Teaching with Primary Sources

Counter(ing) Narratives to the American Story with Ethnographic and Oral History Collections

Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) is the Library of Congress’ premier educational program, focused on helping educators enhance students’ critical thinking, analysis skills, and content knowledge using the Library’s collections of millions of digitized primary sources. The Local Learning project team offers teaching tools and materials that engage the digitally available archival holdings of the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress alongside local and regional collections, bringing them into conversation with each other to create a fuller, more complex narrative of American communities, history, and people.

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Due April 1, 2023

Our learning activities demonstrate the value of ethnographic and oral history primary source materials in K-12 classrooms, with emphasis on their value in exploring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) concerns on a national scale through the lens of “Challenging History through Counternarratives.” Our project partners include the Vermont Folklife Center, Oklahoma State University Library and OSU Writing Project, and HistoryMiami Museum.

Challenging History: Teaching hard history and topics that may engage unjust content.

Challenging History: Offering training and learning resources through oral histories and primary source collections gathered through ethnographic research to offer diverse perspectives for analysis and inquiry.

Our Teaching with Primary Sources Priorities

  • Create a roadmap for partners representing diverse communities, beliefs, and endeavors to use American Folklife Center (AFC) collections of the Library of Congress to engage, inspire, and inform learners of all ages. AFC collections offer universal and enduring sources of knowledge and creativity that are under-utilized in formal and informal education.
  • Cultivate synergies between regional collections and the AFC collections that have been siloed in their outreach and education work. The partners of this consortium all bring our own expertise to the sections we help write and develop–from statewide/regional archives, a museum archive and collection, university libraries, community-based organizations and collections, and teacher training and curriculum development. Through the course of this project we will have better understood each other’s unique sectoral spaces in a way that enriches the partner entities, their stakeholders, and the subsequent deliverables of the project collectively.
  • Folklife partners engage with identified materials in the AFC collections that relate back to their states/regions, creating ground-up amplification of primary sources in revelatory ways.

Oral histories and ethnographic materials help present complicated issues and topics by comparing and contrasting life experiences, voices and vantage points. Although they do often reflect historical truth, primary sources are valued as powerful reference points for understanding individual and community perspectives on memory, meaning and identity. Over the past 150 years folklorists and other ethnographic researchers in the U.S. have created a unique, enormous corpus of ethnographic field collections: multi-format, unpublished groups of materials documenting human life and traditions, from historic photographs of the Tulsa Race Massacre to contemporary civil rights recordings, graffiti art documented by Martha Cooper to Amplifier social justice posters, and more.

Explore the learning potential of these primary sources.

Content created and featured in partnership with the TPS program does not indicate an endorsement by the Library of Congress.