Tips for Using Smithsonian Source
"You can think of the artifact as another kind of document—one
that is sometimes hard to read, but which can tell you a new deeper,
more interesting kind of story."
- Lubar, Steven, and Kathleen Kendrick. Legacies: Collecting America's
History at the Smithsonian. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution
When students consider primary sources, they usually think only
of written materials—letters, journals, government documents.
The SmithsonianSource site will help your students understand that
objects and artifacts are also primary sources. These sources—if
you know how to look at them—can make the past seem more tangible
and therefore make history a more engaging subject.
This website is a resource for teaching American history
in grades 5 through 12. It includes the following:
Images of artifacts and documents organized by
Videos designed to introduce students of all ages to artifact
Teacher-created lesson plans and study questions, as follows:
For grades 5-7: “Stepping Stones” are questions designed
to introduce students to the historical skills they will need to perform
well on the Document-Based Question (DBQ) section of the Advanced
Placement College Board examinations.
For grades 7-9: “Mini-DBQs” are simplified versions of
full DBQs. Students answer questions about sources and use the information
to construct short essay answers about historical topics.
For grades 9-12: “DBQs” are similar to the questions students
will encounter on actual AP examinations. These give high school students
an opportunity to practice the steps in writing a complete DBQ answer.
Each section of Historical Topics includes a video introduction
to artifact analysis. Filmed at Smithsonian museums, archives, and
restoration facilities, the videos feature short (4 to 5-minute) interviews
with Smithsonian curators, historians, and educators. Students can
look over the shoulder of these experts as they gather clues about
a culture or period of history by “reading” an artifact.
If students have questions about the Smithsonian itslef, consult www.si.edu.
Each video focuses on one artifact:
of Medgar Evers
As a class, you might watch more than one video to compare and contrast
the discussions of artifacts. Or you might watch one video, to get
the general ideas, and then watch it again to look more closely. Ask
students to identify the times when the experts speak of an object
in terms of evidence.
You may use the following questions to focus the discussion of an
artifact in a video, or chose one of the many artifacts in the Smithsonian
- What does the artifact say about the people who created it?
- What historical questions about the time period does it answer?
- What questions does it not answer?
- Where could you find the answers to these questions?
Building Analytical and Thinking Skills
SmithsonianSource focuses on primary source analysis and historical
thinking skills. Use this list to locate the resources that reinforce