History is a subject students either love or hate. Long lists of dates, names, and events to memorize are dry and uninspiring. If we approach history through the power of story, however, it comes alive, jumps off the page, and is about more than rote memory.
Unless we live through an event, we must to trust the words of historians who write about historical events. Most historians do the best research they can, but they were not eye witnesses to history either. Sometimes, their research is flawed or their conclusions biased.
So how do we know what is true?
Some people, like Abraham Lincoln, and events, like the Civil War, are well-documented. If we want to study Lincoln’s life and impact on the world, we can easily find primary documents to inform us.
What are primary documents?
These documents are papers, journals, letters, and photos created by an individual living in the time period about the events they experienced. One of the arguments people have against historians is a tendency toward bias or a personal agenda.
When we go to original documents, eye witness testimonies bring the details of the times and events to life. We aren’t relying on a historian’s interpretation or worrying about their bias.
There are many primary documents created during Abraham Lincoln’s life. Some allow him to speak directly to us about the situations he experienced as President of the United States. Others give us background about the events occurring during his day.
Documents about Abraham Lincoln’s early life:
Abraham’s Lincoln’s Youth (See words that Lincoln wrote in one of his school books.)
Lincoln’s Sense of Humor (See a business card designed as a joke.)
Virtual Library (Includes links to photographs and learning pages.)
Interactive Presentations (Uses newspaper clipping and photos to teach Lincoln’s days before being President.)
Video of the Kentucky Years from Lincoln’s Birthplace
Under Lincoln’s Hat (Primary Resources)
Documents about Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency:
Sheet Music and Songs Written About Lincoln
Telegram (Telling Lincoln of the surrender of Fort Sumter)
Civil War Maps
Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft (Tells what Washington was like during the Civil War)
Lincoln and General Grant
The Gettysburg Address
Pictures and Lithographs
Lincoln’s Resolution on Slavery
The Emancipation Proclamation:
Drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation
Petition Supporting the Emancipation Proclamation
Petition Requesting Exemption from the Emancipation Proclamation
Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination:
Lincoln’s Pockets (What were in his pocket’s when he was killed?)
Drawings of the Event and Funeral, including the Reward Poster for Lincoln’s Killer
Anonymous Letter Warning of Lincoln’s Assassination
R. A. Hunt to Abraham Lincoln, Friday, January 18, 1861 (Warning Lincoln of assassination attempt)
James S. Knox, Saturday, April 15, 1865 (Eyewitness account of Lincoln’s assassination)
Other Primary Resources for Abraham Lincoln:
Civil War Trust
Teaching Lincoln with Primary Sources
Documents from TeachingAmericanHistory
2nd and 3rd Grade Lesson Plans Using Primary Documents for Abraham Lincoln
Using primary documents can be fun and challenging. Finding out what really happened during historical events makes dates and names come to life. You may find the more documents you read, the more questions you have. Using original documents to unlock history can transform a dry process of fact memorization into a fact-finding treasure hunt.
Happy history hunting!
This article was originally published on our Homeschool Launch Blog.
For more on teaching history check out this video on Teach Them Diligently 365.
Watch “Teaching History Using Source Documents – Interview with Ben Kunkel”
There is great value in approaching the way we teach history by using source documents and real experiences to do so. Join Leslie and Ben Kunkel of the Ashbrook Center as they talk about teaching history to your high school students using source documents– and even throw in some great ideas for making history come alive for your younger students!
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