Smithsonian

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 Press, 2001.

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.

Contents
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 historical theme

Videos designed to introduce students of all ages to artifact analysis

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.

Getting Started
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:

Artifact
Human remains
Emanuel Leutze painting
Amelia Earhart airplane
Photograph of Medgar Evers
Electric guitar
Lakota winter count

Historical Topic
Colonial America
Westward Expansion
Transportation
Civil Rights Movement
Invention
Native American history

Viewing Suggestions

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.

Discussion Suggestions
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 Source database:

  • 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 specific skills.

Extracting Information Getting the News about the Stamp Act
The Boston Massacre
Rosa Parks
Separate Is Not Equal
Patriotic Women
Lewis and Clark
From Carbons to Computers
State Regions
Revolutionary Money
Development of the Federal Insterstate Highway System
Reasons for Rebellion
Brown v. Board of Education and a New Justice
Innovations
Pocahontas: One Foot in Two Worlds
Westward Expansion: Stepping Stone #1
Westward Expansion: Stepping Stone #3
Westward Expansion: Stepping Stone #4
Westward Expansion: Stepping Stone #5
Westward Expansion: Stepping Stone #6
Recognizing Primary and Secondary Sources Getting the News about the Stamp Act
The Boston Massacre
Formulating Hypotheses Rosa Parks
Separate Is Not Equal
Patriotic Women
Lewis and Clark
Categorizing Sources From Carbons to Computers
State Regions
Westward Expansion: Stepping Stone #3
Comparing and Contrasting Sources (Corroboration) Rosa Parks
Separate Is Not Equal
Lewis and Clark
Revolutionary Money
Development of the Federal Insterstate Highway System
Westward Expansion: Stepping Stone #1
Making Inferences Rosa Parks
Separate Is Not Equal
From Carbons to Computers
Reasons for Rebellion
Brown v. Board of Education and a New Justice
Innovations
Westward Expansion: Stepping Stone #5
Identifying Points of View Getting the News about the Stamp Act
Development of the Federal Insterstate Highway System
Pocahontas: One Foot in Two Worlds
Westward Expansion: Stepping Stone #3
Westward Expansion: Stepping Stone #4
Westward Expansion: Stepping Stone #6
Evaluating Reliability of Sources Getting the News about the Stamp Act
Pocahontas: One Foot in Two Worlds
Identifying Missing Voices Rosa Parks
Westward Expansion: Stepping Stone #1
Creating Logical Sequences of Sources and Events (Prioritizing Information) Rosa Parks
Separate Is Not Equal
Lewis and Clark
From Carbons to Computers
State Regions