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The Centrality and Challenges of Learning from Primary Sources
As SALEM in History's subtitle suggests (The Science and Art of Learning from Evidence and Materials in History) primary sources provide a direct and critical link between and among SALEM in History's varied activities and two main goals-improving teacher content knowledge and helping teachers apply that knowledge to the classroom. Project activities aim to improve teachers' abilities at accessing, selecting and analyzing a wide range of primary source material so that they can develop classroom lessons and activities in which primary sources are central-that is, content knowledge and historical thinking and skills are taught with and through them. But the subtitle also suggests that learning from sources-either as an historian or a student of history-is a complex skill, with as much artistry as scientific method involved. As a result, SALEM in History activities are designed to repeatedly and centrally introduce participants to the methods by which historians locate and make meaning from the wide range of primary source materials available to them. In addition, project activities focus on helping participants develop strategies for selecting and teaching with primary sources so that their students, too, can have success drawing meaning from what past generations have left behind.
Making primary source analysis and interpretation central to the teaching of history can have a dramatic impact on overall student academic achievement, for primary source-based history lessons that use an inquiry approach to analyzing and interpreting primary sources not only teach historical literacy, but also build and reinforce a set of transferable skills--observation, organizing data, record-keeping, developing and testing hypotheses, constructing arguments, conducting research, writing. Skills and understandings from other disciplines can be reinforced in the history classroom, and historical knowledge, thinking and skills can assist students in other academic endeavors. With primary sources at the center, learning history becomes an integral part of any curriculum, at any grade level.
SALEM in History's partnerships with institutions that collect, preserve and interpret a wide range of primary source material make the project's primary source focus possible.
Primary Sources from Partner Collections
SALEM in History activities are specifically designed to take advantage of and expose teachers to the rich collections of primary source material available at these two partner institutions. These resources include text sources, artifacts, works of art, and historical buildings to name a few. During both formal and informal SALEM in History activities participants receive ongoing access to and support in using materials from both the Peabody Essex Museum and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site as they work on integrating new content knowledge into their classrooms. Site visits, behind-the scenes tours, release time to conduct research, and the opportunity for one-on-one assistance from SALEM in History staff and Master Teachers all support participants' efforts to use our partners' collections to teach American history in Salem Public School classrooms. Project staff and content experts place special emphasis on the different skills needed to work with and learn from the various types of primary source material available.
Additional Primary Sources and Resources
In addition to an in-depth exploration of the Peabody Essex Museum and Salem Maritime National Historic Site collections, SALEM in History activities and materials introduce participants to collections of primary sources and historical resources at other local and regional museums, libraries and cultural institutions, as well as to high quality web-based collections of primary sources, thereby expanding participants' knowledge of and access to resources they might use to supplement those at partner institutions.