This website, which is maintained by the National Archives and Records This digital learning object provides teachers, teacher educators, and students of American History, with images, sound, and copies of 100 documents that are considered to be milestones in the history of the United States of America during the period 1776-1965. The documents are related to the responsibilities of the citizenship enjoyed by both natural and naturalized citizens. It is maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration.
The authors of this site state that: "We want everyone?students, teachers, parents, and the general public?to read these milestone documents, consider their meaning, discuss them, and decide which are the most significant and why." The goals of this site are (a) to bring together, in one place, the digital representation of important historical documents, (b) to aid in the understanding of the historical, social, economic, and political signifiance of the events that lead to these documents, and (c) to appreciate how these documents fit into the life of citizens today.
Target Student Population:
This website is an invaluable resource for primary documents related to U.S. History for Social Studies teachers and their students in grades 4-12. The targeted population includes historians, university, and K-12 students (epecially middle to high school students), and teacher educators who are engaged in teaching both content classes and methods classes in the social sciences.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
Some knowledge of American History would be helpful, but no technical rerequisite skills are needed beyond simple web navigation. It would be helpful for instructors to introduce the content of each document and provide a quick virtual tour of the website to familiarize students with all its features.
Type of Material:
Social Studies Methods instructors will want to engage prospective teachers with this website because it provides them access to 100 primary documents to use in their lesson planning and teaching. These documetns can be used for research projects that require primary sources, integrated into the of content in a variety of cross-disciplinary courses,
and the activities can be used to challenge learners with higher levels of thinking and reasoning.
Many of the documents are only available in PDF file format. A link to the Adobe Acrobat Reader is made available on this website.
Evaluation and Observation
The content of this site is exemplary. Examples of the available documents are The Declaration of Independence, original design of the Great Seal of the United States, President George Washington's Farewell Address, The Manhatten Project Notebook, and The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Images of the 100 documents are available to show how they looked in the original and the full text is also provided on screen and in a printer-friendly version. There is also a link to ?Learn more about this document? that provides background information about each of these primary source materials. For some documents there are links to additional information. Citations for each document are also provided, along with a link to a page with additional information about how to cite government and online versions of documents. Information for teachers is also provided on this site (see below) that is aligned with the National History and Civics Standards.
The most recent documents included in this collection are the Social Security Act Amendments of 1965 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It is hard to believe that there are no important documents in the last 35 years that should be added to this collection. The explanation given for the selection of documents provided on this website is very unsatisfactory. The decision not to include milestone documents since 1965 acknowledged the difficulty in examining more recent history, but all documents are open to interpretation whether they are 100 years old or five years old. The rationale stated in the guidelines for the National History Standards, developed by the National Center for History in the Schools stated,
?Historians can never attain complete objectivity, but they tend to fall shortest of the goal when they deal with current or very recent events.?
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
The materials and images on this site are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission. The ability to see the image of each document is motivational, and having the transcript available is invaluable as a learning tool. Suggestions about how to use the documents on this website are provided based on an article by Lee Ann Potter called "Teaching With Documents: Our Documents.gov" published in Social Education 66(7), (2002): pp. 390-399 ? National Council for the Social Studies. In addition, a 65-page booklet for teachers about how to use these documents is also available for downloading and printing, as is an Our Documents poster. Links to additional resources about how to teach with documents, such as NARA?s own Digital Classroom site, are also provided in the Teacher?s Toolbox section of this website. Some of these sites lead to additional documents and photos. The possibilities are endless.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
The design of this website is extremely appealing and the navigation is consistent and flawless. This website is Section 508 compliant and used the W3C accessibility design guidelines. The viewer is also instructed about the use of PDF files on this site and given the link for the free download of Adobe. The user is also cautioned that some of the PDF files are large and may require as much as 45 minutes for downloading using a 28.8k modem. Not to fear, as one moves through the site, there is an option to download portions of the documents so that there is not such a long wait.
The print on this website is very small, even when viewed on a 17-inch monitor and I was unable to enlarge it in any way.
Other Issues and Comments:
We hope that lesson ideas and projects from the winners of the National History Day competitions for teachers and students described on the site will be made available in the near future.