8 Helpful Primary Source Websites for Teaching American History


8 Helpful Primary Source Websites for American History

If you want to move away from an outdated textbook or are in the process of piecing together lessons from the lack of a social studies curriculum, I'd love to chat with you about studying history through primary sources.


All of our information about past events are derived from some kind of evidence. This evidence is called a source. Firsthand sources are what we call primary sources. Examples might be photographs, journal entries, or cultural objects. There are times when we can find several reliable sources for an event.


Secondhand knowledge or secondary sources can come from reading a textbook, article, dramas, or storytelling, but there can be inaccuracies. If you've ever played the game of telephone, you know that as information gets passed on from the original source it becomes less trustworthy.


If you are teaching American History, I want to share with you 8 websites that have a plethora of primary sources that have been digitized. Having our students examine primary sources is a powerful way to teach history. I suggest grabbing a copy of the Historical Thinking Chart from Stanford History Education Group (just need a free account). This is a helpful chart of questions that provides an opportunity for students to critically analyze sources.


8 Helpful Primary Source Websites for Teaching US History:


1. Library of Congress

This is one of my go-to places for primary sources. You can find digitized photographs, artistic works, documents, and much more.


2. National Archives

A great source for historical records like founding documents, the National Archives has lots of helpful information.


3. Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

The Native Knowledge 360 education initiative has so many helpful tools, sources, and information for teaching tribal sovereignty.


4. DocsTeach

This site is from the National Archives and contains an easy to navigate search bar for finding primary source documents.


5. Smithsonian History Explorer

This is an extension of the National Museum of American History. You can search artifacts, find lesson plans, and lots of other educator resources on the site.


6. National Museum of African American History and Culture

This website is an extension of the Smithsonian. Explore the collection of objects and primary sources related to African American history and culture.


7. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

This is a great place to find resources from historical time periods, but you can also search by topic as well.


8. Avalon Project

This is a site from Yale Law School and has documents pertaining to law, history, and diplomacy.


Have other primary source websites that are helpful? I'd love to know. Comment below or message me on instagram @mrsmdonaldsclassroom.