Teaching History

The Center for History and New Media at George Mason University created Teaching History to “help K–12 history teachers access resources and materials to improve U.S. history education in the classroom.” The site is broken into three sections: Teaching Materials, History Content, and Best Practices.  The Teaching Materials section features reviews of lesson plans posted on other sites and Teaching Guides that provide detailed instruction and examples on teaching practices like “Teaching with Timelines” and “Teaching with Historical Film Clips.”  This section also includes nearly seventy “Ask a Master Teacher” articles, where experienced educators respond to specific questions about teaching techniques and historical content.

The History Content section contains over 1000 website reviews, around 150 Ask a Historian articles where scholars respond to questions about topics in American history, and a dozen “Beyond the Textbook” features that use primary documents and scholarly analysis to question the ways in which social studies textbooks treat certain events.  Teachers seeking to dig deeper and learn more about the historical content they teach would likely find the History Content section quite helpful.

The Best Practices section provides information on instructional strategies such as working with primary sources and effectively using textbooks. Also, videos in this section give examples of historical thinking in action and show teachers demonstrating exemplary teaching in their classrooms.

Don’t forget to also check out the Digital Classroom page, where information and guides about digital classroom tools are discussed.

Gilder Lehrman Institute

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a non-profit organization dedicated to “supporting the study and love of American history.”  The institute’s website contains a wealth of resources for American history teachers. A comprehensive archive of podcasts and a quarterly online historical journal provide background information, analysis, and new research on a range of topics.  Authored by experts and scholars, these resources are a convenient way to keep up with the latest trends in the study of American history.

Users can also browse the site by clicking on “History by Era,” which organizes the site’s resources into nine time periods in American history.

In addition, there are twenty-three “Curriculum Modules” which are also broken down into specific time periods.  These helpful tools provide background information, primary documents (some of which are bundled together and framed with discussion questions), and lesson plans.

A number of online exhibits (including this excellent one on wartime letters from American soldiers) make use of the institute’s large collection of historic documents, some of which are helpfully transcribed into plain text.


Canada’s Digital Collections: Black Loyalists

Internet resources make it easier than ever to explore U.S. history from varying perspectives.  Bring depth to your study of the American Revolution by incorporating the viewpoints of slaves and British Loyalists.  Produced by Canada’s Digital Collections Program, Black Loyalists: Our History, Our People presents the history of both Black Loyalists’ service during the American Revolution and the emergence of the first free black settlement outside of Africa in Nova Scotia.  While the design of the site is dated, the content and primary documents make it a worthwhile visit.  Highlights include transcriptions of letters, official documents, and personal accounts pertaining to this interesting bit of Canadian history.


Devoted to the craft of performing historical research and interpretation, DoHistory employs a case study to present methods of “piecing together the lives of ordinary people in the past” from primary documents. The site is centered on the diary of Martha Ballard, a midwife that lived in Maine between 1735 and 1812. The premise of DoHistory is compelling; without this diary, little would be know of Martha Ballard or the ordinary details of the world in which she lived. The writings of Ballard, who began keeping logs of her daily life at the age of 50, provides an entry point into exploring a variety of historical themes and topics from the “bottom up”.  By drawing upon primary sources such as her diary, we are presented with an opportunity to gain a much richer understanding of the past.

DoHistory was developed by the Film Study Center, and is maintained by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.  The site offers excerpts from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s  work on the subject entitled A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, a digitized copy of Martha Ballard’s diary, an archive of primary documents, video clips from the PBS film A Midwife’s Tale, and a collection of essays on methods for historical research.  Besides offering an abundance of primary and secondary materials, DoHistory is extremely easy to navigate. When exploring the primary documents, for example, the material is conveniently tied to all related interpretive content.  This provides examples of how the primary documents were integrated into historical research. The site also offers suggestions for incorporating the material into a classroom setting. Two sample topics are presented to challenge users to draw conclusions based on available research materials.

Docs Teach

Docs Teach, a website created by the National Archives, is a great resource for using primary documents in the classroom.  Not only does the site offer thousands of documents, sorted by historical era, from the Archives’ collections, but it also provides several hundred primary source based classroom activities created by educators to develop students’ historical thinking skills. Registered users (registration is free) can bookmark documents for future use and even create custom teaching activities using documents of their own choosing.

A classroom activity using primary documents relating to Lewis and Clark’s expedition

The National Archives also has created a “tool box” with guidelines for teaching primary sources and printable analysis worksheets for student use.


Historical Thinking Matters

Historical Thinking Matters, a website created by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and the Department of Education at Stanford University, “is designed to teach students how to critically read primary sources and how to critically read primary sources and how to critique and construct historical narratives.”

The site provides materials for  “student investigations” of four post-Civil War U.S. history topics.  The investigation of the Spanish-American War, for example, is centered around the question: “Why did the United States invade Cuba” and includes seven primary documents relating to the war to help students answer this. Supporting materials for teachers include lessons, worksheets, and standards of learning for each topic; and a short movie, based on the book Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts by Sam Wineburg (who co-created the site), introduces the pedagogical perspective of the site and the strategies for primary document analysis that students can use while completing their investigations.