Curating Historical Content

Teachers are looking for resources for online instruction. So I am reposting lessons from my Social Studies Methods Course at the University of Portland’s School of Education. See original post here.


Most materials are in the public domain if they were produced before 1923. I see this as roughly equivalent to everything that happened in the world up to and including World War I! If you’re looking for newspaper articles in Chronicling America, for example, you will note that coverage ends in 1922. 

Primary sources produced by the federal government are normally in the public domain both before and after the magic copyright date of 1923. That explains why we as teachers can use the fabulous oral history interviews of former slaves collected between 1936 and 1938 by workers from the Federal Writers’ Project.



Focusing your search using a search operator. [site:loc.gov]

Image Detective Activity (inspired by Crop It lesson)

Being able to find and curate historical source material is a foundation of historical thinking. This activity merges three instructional goals: finding / curating historical sources, looking closely at historical sources and using WordPress tools to add images and hyperlinks. It will help students learn how to find material for future lesson design activities. 

  1. Find 3 historical images – use these historical archive sites
  2. For each image: provide full image with citation in hyperlink back to source
  3. Then add a of crop area of each image to show one of the following clues (add clue in the image caption) Tips on how to crop an image
  4. Put all content into a post. Give it a clever title. Include a featured image.
  • who or what this image is about.
  • where this takes place.
  • when this happened or was created.
  • what is the creator’s point of view or purpose.
  • something I have a question about

Example: Image with two crops

African American Soldiers in an Automobile Source
When? It’s an upside down 1919 NYS license plate.
I think they are returning Black WWI soldiers in a parade.
These Black soldiers are being honored in a parade. Knowing 1919 is in the Jim Crow / KKK era,
I wonder what else faced them back in America?

In class practice images. Choose one. Add to a sample post. Include source hyperlink and crop with comment. 

  1. Smartly dressed couple seated on an 1886-model bicycle for two 1886. Source
  2. The 8th Avenue trolley, NYC, sharing the street with horse-drawn produce wagon and an open automobile 1904 Source
  3. Automobile helped through sandy wash onto mesa 1911. Source
  4. Women’s Machine Gun Squad Police Reserves, New York City 1918 Source
Sample student work from this assignment
Notice some of the fashion choices of these women. For example, all but one of these women have chosen to wear pants rather than skirts. Do you think this was a normal clothing choice for women in the 1920s? Could their outfits be related to the social statement they are making?
This photo of a bakery is taken in 1922.
The languages on sign include Armenian, Ladino, English, Greek and Russian.

How to Teach Online

I teach two courses in the School of Education at the University of Portland – a social studies methods class in the fall and an ed tech methods class in the spring. Content differs, but the approach is the same.

This spring, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and mid course I made the transition to online without missing a beat. Here’s two elements that made the “live-to-online” transition possible. They were core principles when the course was taught face-to-face and they were even more critical when we moved fully online.

  1. We utilized a student centered, project-based approach. Students are doers – actively engaged in design, implementation, presentation and reflection.
  2. The course was organized around a WordPress (WP) site that created a public forum where the students and I posted all our work. This changes the typical class dynamic from students doing work for the teacher to a class where students sharing their learning with the world.
Teaching Online: Course Website

Let’s take a look at the website – I’ll begin with social studies methods class. Here’s a quick look at layout – basic features and navigation from the public viewers’ point of view. With a few minor changes it will support online teaching this coming fall.


Teaching Historical Thinking Skills / PBL Online

In this video I share few lessons from Social Studies Methods class to show sequence and scaffolding to support the our project-based learning approach. I want my students to continually explore the frontier of what they know and don’t know about themselves as learners. So I start with some easy tasks and I become less helpful as they learn to increasingly figure things out themselves. You can go directly to both lessons here: Class 2: Curating Historical Content and Class 3: Historical Thinking Skills.


Harnessing Student Creativity Online

The four key components to any lesson are: content, process, product and evaluation. In the traditional classroom, the teacher defines the scope of each of these components. A student centered approach means they can make some choices. With the proper scaffolding, students can tap into their own creativity as they define the scope of some of the lesson components. This video show how I open the door to harnessing student creativity. It focuses on a lesson from my spring ed tech methods class: Class 7: Where I’m From: Telling Digital Stories.


Leveraging WordPress as a Learning Management System

Most Learning Management Systems (LMS) are closed silos of content. I want a public facing course that forces me to reveal my teaching to the world and inspires students to do the same. I never do any direct instruction on WP – but rely on a library of videos I’ve creative to teach students WP basics – and we add skills along the way.

This video will give you a look at the WP dashboard from my edtech methods class and some of the native features that a great for managing your course.


Note: I also want to put in a plug for Reclaim Hosting – where these courses are hosted. It’s a fantastic service designed by and for educators that offers teachers and students domains and web hosting that they own and control. They have very affordable plans and their support teams will answer your questions in language you can understand.


To close, I’ll share some comments from students that attest
to the success of our approach:
Student in Spring 2020 Edtech class

“Professor Pappas ran the course very smoothly and had no problems when we had to transition to online learning. I liked that we were able to use lots of creativity in this class, it was super fun to see what everyone came up with. The assignments were manageable and insightful. I thoroughly enjoyed the website that we used throughout the whole course. It was easy to navigate and I liked that everything was in one place!”

Student in Fall 2019 Social Studies Methods class

“At first I wasn’t sure whether or not I would like the project based atmosphere of this class, but it pushed me to synthesize the content that we were learning about. I learned a lot about how to deliver a lesson to a class as well as I got lots of inspiration and content to use in my own classroom as well, which has been well received by my students. Peter does a really good job of guiding his students to do their best. I didn’t realize how beneficial my portfolio of blog posts would be as well.”

Email from a former student who had just landed her first teaching job

“The school I will be teaching at prides themselves on their use of technology in the classroom and asked me about my background in technology. I sent them my author’s link to all the projects I did with your – and they were very impressed. Your class was probably one of my favorites at UP because it was so practical, collaborative, and student centered.”

Pre-Twitter Racist Rant

Race-baiting before social media? Here’s an excerpt from “Don’t Be a Sucker” – a short film which warns of the dangers of promoting racism in America. It was produced by the United States Department of War and released in 1943 (and adapted as a slightly shorter version in 1947.)

This dramatized film uses the experience of a Hungarian American to warn against the dangers of persecuting minorities. Reacting to a hate-filled political speech in an American city, he recalls how similar speeches led to Nazi persecution of minority groups and the eventual destruction of German society. The film was also made to make the case for the desegregation of the United States armed forces. It is held for preservation by the U.S. National Archives. Full 23 min version here.

Was the U.S. Justified in Dropping the Atomic Bombs on Japan?

This semester my EdMethods students used Microsoft Sway for their final lesson design projects. This document-based lesson by Nicole Matier students examine a variety of source material in preparation for a debate.

Students will use these sources to construct an argument to debate the question: Was the U.S. justified in dropping the atomic bombs on Japan?

After you read these documents you are going to create a thesis statement in response to the essential question. Be sure to collect evidence from the text to support your thesis statement. When doing this consider whether the evidence you are choosing appeals to a reader through ethos, pathos or logos.

For a direct link to the Sway click here
More lessons in this series.
Click navigation tab in lower right to to scroll and eliminate cookie notification.

Wounded Knee Massacre

This semester my EdMethods students used Microsoft Sway for their final lesson design projects. This document-based lesson by Nick Campagna asks student to use original source documents to explore different accounts of the Wounded Knee Massacre.

How do we analyze primary sources to construct a history of the Wounded Knee Massacre?

~ Nick Campagna

After you read these documents you are going to create a thesis statement in response to the essential question. Be sure to collect evidence from the text to support your thesis statement. When doing this consider whether the evidence you are choosing appeals to a reader through ethos, pathos or logos.

For a direct link to the Sway click here
More lessons in this series.
Click navigation tab in lower right to to scroll and eliminate cookie notification.

Image / Library of Congress:
Burial of the dead at the battle of Wounded Knee, S.D.
Summary: U.S. Soldiers putting Indians in common grave; some corpses are frozen in different positions. South Dakota.
Created / Published c1891 Jan. 17.

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