. This new agency brings together the National Archives of Canada (founded in 1873) with the National Library of Canada (founded in 1952). At the time of writing this article, legislation to formalize this new agency was still before parliament. Any reference to Library and Archives Canada Web sites and collections reflect the former National Archives of Canada structures and administration and do not necessarily reflect the objectives and goals of the digitization programme of the former National Library of Canada.

28. Please see: <http://www.collectionscanada.ca/king/index-e.html> for the English version of the A Real Companion and Friend: The Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King, (Accessed on 9 June 2005).

29. The A Real Companion and Friend Web site feature many contextualizing histories and finding aids. A detailed account of the diary controversy is found in the essay "Saving a National Treasure: The Archival History of the Diary" at <http://www.collectionscanada.ca/king/053201/053201130801_e.html>, (Accessed on 9 June 2005).

30. Please see: <http://www.collectionscanada.ca/education/sources/index-e.html> (Accessed 9 June 2005)

31. Please see: The Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King (Education Site): ?<http://www.collectionscanada.ca/education/king/index-e.html> (Accessed 9 June 2005)

32. "Clio in the Raw," p. 319.


Eamon, Michael, A "Genuine Relationship with the Actual": New Perspectives on Primary Sources, History and the

Internet in the Classroom. The History Teacher 39.3 (2006): 32 pars. 15 Nov. 2006


Share with your friends:

The database is protected by copyright ©hestories.info 2019
send message

    Main page