Mason’s Fun Fact! Did you know that video games got their start in New Hampshire? Ralph Baer, an engineer for BAE Systems who lived in Manchester, invented the first video game console, which was called the “Brown Box.” It allowed people to play games on a television screen. He is known as the “father of video games.”
History isn’t just memorizing facts and dates. It’s figuring out what happened and why. It’s being a detective of the past and solving mysteries. It’s answering questions and building an argument that you can defend with evidence. And that evidence comes mostly from primary sources like photographs, documents, maps, and objects. Primary sources are the records of the past that people leave behind. If you know how to “read”—or analyze—them, then you’re on your way to thinking like a historian!
How do you start?
Analyzing primary sources requires you to use close-looking techniques, which means you have to first get comfortable with a primary source and then study it carefully to see what you can learn from it. There are several ways to practice close-looking techniques. Which technique you’ll use will depend on what kind of information you hope to learn from the primary source.
- If you’re looking at a primary source to spark your imagination, you might want to use a technique called Notice & Wonder. First, you just look at the primary source and think about what you are seeing. What do you notice about the source? It’s a question that doesn’t have a right or wrong answer! Then, let yourself wonder about the primary source. What questions do you have about it that you could explore? You can practice Notice & Wonder at any time and on any source. Just stop, notice, and wonder!
- If you want to get a sense of a historical time period, event, or person, then you would use the Quick Connect technique, which offers you a fast way of interacting with primary sources. Using the 3-step process (Encounter/Investigate/Build), you observe, think creatively about, and then engage with history by answering different kinds of short questions. You can get to the Quick Connect handout through the lightning bolt icon next to each primary source featured in “Moose on the Loose.”
- If you really want to explore a primary source the way historians do, then you’ll want to use the Analyze It! technique. This 3-step process (Encounter/Investigate/Build) uses more specific tools to help you dive deeper into history. The Analyze It! technique teaches you how to work with primary sources so you better understand them and what they tell you about the time in which they were created.
Learning to think critically about history, which requires the use of primary sources, is a key social studies skill but also one of the most challenging. All of these techniques will help you become more comfortable with primary sources.
Begin by selecting a card below and learning about different types of primary sources. Each section includes an introductory video for students, Analyze It! worksheets, and an activity that encourages you to look closely at primary sources and start asking questions.
Learn to Think Like a Historian
A photograph captures a picture of a brief moment in time. Historians use photographs to provide evidence of how people lived and worked, and to be able to see what history actually looked like.
Maps are visual representations of the world around us. They show us where we are in relation to other things. They can also show us how the world around us changes over time.
By looking carefully at documents, historians can learn a lot about the past, about the story of people’s lives, and about what they thought of the world around them.
Think of all the objects you use every day—the chair you’re sitting in, the clock on the wall, the clothes you’re wearing. These are all objects. Objects can tell us a lot about someone's life.
Audiovisual records offer a chance to hear famous words as they were first spoken or watch video footage taken of an event from the past.
Historians use timelines to illustrate change over time, make connections between important people and events, or show related events over a particular span of time.