In "Bearing Witness to the Hard History of Guilford," Jenifer Frank tells the story of a curriculum project designed to help students make connections between the town they live in and the enslaved people whose labor built it. In this activity, students will read about this and another local history project designed to foster such connections. Then, they will use primary sources to research the hidden history of their community.
Librarians and archivists can help educators locate primary sources that bring students closer to local history and struggles for justice. This toolkit explains how you can follow the lead of the educators who designed both the Guilford slavery curriculum and the Buncombe County Slave Deeds Projects. It also offers suggestions for engaging students (grades 9-12) with evidence of the human lives who were involved in shaping the local community.
- How can primary sources help us learn about our local history?
- What are some of the major themes of justice/injustice and freedom/oppression in our community's history?
- Where can we go and whom can we ask for help if we have questions about our local history?
- Explain to your class that you will be researching local history by investigating the lives of people whose stories, while integral to this history, are often overlooked.
- Split your class in half. Distribute "Bearing Witness to the Hard History of Guilford" to one half and "Doing History in Buncombe County" to the other. Ask each student to read the story they were assigned and make notes using this graphic organizer.
- Bring the class back together. Ask your students to get into groups of four, in which two students read about Guilford and two students read about Buncombe County. Ask your students to educate each other about the articles they read and to address these questions:
- What is the difference between reading primary sources and reading about history in a textbook?
- What do you know about the history of our community?
- What do you know about the groups of people who lived here over time?
- What questions do you have about our local history?
- What injustices have happened in the history of our community? How are these relevant today?
- Consult your school librarian(s), a local reference librarian (if there is a higher ed. institution in your community, the history librarian would be a great resource) or archivist. Explain to them that you are looking for primary sources that will expose your students to local history and struggles for justice. You might want to share "Bearing Witness to the Hard History of Guilford" and "Doing History in Buncombe County" with them so they have a sense of the type of primary sources you are looking for and your overarching objective. Together, select a set of primary sources that will be the basis for the project. Set up a time when you can bring your students to look at the primary sources.
- Visit the library or archive with your students. Follow the librarian or archivist's lead in terms of examining, reading, questioning and discussing the primary sources. Ask the librarian or archivist to explain how they found the sources, where they are stored and why they are essential to the community's history—and to all community members.
- Ask students to work in pairs and write 1) a list of five things about local history that they learned from studying the sources and 2) five questions they have. Give students an opportunity to discuss these questions with the larger group. Chart students' responses.
- Once you are back in the classroom, ask your students to consider the idea that present-day documents and objects could be primary sources housed at libraries and archives in the future. Have them share their thoughts about which documents and objects would most accurately capture their identities, experiences and community to a future audience. Use the following questions to prompt discussion and reflection:
- How might future generations come to think about our present-day community based on primary sources?
- Do you think every primary source from [insert year] would be an accurate reflection of our identities and experiences? Why or why not?
- What "silences" might appear in the future historical record of our present-day community? Whose voices might not be preserved?
- What steps can we take to ensure that the primary sources that enter the historical record represent all identity groups in our community?
- How will a future audience—through primary sources—look at social justice issues in our community?
This toolkit was adapted from the toolkit for "Doing History in Buncombe County."