Resources for Educators
By the People provides students of all ages with opportunities to explore unique historical documents from the collections of the Library of Congress.
Deciphering and transcribing these documents can build students’ skills in close reading, examining historical context, and building interpretive consensus.
As students transcribe a document, urge them to pay close attention to the language used in the document. What does that language tell them about who the audience for the document was? Was it a close friend or family member? A powerful person? A complete stranger? If the document is a letter, what clues can they find in the greeting and closing?
Prompt students to speculate about what the document’s author was trying to accomplish. What strategies, persuasive or otherwise, did the author use to accomplish their goal?
Challenge students to recreate the document in their own words, using today’s communication tools. What did your students say differently? What did they say that was the same?
Ask students to identify clues about the time and place in which the document was created. What do they know about what was going on at the time? How can they find out more?
Ask students to research and describe what happened as a result of this document being created. If they can’t identify what happened, ask them to speculate about what might have happened as a result of the document.
As students complete the transcription-reconciliation process, encourage them to take note of the ways they compared the differences between different transcriptions of the same document. What similarities and differences can they find between this process and the process of evaluating sources for a class project or research paper?
Primary Source Analysis
The documents in crowd.loc.gov are primary sources — the raw materials of history and culture. Analyzing primary sources like these can give students a powerful sense of the complexity of the past, and can guide them toward higher-order thinking and better critical thinking skills.
Use the Library’s primary source analysis tool and teacher’s guide to analyzing manuscripts to guide your students through an analysis of any of the documents in crowd.loc.gov.
A note about content: The historical documents in the Library’s collections may include language or topics that aren’t appropriate for all students, or that students may find challenging to engage with. You may want to review documents before assigning them, or use some of the strategies explored in these Teaching With Primary Sources resources:
- "Dealing with Difficult Subjects in Primary Sources"
- Teaching Difficult Subjects Using Primary Sources: Our Readers Respond
- Selecting and Using Primary Sources with Difficult Topics: Civil Rights and Current Events
- Further ideas from the National Council for the Social Studies
Many educators have used our Transcribe-a-thon planning documents to bring By the People into the classroom or extracurricular activites. See our detailed instructions and resources here.
Suffrage: Women Fight for the Vote
- Primary Source Set: Women's Suffrage
- Lesson Plan: Suffragists and Their Tactics
- Lesson Plan: Suffrage Strategies: Voices for Votes
- Lesson Plan: Women's Suffrage: Their Rights and Nothing Less
Walt Whitman at 200
Letters to Lincoln
- "I Do Solemnly Swear..." Presidential Inaugurations
- The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America
- Additional Primary Materials
Civil War Soldiers: "Disabled but not disheartened"
- Lesson plan: The Civil War Through a Child's Eye
- Teacher's guide: The Civil War: The Nation Moves Towards War, 1850-61
Clara Barton: "Angel of the Battlefield"
Mary Church Terrell: Advocate for African Americans and Women
- Lesson plan: Suffrage Strategies: Voices for Votes
- Lesson plan: African American Identity in the Gilded Age
- Crowdsourcing and the Papers of Mary Church Terrell, Suffragist, and Civil Rights Activist
- Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848 to 1921
- Civil Rights, information for Students
- From Slavery to Civil Rights: A Timeline of African American History
- Segregation: From Jim Crow to Linda Brown