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Primary sources are so important to include in National History Day (NHD) projects! Along with our partners at National History Day and the White House Historical Association, we wanted to share strategies for researching them with students.

This recorded webinar from October 7, 2014, addresses the differences in primary and secondary sources, how to use primary sources, how to find primary sources, and what judges are looking for in annotated bibliographies and process papers. David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States of America, introduces the topic.

You can watch it on the National History Day YouTube Channel.

Find even more resources for NHD research from the National Archives on our NHD Resources page and other online and in-person events on our NHD Workshops page.

NHD Web Resources

October Education Programs

by on October 8, 2014

Did you know the National Archives and Presidential Libraries have locations all around the country? Join us during October at one of our upcoming education programs—either on site or in conjunction with one of our partner organizations.

Boeing Learning Center at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DCOur calendar of events for November is available at:

October Events:

(TX) Teaching the U.S. Constitution with the Center for Legislative Archives - October 9 & 10

  • One-day teacher workshops, presented by Humanities Texas in Corpus Christi, TX, on October 9 and San Antonio, TX, on October 10

(Wayne, NJ) Informational Texts, Research Skills, National History Day and the National Archives – October 9, 9 am – 12 pm

  • NHD primary source workshop with The National Archives at New York City at William Paterson University, Valley Road campus. Register: email full name and school to

(Dallas, TX) Educator Block Party at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra – October 9

(Dallas, TX) “Religion and the American Founding” Teacher Workshop - October 10, 9 am – 4 pm

  • Presented by SMU and hosted by the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Register for $25 per person

(Chicago, IL) The Great Depression & The Civilian Conservation Corps – October 11, 9:30 a.m. – Noon

(Edmonds, WA) Washington State Council of Social Studies Fall Inservice – October 11, 8 am – 2 pm

  • WSCSS in-service on active citizenship with the National Archives at Seattle at Edmonds-Woodway High School

(New York, NY) K-12 Archives Education Institute - October 11, 10 am – 4 pm

(New York, NY) National Archives Open House – October 11, 1 – 3 pm

  • The National Archives at New York City in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House will be viewable through Open House New York

(Louisville, KY) Teaching about the Bill of Rights, Annual Meeting of the Kentucky Association of Teachers of History – October 17

  • Workshops provided through the Center for Legislative Archives along with The Kentucky Association of Teachers of History

(Independence, MO) Student and Teacher NHD Workshop – October 18, 9 – 12:30

(Atlanta, GA) NHD Georgia Research Roundup – October 18, 9 am – 4 pm

(Independence, MO) “The First World War” Trivia Contest – October 20, 7 – 8:30 pm

  • Trivia contest for high schoolers at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. $25 per team

(West Branch, IA) NHD Kick-Off Workshop –  October 20 & 21

  • Workshop with The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum during Iowa NHD kick-off events hosted by the State Historical Society of Iowa

(College Station, TX & Online) “Humorous Family Poet” by Wayne Edwards – October 23, 10:30 – 11:30 am & 12:30 – 1:30 pm CDT

(Online) New Online Education Materials: Native America – October 23, 8:30 PM EST

  • Webinar with the The National Archives at Seattle

(Dallas, TX) A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams – October 23, 6 – 7:30 pm

(Philadelphia, PA) Following in Their Footsteps Teacher Institute – October 25, 9 – 3:30

(Atlanta, GA) NHD Georgia Research Roundup – October 25, 9 am – 2 pm

  • Help for students picking NHD 2015 topics at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. RSVP (PDF) by October 17

(Online) National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair – October 28, 29 & 30, 10 am

  • Live broadcast with National Archives genealogy experts with session Q&As

(Philadelphia, PA) NHD Philly Kick-Off - October 28, 4:30 – 7 pm

  • Teacher workshop at the Historical Society of PA with The National Archives at Philadelphia


Oct 7 NHD Webinar Flyer

Download the flyer (PDF).

UPDATE: You can watch this recorded webinar on the National History Day YouTube Channel.

Documents—diaries, letters, drawings, and memoirs—created by those who participated in or witnessed the events of the past tell us something that even the best-written article or book cannot convey (excerpt from our website).

As all National History Day (NHD) students and teachers know, nothing in history happens in a vacuum.

For a student to fully understand the connections between their topics, the past, the annual theme, and the present, they must immerse themselves in researching not just the subject, but the context set by the time period.

Understanding not just their topic but the time period allows them to answer critical questions such as:

  • Why did my topic happen at this particular time and in this particular place;
  • What were the events or the influences that came before my topic; and
  • How was my topic influenced by and how did it influence the economic, social, political, and cultural climate of the time period?

Primary sources are the best means of capturing the words, the thoughts and the intentions of the past. Primary sources help you to interpret what happened and why it happened.

To learn more about how primary sources can be successfully utilized, join NHD, the National Archives, and the White House Historical Association for a free webinar on October 7, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. ET.

Register here.

Today’s post comes from Kris Jarosik, education specialist at the National Archives at Chicago.

How do you use primary sources with your students?

DocsTeach activities, analysis worksheets, or perhaps even grouped together as DBQs may be a few techniques you employ.

But have you tried a poetry slam?  A partner of ours in Chicago brought this technique to our attention, and we used it with much success during a professional development event.  So we just had to share.

Teachers with their poem

A Poetry Slam with Documents works best when you have multiple dense primary sources that are part of the same story.  With this technique, students are able to build their literacy skill sets by practicing their skimming/reading-for-gist technique and learning content knowledge.

How does it work?

Each group of four students receives a different “meaty” primary source that tells one part of a larger story.  In our workshop each group of teachers received a different document from the court case Gautreaux, et al. v. the Chicago Housing Authority.  You can tap into to locate these primary sources.

Share an overview of the topic or story that the documents cover and the process of the poetry slam.  In our teacher example, we provided an overview of the court case before we got started.  This case spanned over 30 years and was the nation’s first major public housing desegregation lawsuit. The Gautreaux lawsuit charged that by concentrating more than 10,000 public housing units in isolated African-American neighborhoods, the Chicago Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had violated both the U.S. Constitution and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.


Distribute enough copies of each document within the group so that each member of the group has their own copy of the same document.  Then, individually, students should skim and highlight key phrases and interesting sentences in their document.  Only provide students with enough time to skim the document and not completely analyze it.

Creating PoetryTeachers with their poetry strips

After time is called, each student needs to select 5 of the phrases s/he highlighted from the document and copy them directly onto large strips of paper with markers. Then, in their small groups, students should create a poem based on these exact document phrases.  Encourage students to “play around” and re-arrange the strips on the floor.  Each small group should use at least one strip from each group member.  Then the group should write out their newly created poem on one large sheet of paper.

Teachers with their poems

Performing – The Slam Part

Then the group decides how to perform their poem for the Poetry Slam. Provide students time to rehearse. Each small group will be able to learn from the other groups about the other documents.  A discussion with the entire class (large group) can facilitate and ensure complete understanding, and pave the way for deeper exploration of this complex story.

If you are raring to give this a try, the supply list below can help you get started.

Poetry Slam Supply List

  • small groups of 4
  • a different document for each small group  with enough copies of that document for each group member (each document should be related to one story or concept) is a great resource to tap.
  • highlighters and markers
  • large strips of paper — 5 strips for each class member
  • 1 large sheet of sheet of paper for each group
  • tape, or provide a way to hang poems on the wall/white board when groups are performing

Today’s post comes from eighth grader Allie Tubbs in Johnston, Iowa, who participated in the National History Day competition.

I recently competed at National History Day and was thrilled and honored to place first in the Junior Individual Performance category. In Washington, D.C., I competed against 80 other individual performers.  I believe the encouragement and helpfulness of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum staff was a critical part of my success.

Allie Performing at NHD

Allie portraying Ruth Fesler, Lou Henry Hoover’s secretary and close friend.

In January 2014, I chose my topic. I started looking for a topic by searching “2014 National History Day research topics” as a Google search.  While scrolling through the results, I found the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum website. What immediately caught my attention was the list of ideas that dealt specifically with their museum.

I clicked on this link and was searching through all the topic ideas when I found the DePriest Tea.  I was intrigued by the fact that Lou Henry Hoover was the first one to invite an African American woman to the White House and decided to make Lou Henry Hoover’s tea with Jessie DePriest my National History Day project.  The link also had ideas for the thesis and places to start researching. This gave me a path to start researching so as not to “drown” in all the research possibilities. After the initial research, I constantly had the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum website open to look for further research and thesis ideas. Using the website and tools from my teacher, I was able to construct my thesis and the very first rough draft of my script.

Portrait of Lou Henry Hoover

Portrait of Lou Henry Hoover, ca. 1929, photo-print by Berton Crandall Palo, Alto, California. Courtesy of the Hoover Library.

After using all of the resources from the website, I decided to contact the library to see if they had any primary documents I could use as research. I was put in touch with archivist Craig Wright. I had many opportunities to interview Mr. Wright. He was able to provide me with so many primary documents that changed my perspective on my topic. There were so many primary documents accumulated by the library that even after six months of research I don’t think I’ve read all of them!

In February, I was able to visit the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Everybody I talked to was extremely accommodating and helpful. They were also a valuable resource to answer questions as I was doing my research.  Being able to read and touch documents that former First Lady, Lou Hoover, wrote was one of the coolest experiences in my life! Even after I had visited the library, Craig Wright still was very open to answering my questions. Craig Wright was very helpful and personal and helped in so many ways! I don’t think I could have gone nearly as far in the competition without his help!

All the way through my regional, state, and national competitions the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum was always there to help and answer any questions I had. Many times I would call and ask if there was any document that said something about the event and they were able to find it and send it to me. My favorite resource I got from the library was Ruth Fesler’s transcribed oral interview. Ruth Fesler was Lou Henry Hoover’s secretary and close friend, whom I portrayed in my play. This gave me great insight and I was able to incorporate many of Ms. Fesler’s quotes into my play. Without this resource and many others I found through the library my play would not have been nearly as historically accurate, using these primary quotes, correspondence, and newspaper articles in my script.

Even though the National Competition is now over, I cannot thank the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum enough! I will always remember this year not only as the year I won individual junior performance but as the year I gained many amazing experiences from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. The library gave me so many helpful materials and ideas. If I hadn’t contacted the museum I wouldn’t have made it to Nationals. This year has been my best year at National History Day, and I fully attribute that success to the help and resources from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum! Thank you so much!

Congratulations to Allie on placing first in the Junior Individual Performance category, and to the many other students who researched at the National Archives this past year! Find our main National History Day resource page at